Constitution and By-Laws, Associate Alumnae of the Packer Collegiate Institute (1898)
The "Constitution and By-Laws" listed in the Associate Alumnæ of the Packer Collegiate Institute of the City of New York,” written in 1898, gives us insight into the social structure of the Gilded Age through two lenses: the geography of the wealthy and the marital status of upper class women.1 The late 19th century was a formative time in American history when those without land journeyed west aided by technological innovations like the transcontinental railroad.2 When the railroad was established in 1869, it rapidly became a popular and highly efficient means of transportation from the east to the west. After its founding, time and space became less of a constraint as the railroads became increasingly prominent due to their efficiency and the tenacious workers who strove to keep them running smoothly.3 But what of the financially established class in the Eastern cities? How did they use the railroads? Many scholars believe that the railroad, a revolutionary force in trade, could have been even more important to the merchants of the East Coast than the settlers who rode it west.4 New York City relied heavily on Southern agriculture in the early 18th century, so to many New Yorkers the Civil War posed economic uncertainty.5 New York was one of the few parts of the country with an established banking system, making it appealing to people who needed access to banks. The railroad revitalized New York’s obsolete economic model by allowing those who needed access to banks to come to the city. New York brokers used this opportunity to take control of bonds and bank stocks. The New York Stock Exchange, created by twenty-four brokers, changed everything.6 Using the list of alumni addresses provided in the back of the booklet, we can infer that the wealthier residents of New York City used the railroad to move west like those of lower socioeconomic status. The booklet also gave specific information including about the marital status of Packer alumnae. There appears to have been a 17% decrease in the percentage of Institute of the City of New York, written in 1898, gives us insight into the social structure married alumnae. The data shows a declining marriage rate as time passes, suggesting that women began to step out of their traditional roles, which were ultimately dictated by men. Overall, Packer’s alumnae handbook of 1898 allows us to understand how the social structure of both Brooklyn and the country at large were changing during the second half of the nineteenth century.