Cover image for What would Mrs. Astor do? : the essential guide to the manners and mores of the Gilded Age / Cecelia Tichi.
What would Mrs. Astor do? : the essential guide to the manners and mores of the Gilded Age / Cecelia Tichi.
Publication Information:
New York : Washington Mews Books, an imprint of New York University Press, [2018]
Physical Description:
x, 303 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 21 cm
The splendors of the Gilded Age -- Mrs. Astor speaks -- Millionaires' Row -- Fifth Avenue mansions -- Decoration of houses -- Servants and their duties -- Convenience or contraption -- Electric lighting -- Elevators -- Telephone -- Competitive consumption -- Ladies' mile -- Gentlemen's emporia -- Tea rooms and luncheons -- Best dressed -- The hat makes the man -- The walking stick : the essential gentleman's accessory -- Plume trade, or, decorating with nature -- Color harmony -- For all occasions -- Well behaved -- Ward McAllister, autocrat of conduct -- How to navigate a public encounter -- Correspondence -- Cards, visits, and calls -- Parties and balls -- Gilded Age "Cinderella" -- Seen but not heard -- What they read -- Dinner is served -- The proper place setting -- New York's elegant restaurants. Delmonico's ; Sherry's -- The lobster : from prison fare to haute cuisine -- Enter escoffier -- A black tie dinner on horseback -- The grain and the grape -- Mrs. Astor's annual ball -- The social set -- To see and be seen. Peacock alley ; The palm court -- Theater and opera -- Stage-door Johnny -- Central Park -- Club life -- Newport -- Slumming it : entertainment on the Lower East Side -- The sporting life -- Boating -- Polo -- Bathing -- Tennis -- Archery and croquet -- Golf -- Cycling -- Getting there -- Horse power -- Motor cars -- Private rail cars -- Steamships -- Yachts -- Money talks -- Gospels of wealth. Virtues of free enterprise ; On philanthrophy -- Wall Street -- Top drawer schools -- Dollar princesses -- Newspaper wars -- The whiff of scandal -- Divorce and Mrs. Astor -- Inexcusable -- Deadly triangle : Nesbit, White, Thaw -- On the scene : boldface names in New York -- Diamond Jim Brady (1856-1917) -- Nellie Bly (1864-1922) -- Jack London (1876-1916) -- Lillian Russell (1860-1922) -- Buffalo Bill (1846-1917) -- Front-page girls -- Muckrakers -- Funerals -- Mrs. Astor's four hundred.
"Cecilia Tichi invites us on a beautifully illustrated tour of the Gilded Age, transporting readers to New York at its most fashionable. A colorful tapestry of fun facts and true tales, What Would Mrs. Astor Do? presents a vivid portrait of this remarkable time of social metamorphosis, starring Caroline Astor, the ultimate gatekeeper"-- Provided by publisher.


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
395.097309034 AST TIC Book Adult General Collection

On Order



A richly illustrated romp with America's Gilded Age leisure class--and those angling to join it Mark Twain called it the Gilded Age. Between 1870 and 1900, the United States' population doubled, accompanied by an unparalleled industrial expansion, and an explosion of wealth unlike any the world had ever seen. America was the foremost nation of the world, and New York City was its beating heart. There, the richest and most influential--Thomas Edison, J. P. Morgan, Edith Wharton, the Vanderbilts, Andrew Carnegie, and more--became icons, whose comings and goings were breathlessly reported in the papers of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. It was a time of abundance, but also bitter rivalries, in work and play. The Old Money titans found themselves besieged by a vanguard of New Money interlopers eager to gain entrée into their world of formal balls, debutante parties, opera boxes, sailing regattas, and summer gatherings at Newport. Into this morass of money and desire stepped Caroline Astor. Mrs. Astor, an Old Money heiress of the first order, became convinced that she was uniquely qualified to uphold the manners and mores of Gilded Age America. Wherever she went, Mrs. Astor made her judgments, dictating proper behavior and demeanor, men's and women's codes of dress, acceptable patterns of speech and movements of the body, and what and when to eat and drink. The ladies and gentlemen of high society took note. "What would Mrs. Astor do?" became the question every social climber sought to answer. And an invitation to her annual ball was a golden ticket into the ranks of New York's upper crust. This work serves as a guide to manners as well as an insight to Mrs. Astor's personal diary and address book, showing everything from the perfect table setting to the array of outfits the elite wore at the time. Channeling the queen of the Gilded Age herself, Cecelia Tichi paints a portrait of New York's social elite, from the schools to which they sent their children, to their lavish mansions and even their reactions to the political and personal scandals of the day. Ceceilia Tichi invites us on a beautifully illustrated tour of the Gilded Age, transporting readers to New York at its most fashionable. A colorful tapestry of fun facts and true tales, What Would Mrs. Astor Do? presents a vivid portrait of this remarkable time of social metamorphosis, starring Caroline Astor, the ultimate gatekeeper.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Vanderbilt University professor Tichi (Jack London) delivers a crisp survey of New York's upper-class world in the late 19th century, using society maven Caroline Astor as the guide. Tichi entices readers to "imagine themselves to be New Yorkers of a bygone era" who nevertheless bear a resemblance to today's wealthy. The Gilded Age's rigid social code provided stability during the tumultuous post-Civil War era, when new fortunes were made in rebuilding and expanding the country, creating new millionaires whom old-money New Yorkers found gauche and grasping. To stave off the infiltration of nouveau riches into established social circles in the 1870s, the wealthy Georgian Samuel Ward McAllister created a list of properly pedigreed Americans who comprised "society." He persuaded Astor to serve as the ultimate arbiter of "the Four Hundred," and the duo devised rules for proper behavior in everything from managing servants to choosing appropriate outfits. Tichi also delves into how the upper crust spent its time: on shopping, dining, traveling, entertainment, and various leisure activities. Astor's presence is fleeting throughout, though her influence is unmistakable, especially in making divorce socially acceptable. Presented with a breezy authority that keeps the pages turning, Tichi's book will captivate those interested in a light look at America's fashionable gentry of eras past. Illus. (Nov.) c Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

"anyone who has ever tried to learn a new language knows that it is the rude words that somehow stick in the memory." Oh, how I wish Ruth Goodman could be my French tutor. But settling in for one of her history lessons is better than second best. Especially since her latest book is based on the theory that "bad behavior can be so much more illuminating than the world of the respectable conformist." And if you don't believe her, another new etiquette guide, by Cecelia Tichí, has just turned up, offering further proof that sliding around the naughty edges of society can be as informative as it is entertaining. The historical periods Goodman and Tichí describe in "How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England" and "What Would Mrs. Astor Do" are separated by several centuries and a very large ocean, but each turns out to be deeply hierarchical, conspicuously consuming and obsessed with what the neighbors might think. And each has nurtured some apparently timeless human foibles. Although 21st-century Americans aren't likely to be hauled into court, as some 16th-century Britons were, for deploying a pungent epithet like "a turd in your teeth" or engaging in the criminal offense of "scolding," Goodman need hardly remind us that "manners, power and insult are intricately linked." As its subtitle suggests, Goodman's book - complete with extensive chapters on rude gestures, disgusting habits and outright violence - is the more intimately in-your-face volume. This will come as no surprise to readers of her previous books, "How to Be a Victorian" and "How to Be a Ttidor," or to fans of her rambunctious BBC historical re-enactments, most notably "Ttidor Monastery Farm," in which she experienced the full-on drudgery and muck of being a medieval peasant. Tichi, who teaches American studies and English at Vanderbilt, adopts a more detached approach to the Old Money-Robber Baron clashes that shaped our country at the turn of the 20th century. But you can sense the delight she takes, after laying out some of the rigid proscriptions that ruled New York society ("A lady will not cross a ballroom unattended"; "A lady never sits in the aisle seat if she is with a gentleman"), in pointing out that even a snob like Caroline Astor ("1 have never entertained a foreigner in my life unless he comes to me with a letter of introduction") had to adjust her standards to accommodate her own daughter's divorce. Although Elizabeth 1 ruled Britain's aristocracy as Mrs. Astor aimed to rule her Four Hundred, the realms they inhabited were dominated by men - and men, all the way down the social ladder, were sticklers for maintaining a proper pecking order. Goodman spends many pages attempting to master the techniques for a staggering number of bows and styles of walking that could, if deployed ineptly, result in sniggering at best and ostracism at worst. In some cases, they simply appeared weird: "The high fashion walk of the 1620s gent" - which, she explains, was adapted to accommodate that period's extremely widetopped boots - "made him look like he was suffering from the advanced stages of venereal disease." Goodman is pleased to identify elbowing as the Renaissance counterpart of manspreading and wonders if our own urban gang culture can illuminate that earlier era's "urgent need for visible respect." You might, though, have a moment of doubt when she goes on to describe one of 17th-century London's notorious menaces, a group of upper-class louts who took their name from a Latin poem by Virgil. Or when she introduces a rampaging band of soldiers from a slightly later period whose depredations included forcing women to do their laundry. Gilded Age men had fewer sartorial and social restrictions, as long as they maintained a certain facade. Mr. Astor's yacht was reportedly the scene of wild parties, but his wife, who never set foot on it, merely dismissed inquiries with a blithe "The sea air is so good for him." Yet even a kingpin could outplay his hand, as evidenced by Tichi's account of the exploits of the newspaper heir James Gordon Bennett Jr., with whom, she remarks, "nothing quiet was ever associated." A collector of showgirls and hürler of insults, Bennett was still, by virtue of his wealth and status (at one point serving as commodore of the New York Yacht Club), deemed a most eligible bachelor. This came to an abrupt halt when, after overindulging at the punch bowl, he stopped by the home of a young woman he was courting and urinated in the fireplace - or, as eager rumor later had it, the piano. In any case, the courtship was swiftly ended and Bennett began wearing chain mail under his shirt, lest he be assaulted by an outraged member of the woman's family. A duel with her brother ensued, both shots missed and Bennett fled to Europe. That was not, however, the last of his misdeeds. Years later, during a polo match at Newport, he became incensed by the lackluster play of a teammate and bashed the poor man in the head with his mallet, rendering him senseless. "The matter was hushed up," one observer noted, "as so many scandals were in that day." Definitely a bad role model. And so, Goodman gleefully suggests, was a man associated in later eras with highbrow theatrical entertainments: William Shakespeare. "Admittedly, he wasn't the very worst example," she allows, "but taking your words from the playhouse was very bad form. Butchers quoted 'Hamlet,' not gentlemen.... A comprehensive knowledge of something like Shakespeare's 'King Lear,' after all, was indicative of multiple afternoons spent at the playhouse idly enjoying oneself in the company of common citizens, right next door to bearbaiting and brothels." And that scene in "Hamlet" where the prince faces Ophelia "ungarter'd," with his doublet "all unbrac'd" A man's bare shins "were as far down the actual nudity road as the play could go without censorship, but it was still sufficient to add a frisson of shock to the scene." Thank goodness no one told Mrs. Astor. auda becker is an editor at the Book Review.