Born in Manhattan to privilege, Harrison became a physician and surgeon. He served as an Army surgeon in the Mexican-American War, and otherwise ran a private practice from his Waverly Place home.
As a young man he met Ethan Middleton, originally of Paradise in Hamilton county. A loving, committed relationship developed between them, but Harrison could not overcome what he saw as duty to his family. He married the young woman they picked out for him, and Ethan returned to Paradise.
Later in life, after the deaths of Ethan and of Harrison’s wife, he entered into a marriage of convenience with Ethan’s cousin Lily Bonner Ballentyne, a widow.
Archer Campbell, a postal inspector and employee of Anthony Comstock‘s, lives in a small house in a modest neighborhood with his wife, Janine, originally of Maine, and their four boys, the youngest of which is born in the early chapters of The Gilded Hour. Neighbors across the street are the Stones.
Physically, Anna was inspired by Beatrice Offer, a British artist, and Maria Spartalli Stillman, another British painter of Greek descent who many consider to be arguably the greatest female artist of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Stillman and Offer were advocates for artistic dress.
Liliane Mathilde Savard, called Anna by friends and family, is 27 years old when the story opens in 1883. She is the first daughter and second child of Henry and Curiosity (Birdie) Savard, both physicians. Anna is orphaned at age three. Her Aunt Quinlan takes her into her home on Waverly Place in Manhattan to be raised.
The Civil War takes a terrible toll on the Savard, Bonner and Quinlan families. Among the fallen are Anna’s brother and her Uncle Quinlan. The war has also orphaned Sophie Savard, a second cousin from New Orleans. Sophie comes to live with Aunt Quinlan, and a strong bond is formed between Anna, Sophie, and Anna’s close friend, Cap Verhoeven.
The three children attend elementary school in a special class for the children of Cooper Union faculty. Anna and Sophie go on to study at the Rutgers College for Women on Fifth Avenue, and then enroll as students at the Woman’s Medical College. They both come from many generations of doctors and healers, and medicine is the only future they can envision for themselves. Cap studies as Columbia College, and then enters Yale Law School.
At age 24 Anna is fully qualified as a physician, but she studies another year to qualify as a surgeon. By the summer of 1883 she is well established on the staff of the New Amsterdam Charity Hospital.