One thing about those self-appointed doyennes of New York’s social scene in the late 19th century: they sure knew how to throw a party.
But no party host was as outrageous as Mamie Fish, the wife of old money scion Stuyvesant Fish, a banker whose colonial lineage went back centuries in New York.
Born Marion Anthon, Mamie brought an acid tongue and catty wit to society, which was serious business for women like the dour Caroline Astor, who reigned over the social season and who Mamie hoped to usurp.
“Mamie Fish was a hostess with flair and a capacity for the unexpected, qualities notably lacking in Mrs. Astor’s entertainments,” wrote Eric Homberger in Mrs. Astor’s New York.
From her first mansion at 19 Gramercy Park South (right) and later inside her spectacular Stanford White–designed palazzo on Madison Avenue and 78th Street (below), Mamie hosted dinner parties for the city’s elite, complete with after-dinner vaudeville shows in the ballroom.
She “was plain, could barely read and write and had a laugh that was described as ‘horselike,’: writes the blog The Gilded Age Era.
“But Mamie was sharp, witty and irreverent which made her an excellent hostess with never a dull moment.
“She once sent out invitations to a dinner honoring a mysterious prince; when the guests arrived they found that the “prince” was a monkey dressed in white tie and tails,” according to one biographical site.
At another party, she reportedly rented an elephant and had dancers feed the animal peanuts as they entertained invitees.
Perhaps her most fun and frivolous event, symbolizing the excess of the Gilded Age, was the birthday party she threw for her dog—who showed up at the table wearing a $15,000 diamond collar.
Her catty side came out often as well. Speaking about Theodore Roosevelt’s wife Edith, she remarked, “It is said [she] dresses on three hundred dollars a year, and she looks it.”
She also opposed suffrage for women, telling the New York Times, “a good husband is the best right of any woman.”
Mamie Fish, the “fun-maker” of New York’s Gilded Age, died in 1915.
For more on the fun and frivolity of late 19th century society, check out The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.