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


Working-Class Leisure

By the early twentieth century, Sunday had become the working-class holiday. Many working-class families spent their Sundays at public parks, amusement parks, or public beaches. Others took short trips to destinations farther afield.

Working-class visitors came to Newport to go to the public beach, to sightsee, and to enjoy their time off from work. According to an 1894 article in Scribner's:

"These new elements 'have a good time,' in our American idiom, and certainly no place in our democratic country, not even Newport, can consistently elevate any ideal above that of providing people in general with a good time..." [1]

Vaudeville
StreetAd
Advertising Entertainment
at Freebody Park
Vaudeville's origins were saloon-hall variety shows. A typical program included skits, comedians, and dancing acts.

Newport's Freebody Park was the center for vaudeville entertainment. An open-air theatre was constructed there in 1902 for vaudeville shows and motion pictures. In the summer of 1913, Associated Amusements brought headliners from New York City to Newport. [2]


Amusement Parks
By the early twentieth century, resorts advertised new forms of commercial leisure to attract both middle-class and working-class visitors.

RollerCoaster
Roller Coaster at
Easton's Beach
New York's Coney Island offered amusement parks catering to both middle-class and working-class patrons. Newport offered some mechanized leisure of its own on a smaller scale.

By 1913 the Newport Beach Association had made improvements to Easton's Beach to attract more patrons. A boardwalk was added that extended to Middletown. A four-car roller coaster appeared, as well as a merry-go-round, an arcade, and a shooting gallery. Restaurants, concession stands, a convention hall, and a ballroom were other attractions. [3]

Concerts, moving pictures, vaudeville, and fireworks were common summer entertainments. These were just the sorts of "cheap amusements" working-class Americans enjoyed in other areas.


EastonsAd
Advertising Easton's Beach
Newport guidebooks for 1909, 1911, and 1913 proudly advertised the new recreational opportunities at Easton's Beach. [4] Interestingly, Newporters rejected construction of a hotel on Easton's Beach because they did not want Newport to become "another Coney Island." [5]


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001