The History Box.com Main Page New York City Directory The World Of Society Main Directory    
   
   
   
 

Daily Life of an Ambitious Society Woman 1902

 
 
 
 
The society woman of today is the "new woman" in the true sense of that term. She spends her waking hours abroad in the land, going to and fro, driving or riding over the earth. The "claims" upon her time, invited or succumbed to by herself, are varied and manifold. Entertaining and seeking entertainment are to her all absorbing. She lives in a chronic state of pressure for time, especially alluded to when things not particularly interesting and pleasurable are presented for her notice or consideration.

Yet the women of fashion are not necessarily destitute of conscience. With them as a class, as with other human beings conscience is in various stages of culture or numbness, according to the degree of soul enfoldment reached by each. Among the new women are some who take a certain interest in, and give oversight to, their households and who keep in touch with the general management through daily interviews with their superintendents.

They select for their children the best possible nurses, personal maids, governesses, and tutors. This is important, as the children of this class of people are as a rule more intimately and constantly associated with attendants and instructors than with their parents.

The fashionable mother of today likes to travel at will, assured that her houses will be ready at any moment for her to resume entertaining, and considers that the care of her children and their education will continue without interruption while she enjoys herself in her chosen way on either side the Atlantic, unhampered by household or family cares. She loves her off-spring enough to prefer their welfare to that of any other mother's child, and has sufficient pride regarding them to wish her own progeny to be a credit to her by filling their positions in life becomingly.

When at home she sees them daily, as a rule. If they are of suitable age, they may lunch with her when she is not entertaining. But this new woman's children never interfere with her programme.

As she generally breakfasts in bed, those old enough call upon her before she is up mornings. If there chance to be a baby, their nurse takes it, at stated times, to be kissed and looked upon by its fond mother, or, if very devoted, she may pay periodical visits to the nursery.

By employing a trained nurse who is held responsible in that department these over-anxious mammas assure themselves, wherever they may wander upon the globe, that there is a competent person constantly on hand to attend to all childish ailments and threatened attacks of illness," well cared for," in charge of others. The ocean cable answers every purpose as a cord of connection for keeping the dotting parents in touch with their offspring. Burdens of motherhood and housekeeping cares are alike shifted to other shoulders.

Old-time poetry and pictures concerning the mother and her babe would be incomprehensible to this modern society woman. "Domestic life" is to her an obsolete, meaningless term. She expends no vitality upon these "matters of antiquity."

Even when obliged to change her own personal maid, the fashionable woman leaves the work of finding a suitable incumbent to some one else. After the irksome preliminaries have been attended to she will see one or two applicants, and, so to speak, hold forth the symbolic scepter to the chosen one.

Personal enjoyment and keeping her good or youthful looks intact constitute the paramount interest of her life. These objects she pursues unremittingly, concentrating especially upon her appearance, aided by sundry devices and inventions of modern science. To the society woman a beauty sleep is impossible. The masseuse takes its place and rejuvenates instead of nature's sweet restorer. That scientific manipulator's skill is in constant demand to exorcise wrinkles and other signs of age and dissipation. No more welcome person crosses the threshold of palatial mansions. She is the jaded pleasure seekers' fairy god-mother.

A fashionable New York hostess cannot escape considerable hard, if it be not deep-thinking in order to become, or to remain, a social success. During the gay season she gives each week several entertainments that involve planning for herself and circumventing others to assure brilliancy to each function. To secure a distinguished guest, the idol or lion of the hour, who will attract others and impart éclat to her dinners, demands the exercise of all her wits and alertness. She is aware that many besides herself are bent upon the same object. Desirable guests are deluged with invitations, and will select those most tempting for acceptance.

Invitations are necessarily sent out weeks in advance of entertainments and risk the rivalry of equally dazzling functions on the same dates. Frequently dinners dwindle from the original number of invited guests for the simple reason that no amount of money will purchase ubiquity. People can only attend one dinner an evening, albeit they do afterward go to the opera and several balls in succession before seeking their residences.

Superstition occasionally invades the peace of a hostess and threatens her banquet. The fateful number "thirteen" at all risks must be avoided. Late in the day, through unexpected regrets she may find that unlucky number menacing the harmony of the dinner. So direful a prospect must be averted by hook or by crook. At the eleventh hour she cudgels her brain to think of some good-natured acquaintance who can be persuaded to speed to the rescue, fill a seat, and break the spell. Failing to secure that one, some fair recluse, a daughter not yet "out" will be called to "sit down" with the guests and remain until the malefic influence evoked by thirteen people around one table may be stripped of its power.

Vanity Fair's votaries are of many sorts. Among them are those who have attained the goal of leadership, those who are striving for that same goal, and those who are straining every nerve to retain any foothold gained. In this respect the social, political, and business worlds are strikingly alike. Money getting to rule, money spending to rule, about covers the situation.

The woman who has achieved leadership in fashion's domain, whose invitations are eagerly sought for or accepted who can secure celebrities before all others for her own affairs, who manages to bring together at her dinners congenial people, will be accounted a success, a social autocrat, just so long as no cleverer rival steps in to dethrone her or to gradually undermine her position. As her scepter may at any time be wrested from her, there is as little placidity for her as there is for the Wall Street magnate who rules in the world of finance. Disquieting possibilities assail the peace of both.

It is impossible for any hostess to keep in touch with the petty feuds, lovers' quarrels, private jealousies, and animosities in her social realm. Therefore it sometimes happens because of the flat issued by her within the tiny envelopes awaiting each masculine guest that the evening will prove a bore if it be not purgatory to at least two of her guests, compelled to endure one another's society. Their juxtaposition at dinner is unlikely to improve appetite, digestion, or temper.

The daily mail of a woman of fashion is a formidable medley, not conducive to serenity. Invitations innumerable to luncheons, dinners, balls, musicales, receptions, &c., cost her considerable difficult planning and diplomacy. She receives requests for subscriptions to every variety of eleemosynary project, tickets for endless affairs to help along halting charities or to introduce protégés to public notice; circulars, advertising every imaginable business seldom looked at: and, of course, begging letters of all descriptions pouring in a steady stream. Among her mail are the poor relation's reminders. None is so rich as not to have impecunious connections whose appeals for help are sometimes made in vain.

The fashionable new woman relieves herself of much of her mail through the employment of one or more secretaries, acting under her instructions. She avoids combined appeals to her sensibilities and purse through their services and the use of an ample supply of stationery engraved with one stereotyped response answering many kinds of appeal. The wording, though brief, is polite and decisive. It reads: "Mrs., or Miss is so constantly in receipt of applications for interviews and requests for aid that she cannot give them personal attention, and begs to be excused."

The engagement calendar of a fashionable leader is a source of constant care. On its pages she forges invisible chains binding her to the routine thereon indicated. Engagements are entered weeks and months in advance. She consults it carefully if she be punctilious in keeping appointments, as she must be if seeking popularity.

Not every society woman, however, keeps and is governed by an engagement calendar. Some are too indolent or careless to do so. Failure in this particular results in the hopelessly delinquent being consigned to an outer circle of balls and big promiscuous entertainments. Invitations to join the select few at exclusive functions become scarce in their experience.

An amiable, handsome woman of wealth in one of our large cities is notoriously lax in these matters. She once wrote to an acquaintance inquiring if it was at her house she was engaged to lunch upon that day. A polite negative was returned, coupled with assurances of a welcome if she would lunch with that friend. Acceptance of the impromptu invitation was impossible, since the forgetful dame did realize she was engaged somewhere else. But where? That she could not find out.

It is needless to state that this negligent person is not in bondage to a calendar of engagements. She goes and comes at her own sweet will, while exciting others to profanity now and then. She is not a leader nor seeking to lead. With three grand houses, exquisite clothes, and every material accessory for the attainment of social dominion she is not, never has been, and never will be a leader.

This somewhat unique specimen of society woman affects literature and charities. Her lapses of memory and disregard of method at times menace the harmony of her domestic and social relations, but she is ever equable. By her request a lady called to see her upon a business matter and found the placid dame, at 3 o'clock P.M., in bed, beautifully robed in a white silk negligee, profusely trimmed with lace and fastened on the breast with a diamond arrow several inches long. Her hair was elaborately dressed. Beside her on the bed lay a fresh pair of long-armed cream-white kid gloves. In the course of the conversation she enlarged upon her intellectual pursuits and poor health, and stated that her "doctor had forbidden her to over lax her brain." She said, incidentally, that she had lately been engaged "writing an essay upon the Municipality of London."

Her pet dog had its own luxurious bed, regularly aired and carefully made up with sheets, pillow, and silk-covered down quilt.

Of course the dog's mistress is one of society's freaks. She is not a leader, nor at all ambitious to lead. Her life, notwithstanding her idiosyncrasies, flows on like a placid stream amid the restless, heaving waters of society.

A fashionable leader's weekly "at home" is inescapable. From 3 to 6:30 P.M. she is a prisoner in her own salon, while throngs of carriages and callers arrive in and leave her door. The receiving over, her butler delivers to her a heap of bits of pasteboard, important vouchers for those who have paid their social indebtness to her and placed her in arrears. Of these cards she makes note for guidance in paying either in person or by card her own visiting debts. These reminders keep society's wheels revolving and preserve harmony in the world of conventional visiting and involve some bookkeeping. It cannot be denied that in many instances the card is more welcome than the caller would be.

A woman who succeeds in attaining the position of leader in fashionable society and who can hold it against other rivals, possesses talents and executive ability. She might easily succeed in a higher, more useful career. Should fate suddenly divest her of fortune and position, her talents, wisely used, would probably assure her a comfortable, if not luxurious home, with independence and self-respect in the ranks of the self-supporting sisterhood, a new woman of another type.

M.E.C.

 

 
 
Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Daily Life Of An Ambitious Society Woman 1902
Researcher/Transcriber: Miriam Medina

Source:

Bibliography:  New York Times February 9, 1902. p. SM4 (1 page)
Time & Date Stamp:  

 

   
  Privacy statement | Terms of use