"The almighty dollar will buy you, you bet/ A superior class of coronet:" Biographical Sketches of NJ's Gilded Age "Dollar Princesses"


  • Melissa Ziobro Monmouth University




Season one of the acclaimed historical drama Downton Abbey was set in 1912, but a key element of the show’s storyline, known to all dedicated viewers, occurred years earlier, off screen, when a wealthy, young American heiress named Cora Levinson of Cincinnati married the British Robert Crawley, Viscount Downton, the future Earl of Grantham. As part of their marriage contract, Cora’s fortune would be tied to the Grantham family’s failing estate to prevent it from going bankrupt. In return, Cora would eventually earn the title of Countess of Grantham. While Downton Abbey’s Granthams are fictional, the idea of wealthy American heiresses marrying impoverished European noblemen is not. There were by some counts close to 500 of these marriages in the decades between the end of the Civil War and WWI, and several of the brides had ties to NJ. Who were these women? Can we know what motivated them? Did they find happiness? And how did their “loves lives” impact social norms, transatlantic relations, and the U.S. economy?