Class and Leisureat America's First ResortNewport, Rhode Island1870-1914

Middle-Class Leisure

By the turn of the twentieth century, vacations had become a popular pastime for middle-class Americans. Reduced work hours and higher wages gave them the time and the means to participate in leisure activities.

In the process of legitimation, Newport's middle-class visitors engaged in various forms of public display and in other leisure activities. Advertisers drew them to Newport and informed them of how to behave there.

Class Emulation
Middle-class Americans engaged in their own forms of leisure consumption.

Upwardly mobile middle-class Americans expressed their desire to rise to the ranks of the upper class by emulating their behavior. They traveled to Newport on the same types of transportation, promenaded along the Cliff Walk, and took hack rides around the 10-mile Ocean Drive.

Easton's Beach
After the upper class moved to the exclusive Bailey's Beach, Easton's Beach became the bathing beach for middle-class and working-class visitors.

at Easton's Beach
In the late nineteenth century, Easton's Beach had a restaurant, a bathing pavilion, and a bathing area. Mixed-sex bathing from eleven to noon was the norm, followed by swimming for men only from noon to three. An observer wryly commented that middle-class women bathers could be distinguished by their bare legs. [1]

At Easton's Beach, middle-class beachgoers emulated the upper-class summer residents. Writing in the July 1900 issue of Munsey's, Hartley Davis explained:

"For those who are hopelessly out of the race there is little enjoyment in this social Mecca. The only real satisfaction they have is in driving about and being mistaken for 'swells' by persons who know no better. And this explains why so many smart traps are seen on the public beach. In them handsomely gowned women pose and return the stare of the admiring excursionists and boarding house people with that insolently good natured air which they have copied from those who are of the elect, finding solace for their disappointed souls in the remarks of the crowd." [2]

Army Drills
Drills at
Fort Adams
Sightseeing activities included trips to Fort Adams, 3 miles by road, also accessible by boat, to view the guard-mount and dress parade each morning, or the battalion drills and band practices. [3]

Musical entertainment in Newport included concerts and balls. Both the Ocean House and the Casino held concerts for guests. Conrad's Orchestra played concerts during the day at the Casino. Mullaly's Orchestra played on Sunday nights.

Casino Program
Casino Program
The daily Casino concerts cost 50 cents. The evening concerts cost 25 cents. Middle-class observers could watch the Casino balls from the balcony for $1. [4]

Spectator Sports

Middle-class Newporters and visitors could also emulate the upper class by observing or participating in athletics. In 1886 Newporter Levi P. Morton dedicated land at the lower end of Spring Street for a public park. Newporters gathered there to watch the elite play polo. [5] Horse races were also popular.

Those with limited means could also go catboating in the harbor, a form of yachting for the middle class. [6]

Morton Park and Freebody Park were sites for the development of the popular sport of baseball in Newport. In 1892, the Pacifics baseball team played at Morton Park. Freebody Park was completed for baseball games in 1897. By then a Newport team was in the New England league. [7]

Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001