rise in envy’s status.
In Keeping Up with the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer
Society, 1890–1930 (University of Pennsylvania
Press, 2002) historian Susan Matt, AB’89, examines
how middle-class American society changed its views on envy.
From condemnation as a destructive emotion to acceptance
as part of the American way of life, envy’s make-over,
Matt argues, went hand in hand with the the consumer economy’s
expansion at the turn of the 20th century.
were perhaps the most crucial piece of furniture for aspiring
families. Faith in their refining and status-raising power
was remarkably wide-spread, as merchants and social scientists
discovered. This faith was demonstrated in an oft-repeated
anecdote that circulated in the advertising industry: A
department store in New York City had a surplus of inexpensive
pianos. The store launched an ad campaign in the newspapers
but could generate little interest in the cut-rate instruments.
It was only when the advertising manager revamped his campaign
that he was able to sell the pianos. Rather than concentrate
on the instruments themselves, his new campaign focused
on the enviable social benefits they could provide. The
headline for his new ad was: ‘Make your daughter Mary