Gay Nineties

The Gay Nineties is an American nostalgic term referring to the decade of the 1890s. It is known in the United Kingdom as the Naughty Nineties, and refers there to the decade of supposedly decadent art by Aubrey Beardsley, the witty plays and trial of Oscar Wilde, society scandals and the beginning of the suffragette movement.[1][2]

Despite the term, the U.S. had little prosperity throughout most of the decade. An economic crisis developed in the beginning of the decade because of high tariffs and the introduction of low-valued silver coinage to counter growing inflation.[3] The economic crisis greatly worsened when the Panic of 1893 set off a widespread economic depression in the United States that lasted until 1896.


The term Gay Nineties itself began to be used in the 1920s in the United States and is believed to have been created by the artist Richard V. Culter, who first released a series of drawings in Life magazine entitled "the Gay Nineties" and later published a book of drawings with the same name.[4] The phrase has nothing to do with the modern usage of the term gay to refer to homosexuality and instead refers to the former meaning of the word, although a well-known gay bar in Minneapolis, Minnesota uses the phrase as its name.[5]


Novels by authors like Edith Wharton and Booth Tarkington documented the high life of the "old money" families. By the 1920s, the decade was nostalgically seen as a period of pre-income tax wealth for a newly emergent "society set". The railroads, the agricultural depression of the Southern United States, and the dominance of the United States in South American markets and the Caribbean meant that industrialists of New England seemed to have been doing very well.

It was also the name of a nostalgic radio program in the 1930s, hosted by a prominent composer of popular songs of the 1890s, Joe Howard, as well as an 1890s-themed New York cafe, "Bill's Gay Nineties", during that same period.[6] From the 1920s to the 1960s, filmmakers had a nostalgic interest in the 1890s, as can be seen in the films The Naughty Nineties, She Done Him Wrong, Belle of the Nineties, The Nifty Nineties, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, and Hello, Dolly!

See also


  1. The Naughty Nineties: Literature and Social History
  2. "Perfesser Bill Edwards". Archived from the original on June 6, 2009.
  3. "23. Benjamin Harrison — The Presidents — WGBH American Experience". American Experience. Retrieved May 10, 2015.
  4. Culter,Richard (1928). The Gay Nineties, An Album of Reminiscent Drawings, Doubleday, Doran & Company,Inc.
  5. "Gay 90's — Minneapolis Night Club". Retrieved January 19, 2010.
  6. "History". Bill's Gay Nineties. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
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