#tbt: Competing for the Crown of Gilded Age NYC

September 1, 2016

#TBT Writing HistoryI brought home some amazing booty from the library recently, and in my bundle was a small book about the Astors of old New York. And while the book centered on the rivalry and resulting disparity between William and Jack Astor (cousins, not brothers), I was struck more by the women of the tale, the great wives of the Astors.

There were lots of wives.  The Astor line showed a remarkable tendency to produce male heirs, and so it was that a not insignificant number of women once held the title of Mrs. Astor.  But it was Mrs. Caroline Astor who took the responsibility of reigning over Manhattan high society to heart.  So much so, that the right to the title of the Mrs. Astor became so heated, calling cards got involved.

This Astor lineage chart will help.  Caroline was mother to John Jacob Astor IV, the society playboy who was more interested in girls, liquor and nightlife than running the family real estate business.  Then there was William Waldorf Astor, cousin to John IV, and clearly the gentleman more interested in growing the family interest.  It was William’s wife, Mary, who should have taken the place of Caroline as the reigning head of Manhattan society, but Caroline would only allow that to happen over her dead body.  So adamant was she that she had new calling cards printed up saying the Mrs. Astor.  I liken this to a member of the Kardashian clan having a verified Twitter account.  In case anyone forgot in Gilded Age New York, it was Caroline who was the real deal.

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