Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Special Edition Election Night Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Gilded with an accent on 'Votes for Women'

Gilded by Debora Davis tells the tales of the vintage one-percenters in Newport

While much of the Gilded Age was filled with ostentatious displays of wealth that included ornate mansions, fancy private clubs and lavish parties, it occasionally hit a note of social progress. In Deborah Davis' "Gilded: How Newport became American's Richest Resort", such over-the-top lifestyles of the 19th century one-percenters in the vacation spot on the Atlantic Ocean are detailed, but  there are also tales of fierce independence and trail blazing. In particular, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont's support of women's suffrage.

Marble House, home of Alva Vanderbilt,  in Newport, Rhode Island

Gilded is fascinating account of the wealthy families (Astors, Vanderbilts) who set up camp in Newport with "cottages" - some over 100,000 square feet - and the hectic season of summer entertaining. However, along with daily multiple wardrobe changes and recruiting the best French chefs and English butlers, some found time to take on more serious endeavors.

In the Marble House foyer which, as you would expect is all marble

Last week, we were in Newport and visited five mansion ("cottages"), including Marble House, the creation of Alva Vanderbilt. Aptly named, the home is filled with imported marble and displays treasures worthy of  a museum. Another in her collection of showpiece residences,  it eventually became a gathering place to supporters of the 19th Amendment.

Portrait of Alva Vanderbilt hangs on marble walls at Marble House

In the summer of 1914, Alva hosted the "Conference of Great Women". Gatherings were held in the tea house on the grounds of Marble House and Alva even commissioned special china with the script, "Votes for Women".  This serving ware is still in the kitchen cabinets at Marble House.  (Of course, I purchased my own reproduction tea cup and saucer in the gift shop).

Tea House on Marble House grounds currently undergoing a face-lift

While much of the Gilded Age will be remembered for lifestyles that were expensive but void of substance, there are a few, true shining moments, like the support of the women's vote, that won't tarnish no matter how many years go by.

Votes for Women china in the kitchen cabinets of Marble House

More of our visit to Newport and the Gilded Age coming in future blogs, so stay tuned!

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