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Title: Dallas: Kinship, Mobility, and Inheritance in an Elite Population, 1895-1945
Authors: O'Brien, Shay
Advisors: Starr, Paul
Contributors: Sociology Department
Keywords: Elites
Upper Class
Subjects: Sociology
Issue Date: 2023
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This three-paper dissertation argues that analytically distinct collections of elites are often connected through kin in sprawling upper-class family networks. Those connections play central roles in processes of elite change and persistence, and they are visible only with the systematic inclusion of women. Analyses are based on the first-ever full kinship network of an upper-class population in a U.S. city- Dallas, Texas from 1895-1945 (n = 12,282). In the first paper, I demonstrate that at least seventy percent of high society was related in a single web encompassing most of the city’s wealthy, powerful, and high-status people. The more deeply families connected to the web, the more likely they were to persist over time. I conclude that upper class populations are best understood not as collections of distinct dynasties that live or die with the success of sons, but as complex, durable family webs. The second paper tackles an enduring archetype of Texas wealth: the new money oilman. Midcentury Dallas elites consistently alleged that “new money” oil families replaced “old money” cotton families during the 1930s oil boom, but the data refute their claims: most cotton families persisted, and most oil families were born rich. I argue that perceptions of elite turnover reflected a shift in prototypicality, and regime change among the 1% of the 1%, rather than broader patterns of upper-class mobility. Conceptions of elites as ultra-wealthy individuals divorced from their relational contexts may similarly overemphasize change and underemphasize persistence. The final paper uses probate data to tackle the gender of inheritance in upper-class Dallas. Surprisingly, Dallas elites bequeathed more wealth more often to female relatives. Less surprisingly, men tended to inherit forms of wealth that gave them control over family finances, and women tended to inherit forms that gave them status and security. Together, family wealth strategies aimed to ensure a continued upper-class lifestyle for all close kin, rather than simply preserving a patrilineal dynasty. And because the elite was so densely interrelated, most Dallas inherited wealth simply circulated within the large, white, extended upper-class family.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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