Cover image for The age of the bachelor : creating an American subculture
The age of the bachelor : creating an American subculture
Chudacoff, Howard P.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 341 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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HQ800.3 .C58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HQ800.3 .C58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In this engaging new book, Howard Chudacoff describes a special and fascinating world: the urban bachelor life that took shape in the late nineteenth century, when a significant population of single men migrated to American cities. Rejecting the restraints and dependence of the nineteenth-century family, bachelors found sustenance and camaraderie in the boarding houses, saloons, pool halls, cafes, clubs, and other institutions that arose in response to their increasing numbers. Richly illustrated, anecdotal, and including a unique analysis of The National Police Gazette (the most outrageous and popular men's publication of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century), this book is the first to describe a complex subculture that continues to affect the larger meanings of manhood and manliness in American society.

The figure of the bachelor--with its emphasis on pleasure, self-indulgence, and public entertainment--was easily converted by the burgeoning consumer culture at the turn of the century into an ambiguously appealing image of masculinity. Finding an easy reception in an atmosphere of insecurity about manhood, that image has outdistanced the circumstances in which it began to flourish and far outlasted the bachelor culture that produced it. Thus, the idea of the bachelor has retained its somewhat negative but alluring connotations throughout the rest of the twentieth century. Chudacoff's concluding chapter discusses the contemporary "singles scene" now developing as the number of single people in urban centers is again increasing.

By seeing bachelorhood as a stage in life for many and a permanent status for some, Chudacoff recalls a lifestyle that had a profound impact on society, evoking fear, disdain, repugnance, and at the same time a sense of romance, excitement, and freedom. The book contributes to gender history, family history, urban history, and the study of consumer culture and will appeal to anyone curious about American history and anxious to acquire a new view of a sometimes forgotten but still influential aspect of our national past.

Author Notes

Howard P. Chudacoff is University Professor and Professor of History at Brown University

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Brown University professor of history Chudacoff examines the rise of the urban bachelor in the late nineteenth century through the end of the 1920s, and the shift it signaled in the American idea of manhood. Previously, bachelors were seen somewhat as misfits in a culture centered on marriage and stable families. By 1890, though, an increasing number of bachelors appeared in urban centers, such as New York and Chicago. Chudacoff argues that the growing affluence of these (generally) younger men, coupled with ever increasing opportunities for diversion (saloons, pool halls, and social clubs top the list), led a larger percentage of the male population than ever in the past to forego marriage. For many men, the bachelor lifestyle became the defining act of being a man: living unencumbered by family and free to indulge in the many pleasures city life offered. Rigorously documented but very accessible to readers of American culture. --Brian McCombie

Library Journal Review

Compared with single women, single men have been wallflowers when it comes to engaging the attention of historians. Brown University's Chudacoff, author of an earlier history of attitudes toward the life cycle, How Old Are You? Age Consciousness in American Culture (Princeton Univ., 1989), seeks to change that with this study of unmarried men in large American cities between 1880 and 1930. The total percentage of bachelors peaked during that time, and the resulting "subculture" centering around saloons, gangs, barber shops, YMCAs, boardinghouses, men's publications, and other male domains is Chudacoff's primary concern in this social history. His description of such institutions is usually interesting, if rarely surprising, but the book's argument for the overall cultural importance of bachelor subculture is strained. For larger academic collections in gender history.ÄRobert F. Nardini, Chichester, NH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Although he discusses bachelorhood throughout American history up to 1995, Chudacoff concentrates on the years 1880-1930, the era he considers "the peak years of bachelor subculture in America." He provides a broad overview of bachelor culture, surveying trends nationally and in various cities, but focuses intensively on Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco. Including descriptive analyses, discussions of lifestyles and livelihoods, and examinations of interactions between bachelors and the larger community in which they lived, the book offes a very detailed, splendid study of a group that has been generally poorly served by historians, who have typically concentrated on the study of family life. Chudacoff covers most of the relevant secondary literature and does a fine job of generating quantitative data, primarily from census records, to bolster his arguments. Most important, though, The Age of the Bachelor is well written; it is filled with illustrative anecdotal material that helps raise it above the level of the stereotypical soporific academic tome. A landmark work. Upper-division undergraduates and above. W. K. McNeil; Ozark Folk Center

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Age of the Bachelorp. 3
Ch. 1 Bachelorhood in Early American Historyp. 21
Ch. 2 Why So Many Bachelors?p. 45
Ch. 3 The Domestic Lives of Bachelorsp. 75
Ch. 4 Institutional Lifep. 106
Ch. 5 Associations: Formal and Interpersonalp. 146
Ch. 6 The Popular Culture of Bachelorhoodp. 185
Ch. 7 Bachelor Subculture and Male Culturep. 217
Ch. 8 The Decline and Resurgence of Bachelorhood, 1930-1995p. 251
Appendixp. 283
Notesp. 291
Indexp. 335