Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Robert A Gross


Throughout the early years of the American republic and the first half of the nineteenth century, people journeyed from across the nation and Europe to the bubbling mineral springs of upstate New York and western Virginia in search of a medical cure and pleasant company. Promoters lauded the springs for their restorative powers, fashionable clientele, and picturesque scenery. These dubious attributes combined with the profit motive to create one of the earliest and most successful components of the American tourism and leisure industry. Marketing and producing the mineral waters, as well as the spa experience itself, involved innovation, business acumen, and substantial amounts of capital. Proprietors of these health resorts stood at the forefront of American social and commercial change.;Just as the business of the spas changed, so too did its social setting. While at the springs visitors formed a distinctive culture. They performed complicated rituals of health and leisure that created, reinforced, and projected the aspirations of the national elite. In the process, they exposed the excesses of American culture. With contemporary society divided by the forces of economic and social change, the refined world of the springs seemed a refuge from daily pressures and anxieties. Yet few found peace there. Visitors to the spas negotiated gender roles and social position in an effort to separate the genteel from the crude, and sift the natural elite from social pretenders. at the spas, Americans wrestled with basic tensions between mobility and stability, morality and behavior, gender and social roles, and wealth and status that divided American culture in the first century after independence. Saratoga Springs, New York and the Virginia springs resembled each other more than they differed. Even on the eve of the Civil War, filling hotels and convincing people to drink the waters followed a similar pattern in both North and South. But sectional rivalries strained the easy-going sociability of life at the springs. Attempts to coalesce a national aristocracy in this climate of social change and anxiety proved futile, especially with the advent of sectional conflict in the late 1850s.



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