Ladies and Not-So-Gentle Women;Elisabeth Marbury,Anne Morgan, Elsie de Wolfe, Anne Vanderbilt, and Their Times by Alfred Allan Lewis. Penguin, 2000. 540 pages; $18.00 (paperback). Reading level: adult.
Four big-spending Gilded Age women would seem to have nothing to contribute to the rough and tumble politics of women’s rights near the turn of the 20th century. Yet it was their very wealth which trapped them in lives of dependence on often-expoitive men, idleness, boredom, and lack of purpose and drew them to escape from their “Gilded Cages.” They did so by finding creative careers and by agitating on behalf of their disadvantaged sisters who were suffering ill-treatment in prisons,alternately sweating and freezing in tenement buildings, and working under deplorable conditions in factories. The life stories of Bessy Marbury, Anne Morgan, Elsie de Wolfe, and Anne Vanderbilt intertwine both personally and professionally and take the reader from lavish parties to places like the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Condescendingly referred to as the “mink brigade” by the press and simultaneously (and often accurately) accused of condescension by the very women they sought to help, these four – through both courage and cluelessness – did their bit as women across the economic spectrum fought their way to a less vulnerable and more effective position in society.
Here’s a book about another Gilded Age woman who made a similar escape…. The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton