Gentility and Mirth
I come from the old town of Charleston Whose shrimp turn their nose up at cod; Where Pinckneys recognize Ravenels, But nobody worries with God. -- Charleston's reply to Boston
You have to live on Government Street, attend Christ Church and go to the Striker's Ball. -- anonymous observer of Mobile, ca. 1900
While the "dollar aristocracy" of Atlanta won status in the social world largely through its success in the marketplace, Charleston's old families tried to preserve an aristocracy based on genealogy, gracious manners, cultural refinement, and reverence for a shared past in the face of a present and future that were less kind. As the nouveaux riches of Atlanta and Nashville formed more exclusive associations in anxious imitation of established upper-class institutions in older cities, Charleston's mild economic revival, beginning around 1900, actually opened the city more than ever to outsiders and to the rise of new money and leadership from within. Signs of this broadening of Charleston social life, as we have seen, were heralded in the business community by new associations and booster campaigns. Likewise, the boundaries that defined Charleston's social elite showed signs of expansion. But this change seemed to take place gently, with no outright challenge to the symbols of social status, which remained in the hands of the old families. The only overt and vehement expression of impatience with the old aristocracy during this period took political form with the rise in 1911 of Mayor John Patrick Grace, an Irish boss who, borrowing a page from Ben Tillman's book, built a popular following by verbally assaulting the Charleston aristocracy.
If the upper class of Atlanta and Charleston provide the sharpest contrasts among the four cities examined here, Mobile, like Nashville, fell somewhere between these extremes. Though the town was founded just thirty-two years after Charleston, Mobile's history as an American city extended back only to the 1810s. More of Mobile's leading men of wealth had been transient outsiders, not infrequently northerners. As a result, this city had not established the thick undergrowth of genealogy and deeply rooted customs of the type that persisted in Charleston. In Mobile, upper-class society after the Civil War took form around a cluster of exclusive Mardi Gras societies, whose celebrations
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Publication information: Book title: New Men, New Cities, New South:Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston, Mobile, 1860-1910. Contributors: Don H. Doyle - Author. Publisher: University of North Carolina Press. Place of publication: Chapel Hill, NC. Publication year: 1990. Page number: 226.
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