The Victorian Era is named after the period from 1837 to 1901, the length of the rule of Great Britain's Queen Victoria. American Victorianism was an offshoot of this period and lifestyle that occurred in the United States, chiefly in heavily populated regions such as New England and the Deep South. The name was derived from the reign of Queen Victoria, which reflected the heavy British cultural influence on the nation during the time.
As American business people of the Second Industrial Revolution created sprawling industrial towns and cities in the Northeast, the growing upper class of the Gilded Age mimicked the high society of their former mother country in dress, morality, and mannerisms. The period included various activities: the Second Industrial Revolution, the Women's suffrage movement, and Republican political domination.
Culture and transportation
Victorian America was a time of uncertainty for the Americans with "old money." Not yet sure of what it was to be an American, the wealthy often showed their uncertainty by borrowing heavily from European culture, especially French culture. Old money people ate French cuisine prepared by French cooks imported from France and drank French wines. Often, these families would buy up the entire stocks of a French vineyard for their house.
These wealthy families were always striving to keep ahead of the middle-class as the middle-class continually tried to imitate those who were wealthier. In the mid-18th century, only the rich owned private carriages, but, by the 1840s the middle class had begun to imitate this behavior. The rich then began to move to the suburbs, called "uptown, " to get away from the noise, congestion, crowds, and dirt of the inner cities.
Waggonways had long been used in the mines in England and Europe, parallel strips of iron over which ore-laden carts ran. Shortly before the Victorian era, however, people started to use railways to transport people and goods between cities and within cities. Streetcars and trains began to see widespread use in America in the 1840s and 1850s, having begun commercially in the 1830s.
As streetcars (in the form of horsecars) become more popular, the middle-class also moved to the suburbs, thus forming the first streetcar suburbs. The rich moved further out in the 1860s, to places like Long Island. Here, the rich built large country estates similar to those found in England with orchards and gardens. Now in the countryside, the rich took the train, which they could afford, into the cities, where they worked with the middle-class managers they hired.
By the 1890s, the cost of a train ticket had dropped far enough that the middle class could now afford to commute on trains. To set themselves apart, the rich sought out communities such as Newport, RI, where there were few economic opportunities. The rich also began to winter in warm states, like Florida, something made more feasible by long-distance railroads. As this behavior began to catch on in the middle class in the 20th century, the rich began to vacation overseas in Europe, a feat made easier by steamships. Another machine which was the steamboat also provided travel which was faster and easier.
These old rich showed off for the middle class, but there was also heavy competition within the class itself. Houses in Victorian America were elaborate fantastical affairs with a combination of different architectural styles. Turrets, gables, bright colors, false fronts and false chimneys were common. The rich also competed in the community to prove their wealth.
Unlike in Europe, all arts funding was through private donations and not government funding. These wealthy people donated money to found opera houses, symphony orchestras and art museums. Two competing art museums (the California Palace of the Legion of Honor and the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum) were founded in San Francisco by two competing families, each trying to best the other through their museum. The rich also funded charities and institutions such as hospitals and colleges.
The Industrial Revolution was partly responsible for the lifestyle of the wealthy, but a body of new rich who threatened the status of the old rich. Culturally, these new rich were very different, who grew up with American food that was simpler than the old rich's French cuisine. However, many of the new rich converted to the Episcopalian Church. To distance themselves from the new rich, the old rich created "society" made up of "proper families." Newly rich people could not easily join society, except perhaps in New York City, where they could buy their way in, but their children could if they married into an old family.
Events and politics
The Victorian era began in 1837, with the accession of Britain's Queen Victoria, and endured throughout upheavals such as the American Civil War, until Queen Victoria's death in 1901. Slavery was a major political issue in the early Victorian era in the United States, and a regional one at that, with the American South generally favoring it and the Northeast and Midwest opposing it. The Civil War broke out, mostly due to this issue, in 1860, and it was a time of awareness and change in American culture. 750, 000 Americans died during the war out of a population of 31 million. Among men aged 18–35, about 20% had died by the end of the war. The industrial Northern states defeated the rebellious Southern states, leading to the period called Reconstruction.