Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This thesis focuses on the impact of social class and sex caste influences on upper-class women. Preceding analysts have tended to suggest either that upper-class women are as women, essentially powerless and irrelevant to the broader socia-historical context or that they are, as members of upper-class, powerful and, on occasion, important historical actors. This research addresses these issues in a more systematic and comprehensive fashion than previous attempts.
Specifically, the thesis of this dissertation considers three questions: 1. Do active upper-class women exercise power? 2. Is this exercise of power socio-historically significant? and 3. Through this exercise of power do active upper-class women seek to advance their social class or their sex caste? In order to pursue this inquiry, 'power' must be conceptualized as a broad range of activities through which individuals directly or indirectly exercise their will or serve their own interests. This expanded understanding of power is receptive to woman's experience of social reality.
The particular 'strategic' research population selected for this investigation is upper-class women who were active in New York City between 1880 and 1920. The socio-historical milieu in which these women lived was a vortex of powerful social class and sex caste Forces - the role of women was in the midst of sweeping reformulations and the class system was embroiled in crucial struggles. Active upper-class women's activities in this context are investigated by means of cumulated biographies. Using standard biographical sources, biographical dossiers (detailing family background, organizational affiliations and so on) are assembled for 412 subjects. This information is then analysed, first, in terms of the general characteristics of the research population (for example, their distinguishing social traits) and, secondly, in terms of their involvement in three key fields - social welfare, ideological domination and the status of women.
The results from this analysis suggest, first, that upper-class women did wield power (they held important executive offices, were influential figures or were founders, leaders or benefactors of movements, organizations or institutions). Secondly, their exercise of power was of socia-historical significance (many of the organizations, institutions and movements in which they exercised power played an important role in social and historical events.) Finally, although substantial evidence indicates that many research subjects aided on-going projects of the upper-class, worked with class colleagues and defended the interests of the upper class, sex caste affiliation was also an important consideration. Many of the research populations activities were undertaken through woman-only organizations or were directed specifically to women. In a few significant instances concern with the sex caste issues led some active upper-class women into conflict with traditional upper-class values.
The research indicates that upper-class women's social activities and historical role cannot be viewed simply as expressions of either class or caste influences. Rather, analyses must recognize an interplay between the two factors. Further, the inquiry suggests that the family (with Female as well as male components considered) must in a real sense be conceptualized as the foundation of the upper class.
Duffy, Ann Doris, "Upper-Class Women: Power, Class and Sex Caste in New York City, 1880-1920" (1979). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3210.