October 28, 2013

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: Courting Rituals in America, Part 3: A Uniquely American Dowry System

In the Gilded Age, fabulously wealthy Americans could have anything they wanted, except for one thing - a title. Thus developed a uniquely American dowry system.  Rich American industrialists married their daughters to poor British aristocrats who had a title but no money. This raised the status of both the bride and groom and their families. In 1895 alone, nine American heiresses married members of the British aristocracy.  They became known as the "dollar princesses".
Consuelo Vanderbilt (Duchess of Marlborough) at
the coronation of Edward VII
The quintessential example of this was Consuelo Vanderbilt, one of the great beauties of her time.  Daughter of the railroad millionaire, William Vanderbilt, she married Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, on November 16,1895, becoming the Duchess of Marlborough.  The marriage settlement was 2.5 million dollars of railroad stock, an estimated 61 million to 2.6 billion in 2012 dollars. Pressured into the marriage by her ambitious mother, the loveless union ended in divorce in 1921.

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