“Cotton Rich, Rotten Rich:” New Money in Dallas High Society, 1925-1942

Shay O'Brien, Princeton University

Many historical studies on elites have asked about change over time, particularly in regards to new sources of wealth. Data limitations have led researchers to assume that families making money from a new industry are newly socially elite, but the validity of this assumption is an empirical question. Dallas from 1925-42 is well-suited to help answer it because the city in that time period featured (a) a new potential source of considerable wealth in the 1930 East Texas oil boom, (b) the oldest, most entrenched high society in the region, (c) a pervasive “new money vs. old money” schema, and (d) clear measures of sociopolitical power in the form of social registers and key organizational memberships. Using a newly compiled historical dataset and multiple measures of social importance and family entrenchment, I find no systematic differences within the social elite between oilmen and men working in other industries, suggesting that oil families on the whole may have been no “newer” than other socially elite families in oil boom Dallas.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 257. Using smaller data for historical research