The influx of bachelors in Gilded Age New York

Bachelorchase&bakerpianoadToday’s New York is a city of singles.

But until about 150 years ago, it was impractical and expensive for unmarried adults to live alone (as well as morally suspect when it came to unhitched women).

Things changed in the 1870s—for guys, at least. “With the growth and industrialization of New York City in the 19th century, the work force consisted of very large numbers of unmarried men,” explains a 2004 Landmarks Preservation Committee report.

“The number of bachelors in the city ranged from 125,000 (about 13 percent of the population) in 1870 to nearly 45 percent of the male population over the age of 15 in 1890.”

WilbrahamapartmentsAll these unattached guys had to live somewhere. One solution for men with  cash was a new type of housing called the bachelor flat.

Bachelor flats were basically apartment residences that consisted of a suite of rooms or just one room, sometimes with a kitchen and bath; sometimes without.

Many of these bachelor flats are long gone. But some still exist.

There’s the Benedick on Washington Square East (mentioned in Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth), the Gorham on Broadway and 18th Street, and a lovely copper-topped, circa-1890 building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 30th Street called the Wilbraham.

Wilbrahamdoorway“The Wilbraham catered to single professional men of means,” noted the LPC report. “The 1900 census listed eleven single male ‘boarders’ at the Wilbraham, ranging in age from 28 to 80: two lawyers, two treasurers, two company ‘secretaries,’ a music professor, a drygoods clerk, a silk manufacturer, an architect, and an actor.”

The guys at the Wilbraham didn’t have their own kitchens. But there was a communal dining area, and they had plenty places to eat in their neighborhood—then a posh, happening area.

The bachelor flat concept didn’t last long. By 1927, the Wilbraham was open to women, and today, it’s a regular apartment building.

Bachelors are still here, of course, along with their female counterparts.

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5 Responses to “The influx of bachelors in Gilded Age New York”

  1. Coco Says:

    I love your website and am doing research for a project about New York in the year 1900. I’d love to contact you and ask you a few questions if possible. Please reply to this comment if you are interested. Thank you!

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks! Email me here if you’d like:

    ephemeralnewyork –at– gmail

  3. michnovak Says:

    Thanks so much for this — I love deep dive research and appreciate greatly your work!

  4. Vol. 1 Brooklyn | Morning Bites: Posthumous Books, Theodore Dreiser’s Birthday, Gilded Age Bachelors, Etgar Keret’s First, and More Says:

    […] New York’s Gilded Age bachelors. […]

  5. tomgeorgearts Says:

    Where would art be without batchelors? :)

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