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Friday, August 7, 2015

Adirondack Great Camps:
Gilded Age Life and Leisure in the Woods

Like most upper-class women of her generation, Ruth Livingston Mills would have abhorred any suggestion of sun exposure on her skin, a sign of outdoor labor and lower social status for centuries.  Wealthy women of her day were mostly covered head-to-toe, often including veils across the face, for the sake of modesty and fashion as well as sun protection.  Parasols were frequently used.  A surviving photograph of Ruth from 1900, shows her in just such attire.  The clothing of Gilded Age women did not lend itself well to outdoor activity or wilderness adventure.  Ruth would not be a likely candidate to spend time roughing it at a wilderness camp in the Adirondacks.  Yet plenty of the Gilded Age elite in her social set owned and visited these large camps during the summer months.  The most popular summer destination was Newport, Rhode Island and Ruth and Ogden were among the many who owned a home there, but many families also owned Adirondack camps to spend some time "roughing it" outdoors.  While Ruth and Ogden did not own a camp, Ogden's sister Elisabeth Mills Reid and her husband, Ambassador Whitelaw Reid, did.  Ruth and Ogden visited their relatives, but as we'll see, "roughing it" at an Adirondack camp was really not that different than spending time at a country house like Staatsburgh.

Ruth protects herself from the sun with both a hat and a parasol with Ogden by her side.