When high society ladies threw a party in the West, they spared no expense. Women living in rural areas had their challenges, but the wealthy ladies in the Gateway to the West, St. Louis, Missouri, had the luxury of almost any item they desired. Residing in a river town, with boats teeming full of imported goods, and a railroad town, where trains transported products of all kinds, made it easy for them to entertain.
One of the most sought-after social engagements in St. Louis was a party at the Campbells. Virginia Campbell and her husband, Robert, were known for their elaborate parties at their posh Lucas Place home, which they moved into in 1854. Virginia was a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, while Robert was an Irish immigrant who expanded on his fur trade riches to become one of the wealthiest men in Missouri.
Guests at a Campbell party would have experienced fine dining in the form of fresh flowers, fine china, damask linens, tropical fruits, refined sugars, eggs, endless fish varieties, confections, canned goods, fine wines, beer and spirits.
St. Louis had six leading caterers in town who furnished staff for these high society parties. They earned $3 to $5 per event, and they wore their full-dress uniform, which included a spike-tall coat, boiled shirt, a high-worn collar known as a piccadilly and shiny patent leather shoes. In fact, they dressed just like the male guests, except they carried trays, opened doors and hailed coaches.