Class and Leisure at America's First Resort: Newport, Rhode Island, 1870-1914

Davis, Kay F. , Department of English, University of Virginia
Howard, Alan, Department of English, University of Virginia

This project looks at class and leisure in Newport, Rhode Island, from 1870 through 1914. It shows that Newport became one of many resorts at the turn of the century where Americans negotiated class issues through leisure. Newport is often associated with America's Gilded Age (1870 to 1900). In the late nineteenth century, Newport became the "society center of America"--a resort where American industrialists and their families built grand estates, established country clubs, and engaged in elaborate displays of wealth. Newport, in fact, was a more complex, heterogeneous community in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The resort attracted not only America's elite but a substantial number of upwardly mobile middle-class families and working-class hopefuls eager to participate, however briefly, in the American leisure experience. At the same time, local merchants, domestic employees, and southern migratory workers provided the necessary labor to make each summer season a success. Class distinctions manifested themselves at Newport in various ways. Upper-class summer residents legitimated their claim to superior status through various forms of "conspicuous consumption," through public exhibition, and through privatization of space. They shared Newport, often uneasily, with year-round Newport residents and visitors of other classes. Middle-class vacationers sought to blur the distinction between themselves and upper-class summer residents by emulating their dress, behavior, and leisure activities. Working-class excursionists came to Newport to enjoy the other classes' public spectacles and to participate in new forms of commercialized leisure in the early twentieth century. The media drew people of all classes to Newport and informed them of how to behave at this increasingly popular resort. Newport gained pride of place in the society columns of major newspapers, journalists discussed its fashionable people in mass-market magazines, and authors described its picturesque places in travel guides and guidebooks. Transportation companies enticed visitors of all classes to Newport by announcing cheap fares or free passes. The media, thus, became an advertising agency for Newport during this period.

This Web site examines the development of a leisure industry in America and looks at how Americans of all classes spent their leisure time. Newport, Rhode Island, is the case study.

M.A. Thesis
Concept, Research, Writing, Design
HTML, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Fireworks, JavaScript

MA (Master of Arts)

Originally published on the XRoads site for the UVA American Studies program. Years range from 1995-2005. Content is captured at the level of functionality available on the date of capture.

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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