The Emergence of an Upper-Middle Class: A Reflection on My 50-Year Career

June 27, 1858

1805. Though it was actually 53 years ago, it seems like just the other day that I, a young, 18 year-old aspiring journalist, stepped off the HMS Courage and into this country that I now call my home. I have seen and written about many things in my career at the Baltimore Sun, starting with an article on how people lived in the United States, the opening of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, and, my most recent and favorite, on the plan for New York City’s new Central Park. A lot has happened in this growing country in the past 50 years, and I am very honored to have been able to witness and have been involved in its maturing.

Something that I have written about, but didn’t quite understand the scale of until recently, is the emergence of what people are calling an “Upper-Middle” Class. This newly formed classification is of people who’s social standings is somewhere in between very wealthy and ‘managing to get by.’ People who are considered in the Upper-Middle Class have usually come from poorer backgrounds and have moved from farms into cities. There, they become skilled laborers and earn a nice living that keeps their family well-off enough to spend money on luxuries such as nice clothes and education.

North Pearl Street in Albany, NY

North Pearl Street in Albany, NY

With the emergence of this class of people, I can now notice more easily how the wealth in this country has been spreading down from the top couple percent of people to the lower masses. When I was walking through an art gallery the other day, I saw this beautiful painting of North Pearl Street in Albany, NY (right). To me, it really spoke about how life has changed in more rural areas. 50 years ago in upstate New York you could see nothing but farms for miles. Now, as you can see in the painting, there are a cluster of homes and businesses living side by side to each other. They may not be the giant estates of old money, but nor are they little shacks that are barely being held together. These are sturdy houses that are built for people who may not be landowners, but do have money. Also, look at the outfits the people are wearing. I see reds and greens, all richer colors. I see people who are happy with where they are, even if they aren’t giant Plantation owners. Not all of the money in this country is with the plantation owners anymore.

Seeing this spread of wealth gives me hope that this country really has been true to its word. As I believe I mentioned in my first article across the pond, I thought that with a little bit of work, someone could really make a good life for themselves. Over the past 50 years, I have been correct. You can send your daughters to school, you can move into towns, become a skilled laborer, and you can enjoy nature while still being in the midst of a giant metropolis. Even with some of the disagreements that may be going on between the South and the North right now, the United States is still an amazing place where you can be anything you want. Look at me! I came to this country with only a little bit of experience under my belt, and now I have had a successful lifetime of writing for one of the best newspapers in the country. I am a personification of this “American Dream,” as some call it, and I believe many others are too.

And now, my dear readers, I am sorry to say that this is it. This is officially my last article writing for the Baltimore Sun after a career of over 50 years. My bones are weary, and I don’t have the energy to chase after leads like I used to. I must retire, and let someone younger and fresher take the reins. It has been a pleasure writing for you, readers.

Be well, and may God be with you always.

Benjamin Smythe


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