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Samuel Ward McAllister (December 28, 1827 - January 31, 1895) was a popular arbiter of social taste in the Gilded Age of late 19th-century America. He was widely accepted as the authority as to which families could be classified as the cream of New York society (the Four Hundred). But his listings were also questioned by those excluded from them, and his own personal motives of self-aggrandisement were noted.
In 1850, McAllister traveled to California with his father during the Gold Rush and became one of the partners in the law firm of "McAllister & Sons."
New York Society
"Snobbish Society's Schoolmaster." Caricature of Ward McAllister as an ass telling Uncle Sam he must imitate "an English snob of the 19th century" or he "will nevah be a gentleman". Published in Judge, 8 November 1890.
McAllister wrote that after his marriage in 1853, he bought a farm on Narragansett Bay, planted trees and left for a three-year journey throughout Europe's great cities and spas--Bath, Pau, Bad Nauheim, and the like--where he observed the mannerisms of other wealthy Americans and titled nobility, returning to New York with his wife and two small children 15 October 1858.[a] Using his wife's wealth and his own social connections, McAllister sought to become a tastemaker amongst New York's "Knickerbocracy", a collection of old merchant and landowning families who traced their lineage back to the days of colonial New Amsterdam. Above all in McAllister's life was his desire for social recognition by what he termed the "Ton," i. e. the cream of society.
Although purported to be an index of New York's best families, McAllister's list was suspiciously top-heavy with nouveau riche industrialists and McAllister's southern allies, seeking a new start in the nation's financial capital after the American Civil War. In his glory, McAllister referred to his patroness, Mrs. Caroline Astor (The Mrs. Astor), as his "Mystic Rose". McAllister was an early summer colonist of Newport, Rhode Island, and was largely responsible for turning the simple seaside resort into a Mecca for the pleasure-seeking, status-conscious rich of the Gilded Age. His gift for party and picnic planning soon made him a society darling.
Among the undesirables McAllister endeavored to exclude from the charmed circle of the Four Hundred were the many nouveau riche Midwesterners who poured into New York seeking social recognition. In 1893, McAllister wrote a column about the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in which he urged that if Chicago society hostesses wanted to be taken seriously, they should hire French chefs and "not frappé their wine too much." The Chicago Journal replied, "The mayor will not frappé his wine too much. He will frappé it just enough so the guests can blow the foam off the tops of the glasses without a vulgar exhibition of lung and lip power. His ham sandwiches, sinkers, and ... pigs' feet, will be triumphs of the gastronomic art."
McAllister's downfall came when he published a book of memoirs entitled Society as I Have Found It in 1890. The book, and his hunger for media attention, did little to endear him to the old guard, who valued their privacy in an era when millionaires were the equivalent of modern movie stars.
"The Four Hundred"
McAllister coined the phrase "The Four Hundred" by declaring that there were "only 400 people in fashionable New York Society." According to him, this was the number of people in New York who really mattered; the people who felt at ease in the ballrooms of high society ("If you go outside that number," he warned, "you strike people who are either not at ease in a ballroom or else make other people not at ease."). The number was popularly supposed to be the capacity of Mrs William Backhouse Astor Jr.'s ballroom. The lavish parties were held at the Astor mansion.
On February 16, 1892, McAllister named the official list of The Four Hundred in The New York Times.The Four Million, the title of a book by O. Henry, was a reaction to this phrase, expressing O. Henry's opinion that every human being in New York was worthy of notice.
Society of Patriarchs
In 1872, McAllister founded the "Society of Patriarchs" which was a group of 25 gentlemen from New York Society. The group of 25 were "representative men of worth, respectability, and responsibility." Beginning with the 1885-1886 season, the Patriarchs threw a ball each year, known as the Patriarchs Ball, which each member was entitled to invite four ladies and five gentlemen to, thereby establishing the invitees as fit for society. The first Patriarchs Ball was held at Delmonico's, with the Balls, which were difficult to obtain invitations to, receiving significant press coverage. The Patriarchs Ball inspired similar balls, including the Ihpetonga Ball, which was considered "the most important social event of the season in Brooklyn."
The Society dissolved two years after McAllister's death in 1897 due to a lack of interest.
Louise Ward McAllister (1854-1923), who in 1920 married A. Nelson Lewis, a linguist who owned the 600 acre "old Lewis estate" at Havre de Grace, Maryland that had been in the family since 1806. She was engaged to George Barclay Ward (1845-1906) at the time of his death in 1907.[c]
Heyward Hall McAllister (1859-1925), who married Janie Champion Garmany (b. 1867) of Savannah in 1892. In what became a minor scandal when it was made public, the couple was secretly wed first in 1884, then in 1887, and lastly in 1892. They later divorced and he married Melanie Jeanne Renke (d. 1939), who was born in France and did not speak English, in 1908.[e]
^McAllister wrote (Chapter IV) that this trip included London and then Paris for the Universal Exposition of 1855 (incorrectly referenced by him as 1857) followed by the baptism of the Imperial Prince on 11 June 1856. If he attended both events in Paris, he would have returned to Paris after his first European winter (1855-1856) spent on the Arno River. He employees first person plural for payment of meals, indicating his family was with him possibly until their return in October 1858. His second and third winters (1856-57 and 1857-58) were at Pau. (Chapter VI)
^George Barclay Ward, the son of Susan Barclay Parsons (1822-1893) and Montagnie Ward (1812-1879), cousin of William Barclay Parsons and brother-in-law of Luther Kountze, was a widower of Jane Mary de Pau (1848-1886), with whom he had three children. Louise and George were engaged for fifteen to eighteen years before his death.
^Appointed by President Chester Arthur "through the political pull" of his friends including the Alaska Commercial Company, Judge McAllister, an alcoholic, was removed from office after a year on the bench due to his indiscretions. Although incorrectly referred to as McAllister's nephew instead of his son, he was described "a man of enormous power" who was incompetent.