The G’hals of New York and other Cities at Work and Play: A Flourishing Feminine Counterculture in Mid-nineteenth Century Urban America

By Fred W. Viehe.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the cities along the northeastern seaboard in mid-nineteenth-century America, a feminine counterculture appeared among young Anglo-American and Irish immigrant women. Known as G’hals, most were relatively newcomers to urban life who worked in such preindustrial occupations as seamstresses, millinery shops, shop girls, and as domestic servants, among others. This work argues that the G’hals’ class determined their culture as they identified themselves not with their employment or other creative work, but more with their involvement in the evolving urban hedonistic culture that appeared after dark. In the evenings with their male companions, the B’hoys, an evolving masculine urban counterculture, they partonized theatres and other similar establishments known for their bawdy productions and sensual audiences. The G’hals along with their B’hoy companions also frequented dance halls, concert saloons and oyster saloons renowned for their sensual environments. Collectively together, these establishments blended “minstrelsy, burlesque, music, dance, and sexual play.” As an added attraction, some G’hals worked as “pretty waiter girls” in the dance halls and concert saloons. For additional sensuous pleasure, the latter along with the oyster saloons featured “wine rooms” where young G’hals and B’hoys could sip wine and exchange suggestive stories as they used their prying hands to explore their mutual sensuality in search for that eventual consummation. The G’hals lifestyle was a counterculture to the Victorianism that was becoming a hallmark of the dominate culture.

Keywords: Women, Urban, Counterculture

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 6, Issue 5, pp.1-20. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.678MB).

Prof. Fred W. Viehe

Professor, Department of History, Youngstown State University, Youngstown, Ohio, USA

As an urban historian who focuses on the cultural, socio-economic development of cities, my most recent interests have focused the development of the urban lower class in the nineteenth century, especially the appearance of a feminine counterculture.

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