College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in History - Thesis (MA)


David Snead


Gilded Age, Ward McAllister, Newport, Rhode Island, 19th Century, United States


History | United States History


As late nineteenth century New York City’s premier social arbiter, Ward McAllister was one of the most controversial and well-known figures of the Gilded Age. In the turbulent years following the Civil War, he helped codify an otherwise elusive definition of American high society in an era marked by conspicuous spending and an ever-growing gap between the rich and poor. His influence also extended beyond New York, paralleling and contributing to the physical and social transformation of Newport, Rhode Island. Once a thriving port city and participant in the Triangle Trade, Newport experienced a fifty-year period of stagnation following the American Revolution, something reversed by a burgeoning tourism industry. In the ensuing decades, the quiet seaside city transformed into one of the most elite resort destinations in the United States, a veritable proving ground for the American elite’s social ambition and success. A native of Savannah, Georgia, McAllister spent childhood summers near Newport and maintained a lifetime connection to the area. Thus, an analysis of Newport’s nineteenth century history through the eyes of one of the Gilded Age’s most famous but forgotten figures offers a more holistic examination of McAllister’s under-studied personal life, the roles of individuals from different backgrounds and regions in facilitating Newport’s development, and the impact of wealth and class-consciousness on resort destinations. Moreover, studying Newport as Ward McAllister found it illustrates larger political, economic, cultural, technological, and social trends characteristic of Gilded Age and Progressive Era America.