Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October 30: Mrs. Astor

On this date in History ... 1908:

The self-crowned queen of high society, Caroline Astor, dies at the age of 78.
Wealthy in her own right, when she married she combined her immense wealth with that of fur magnate William Astor (grandson of John Jacob Astor). During the Gilded Age, there was a great influx of new wealth from the new rich …. mining kings, industrialists, railroad owners …. who were all trying and vying to enter the upper social circle.  Mrs. Astor took on the job of keeping the new rich out of what she considered her ‘proper society of old money’. The list of “Mrs. Astor’s Four Hundred” became the blue book and the “sacred inner circle of society.” It is said the number four hundred was derived from the capacity of her ballroom.  Photo source: http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/
In 1902, she expanded the size of her ballroom to hold 1200, but in addition she decided the room would double as an art gallery to hold her collection of 100 pieces of fine art. 
In her ambition to be the society queen she not only had to set herself up in that position but also had to “unseat” her sister-in-law, Mrs. John Astor III.  With her lavish parties and strong ambitious personality, she succeeded in doing both.

Early in her marriage, she insisted that her husband drop his “vulgar” middle name of Backhouse as she said it made people think of outdoor toilets. She made him even stop using his middle initial.  Further, she insisted on being called simply “Mrs. Astor” (much to the ire of John Astor III) even after the death of her husband, in an era when the norm for women of society would have required she print her calling card as “Mrs. John B. Astor” instead of her practice of simply printing them with the name of “Mrs. Astor.” All of this was part of her insistence on being known as the head of the Astor family.

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