Used to Own the Bronx
We Used to Own the Bronx tells the story of a woman born into the
proprieties of an East Coast dynasty who nevertheless leaves her world of
privilege for a career as an investigative reporter. Recounting her upbringing,
Eve Pell offers an inside look at the bizarre values and customs of the American
aristocracy, from debutante balls and the belowstairs hierarchy of the servant
class to the fanatical pursuit of blood sports and private menís clubs whose
members were cared for like sultans. In the patriarchal world of the upper
crust, girls were expected to flatter and defer to boys and men: her
scholar-athlete sister was offered a racehorse if she would refuse to attend
college. A parade of eccentrics populates the book, from the cockfighting
stepfather who ran away from boarding school with a false beard and a stolen
motorcycle to the Brahmin great-uncle who secretly organized the servants in
Tuxedo Park to vote for Teddy Roosevelt.
But as she moved beyond the narrow world she was expected to inhabit, Pell
encountered people and ideas that brought her into conflict with her past.
Equally unconventional are the muckrakers and revolutionaries she met in the
1960s and 1970s, and her subsequent adventures and misadventures while working
with radical activists to reform the California prison system. As Pell traces
her absorbing journey from debutante to working mother, from the upper crust of
the East Coast to the radical activists of the West, from a life of wealth and
privilege to one of trying to make ends meet, she provides exceptional insight
into the prickly and complex issues of social class in America.