The ladies who watch over Ladies’ Mile

A row of six life-size caryatids—decorating the facade of stately 118 Fifth Avenue—peer out at the street below.

When 118 Fifth was built, these female figures would spend their days watching other females.

Fifth Avenue at the time was part of Ladies’ Mile, the premier shopping district for Gilded Age New York women.

Lavish department stores such as B. Altman, Siegel Cooper, and Arnold Constable catered to the desires of these rich wives and mothers, who arrived in elegant carriages looking for the latest fashions and furnishings.

With so many shoppers and shopkeepers concentrated between Broadway and Sixth Avenue south of 23rd Street, it was safe for women to shop unaccompanied, which they did here until the Depression, when opulent stores moved northward.

Since the 1990s, Ladies Mile has had its comeback. But does anyone notice these figures above them?

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