Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Well-Heeled

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 12, 2013

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know if you were well-heeled? Being well-heeled means you live in fortunate circumstances and are prosperous. The opposite of being well-heeled then would be to live in abject poverty, also known as being down at the heels.

Vrinda Gopnath wrote an article entitled, “Well-heeled American Travelers Discover India” for the Indian Express newspaper on September 10, 2005 that discussed the life experience stylists from a number of tour houses that comprised the Travel-Leisure Travel Agent Advisory Board.  With the exchange rate being favorable for American tourists to visit India coupled with the fact it was a politically safe destination, India became a hot spot for Americans looking for to escape to somewhere exotic. The article began by saying:

India has finally caught the attention of the well-heeled American tourist. A multi-million dollar industry in the US, high-end tourism is looking beyond Europe at Indian shores. An eight-member delegation of the Travel+Leisure Travel Agent Advisory Board, the ritziest travel magazine in the US, are in the capital to promote India as a high-end destination to American deep pockets.

In the Column In Brief published in the St. Petersburg Times of July 19, 1974, Rowland Evans and Robert Novak announced that well-heeled suburbanites were terrified of blue-collar workers during the inflationary times in which they lived. Upper middle class voters were said to have a mood of panic about the economy that was usually reserved for working class voters. What’s more, the residents polled in Westchester County were in favor of impeaching their President and wondered why Congress hadn’t done so yet. The article, of course, was entitled, “Well-heeled Suburbanites Turn Against Nixon.”

Back in 1956, readers of the Miami News wondered where Russians went on vacation and the July 18 edition of the newspaper provided answers to that question in an article entitled, “Well-Heeled Commies At Resorts.” Russians, it was reported, traveled south to the Caucasus Mountains, and settle in down in Yalta and Sochi on the Black Sea. What was interesting was the exchange that reporter Earl Wilson had with one Russian woman.

This is indeed a high-rent district they come to and there are many well-heeled Commies hereabouts. A woman bank manager about to retire on half pay told me she has a car, private home, and money in the bank.

“Why, you’re a capitalist,” I said.

“Yes, I suppose I am,” she laughed.

On November 27, 1922 the Rochester Evening Journal journalist Fay King had a go at financially secure widows whose behavior seemed to give Europeans the wrong idea of Americans. The article was entitled, “Fay King Lays Dollar Dumbells Who Disgrace U.S. Abroad” and the journalist spared no OpEd expense expressing an opinion on the subject of those who “packed themselves off bag and baggage to spend war profiteerings and bootlegacies in poor war-ripped France.” The article included this paragraph:

I cringe in my chair with humiliation every time I lamp a photograph showing some silly old dame dolled up in a comic valentine creation parading the bullebards of Paris and labelled “an American.” Or some other well heeled half-wit who lugs her deceased American husband’s fortune over and lays it at the shrine of some decayed family crest!

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary claims that the first known use of the word well-heeled is from 1897 but Idiomation begs to differ on that point.

Back on May 17, 1892 the Warsaw Daily Times reported on labor troubles at stone quarries in New England as 20,000 men were locked out by quarry owners with another 50,000 ordered by the labor leaders of New York to quit, and the prospect of another 30,000 sitting idle a real possibility before the strike was settled. The owners felt certain they could out wait the workers, but the workers felt differently about it.

At the Bay View works yesterday morning little knots of strikers were gathered near the polishing mill and the company’s office. They claimed that they were given a fifteen-minute notice of lockout, instead of three months, as agreed upon. “We are well heeled,” said one, “and will hang out as long as we can.”

One of the best examples of the use of the expression well-heeled was found in The Weekly Press of September 15, 1876 that went to great lengths to describe the assets of Saris Birchard of Fremont, Ohio. Poor Sardis had passed on and the newspaper printed his will dated January 29, 1874 in its entirety. But the crux of the story was that the will was the cause of considerable discord, with Governor Hayes, acting as executor of the will, weighing in on the matter by saying clearly the intent of the deceased was for money to exchange hands, not property. The judge, however, was concerned about the governor’s handling of the estate, citing that, contrary to the law, an account of the Governor Hayes’ stewardship as it pertained to the estate had never been filed as required by law. It was a difficult situation rendered all the more difficult by the vastness of the deceased man’s assets which were described in part at the onset of the article.

The fortune of Sardis Birchard was never definitely known by the people among whom he lived. There was a tradition that it crowded hard upon the heels of half a million  and there was never any disclaimer put out against such reports. It was known that he owned the controlling share of the First National Bank of this city, something like $30,000 or $40,000; that he held a cartload or less of mortgages, from which he derived a good income; that he had broad acres and limitless lots elsewhere beyond the borders of this county; that he made a pretty good thing on his third of the profits of the board of which he was president, and that, in short, Sardis Birchard was what would be generally designated as a man mighty well heeled.

At this point, Idiomation was unable to find further published examples of newspaper accounts or books using the expression. However, that it should be used within the context of the article published in 1876 indicates that he newspaper’s readers certainly understood its meaning. For this reason, Idiomation dates the expression to sometime in the 1850s.

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One Response to “Well-Heeled”

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