Harry Lehr

Harry Lehr Harry Lehr was an advisor to leading socialites during the Gilded Age.

Lehr was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1869. His father was a prosperous tobacco importer who was consul to Portugal and Belgium. The Lehrs lost their wealth in the economic depression of 1886, and Harry Lehr moved to France and worked briefly in banking.

Lehr returned to America and began circulating in New York society. To live a life of wealth, he assumed the role of a wealthy gentleman. He was a comedian and pianist who entertained guests at banquets and balls. He received free clothing and lodging in return for publicizing goods and services to wealthy upper-class families.

Lehr met Caroline Schermerhorn Astor at a ball in Newport, Rhode Island. He assumed the role of Mrs. Astor's social advisor and escort after Samuel Ward McAllister's death. Lehr organized Mrs. Astor's balls and hired musicians and caterers for her parties.

Lehr was also a social advisor to the eccentric Mamie Fish. Lehr and Fish played pranks at parties and concocted unusual events for Newport society, including a dog's dinner and a ball where the guest of honor was a monkey. With Lehr's assistance, conspicuous consumption reached new heights in Newport.

Lehr married Elizabeth Drexel Dahlgren, heiress to a Philadelphia banking fortune. The marriage was one of convenience for Lehr, who used it to maintain his position in society. Elizabeth Drexel Lehr chronicled the excesses of Newport society in her memoir, Harry Lehr and the Gilded Age.

The Lehrs moved to France after World War I. Harry Lehr died in Paris. Elizabeth Drexel Lehr remarried and continued her life as a society matron.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, ©2001-2003