Four Hundred

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FOUR HUNDRED. In the late nineteenth century Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, the wife of William Astor, used her position as the heir and wife of a wealthy man to become the arbiter of New York high society and the protector of the status of family and old wealth against the claims of the nouveau rich. Her annual January ball was the social event of the year. In 1892 Mrs. Astor, finding that her list of guests exceeded her ball-room's capacity, asked Ward McAllister, a well-known socialite, to reduce it to four hundred. McAllister afterward boasted that "there were about four hundred people in New York society." The number had no significance because new millionaires soon received the social recognition to which, by American standards of conspicuous spending, they were entitled. Rather, "The Four Hundred" became a cliché denoting social exclusivity.


Allen, Frederick Lewis. The Lords of Creation. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1935.

Cable, Mary. Top Drawer: American High Society from the Gilded Age to the Roaring Twenties. New York: Atheneum, 1984.

Harvey L.Carter/c. p.

See alsoClass ; Gilded Age ; Industrial Revolution .