'the last great american dynasty' follows the story of Rebekah Harkness, a patron of the arts, and founder of the Rebekah Harkness Foundation.

In 2015, Swift bought a Rhode Island mansion once owned by Rebekah Harkness. The mansion is known as ‘Holiday House’.

Taylor draws subtle comparison between herself and Rebekah Harkness in the song. She likens her star-studded parties to the bevy of famous composers and dancers that once frequented Holiday house in Harkness' days. Also similar to Taylor Swift, Rebekah Harkness was often a target of harsh criticism from the tabloids, and people alike.

This song is reminiscent of The Lucky One from her album Red where Taylor sang of an unnamed Hollywood star who moved away from the limelight and from under the microscope of the media, into a life of solitude.

The style of the song follows Taylor’s familiar contemporary pop sound. She spends most of the song singing in a low octave, transitioning to a higher octave only towards the end of the song. The song has elements of folk music in it too, matching the overall theme of the album.

Rebekah rode up on the afternoon train, it was sunny
Her saltbox house on the coast took her mind off St. Louis

‘Saltbox house’ refers to a specific style of traditional New England architecture. The simple design has one story in the front, two stories in the back, and a sloping roof. Some people theorize that the sloped design helped homeowners avoid higher taxation rates that were imposed on houses greater than one story, which would fit the narrative of Rebekah as someone very cognizant of her money.

Bill was the heir to the Standard Oil name and money
And the town said, “How did a middle-class divorcée do it?”
The wedding was charming, if a little gauche
There’s only so far new money goes

In October of 1947, Rebekah Harkness (née Rebekah Semple West Pierce) married William (Bill) Hale Harkness, the son of William L. Harkness who inherited a large share of Standard Oil. Before her marriage to Bill, Rebekah was married to Dickson W. Pierce, a descendant of the 14th President of the United States: Franklin Pierce.

Upon the death of William L. Harkness, Bill inherited a large share of Standard Oil, making Rebekah one of the richest women in the United States.

They picked out a home and called it “Holiday House”
Their parties were tasteful, if a little loud
The doctor had told him to settle down
It must have been her fault his heart gave out

William (Bill) Hale Harkness, husband of Rebekah Harkness, had a serious heart attack in 1953. A year later he had a second one but did not survive it. He died on August 12, 1954 in Westerly Hospital.

Here, Rebekah is blamed for her husband’s death, even though she was not responsible for his demise. This presages the sexist attitudes Rebekah would be subjected to, and draws an interesting parallel between her and Taylor Swift, whose experience with sexism is well documented.

And they said
There goes the last great American dynasty
Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been

Taylor introduces the continuing sexist motif on folklore of women being blamed entirely for people’s own problems. Rebekah is blamed for destroying the “last great American dynasty” even though her husband’s problems were his own. For the society around her however, they find it easy to blame her for his and their own problems since she is an easy target as an unconventional woman for the time.

Rebekah’s experience parallels the modern-day female experience, who to this day, are subjected to such sexist assertions. Taylor herself has been unjustifiably accused of “ruining everything” for a person. During her 2017 sexual assault trial, Taylor was blamed by her assaulter for “ruining his life” instead of his own predatory actions sealing his fate.

There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen

This line nods to the later folklore track mad woman, which Swift describes as a song about a ‘misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out’.

There are a few reference to the idea of “madness” throughout folklore. In illicit affairs, she describes a “mercurial high” which could be reference to the drug mercury, known for making hat-making women go mad in the 1800s. She could be commenting on the patriarchy condemning and judging women.

She had a marvellous time ruining everything

Rebekah gave up on the Rhode Island set forever
Flew in all her Bitch Pack friends from the city

‘The Bitch Pack’ was Harkness’s self-named squad of female friends that took delight at subverting high society events.

Though this song is mostly about Rebekah Harkness, there’s an interesting parallel to Swift’s own life. Around 2015, the media began calling Swift’s group of friends a “squad” and scrutinizing whether they were really friends or if it was a PR stunt.

The specific use of “bitch,” a word historically used to demean women and their opinions, is also notable here as it shows the sexist overtones Rebecca and Taylor’s detractors exude. Swift referenced this connotation on August 2019’s The Man (‘What’s it like to brag about raking in dollars and getting bitches and models? If I was out flashing my dollars, I’d be a bitch not a baller’).

Filled the pool with champagne and swam with the big names

This line is reminiscent of her 2017 song This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, from her album reputation, where Taylor describes the luxuries of living and partying carefree, before the alcohol runs out, the guests leave and the fun inevitably ends (‘It was so nice throwing big parties, jump into the pool from the balcony, everyone swimming in a champagne sea’).

This may have actually been true of Rebekah Harkness’s life, these anecdotes are found in Blue Blood, a 1988 book written by Craig Unger about Harkness’s life. He wrote that she cleaned her pool with Dom Pérignon and once dyed a cat green.

And blew through the money on the boys and the ballet
And losing on card game bets with Dalí

Rebekah Harkness was mostly known for being a dance patron, as David Collins notes in The Day (‘Rebekah Harkness' most keen interest was in the ballet, and she composed music that was used by the ballet companies she sponsored. She was at first a prominent benefactor of the Joffrey Ballet but then started her own company, Harkness Ballet, which toured around the world’).

Rebekah Harkness was friends with Salvador Dalí. She bought or commissioned many of his pieces, including the famous Chalice of Life, a $500,000 vessel made of gold, diamond, and sapphires.

The chalice eventually became the urn for Rebekah’s ashes, after she died in June 1982 at the age of 67.

And they said
There goes the last great American dynasty
Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been
There goes the most shameless woman this town has ever seen
She had a marvellous time ruining everything

They say she was seen on occasion
Pacing the rocks, staring out at the midnight sea
And in a feud with her neighbour
She stole his dog and dyed it key lime green
Fifty years is a long time
Holiday House sat quietly on that beach
Free of women with madness, their men and bad habits
And then it was bought by me

Swift purchased the Watch Hill, Rhode Island, house for $17.75 million in 2013. Holiday House is one of Taylor Swift’s many homes, and it encompasses 11,000 square feet and sits on 5.23 acres. It was built in 1930 and features approximately eight bedrooms, 10.5 bathrooms, and a stunning waterfront view.

Who knows, if I never showed up, what could’ve been
There goes the loudest woman this town has ever seen
I had a marvellous time ruining everything

After Swift said that she bought Rebekah’s house, she changes the pronouns to trace a parallel between them: two women who were judged by the society as ‘mad’, ‘shameless’ and ‘loud’.

Once she knows that Rebekah wasn’t doing anything but chasing her happiness, just as herself, Swift embraces all of the things she was accused and says she had a marvellous time doing what she thought was right.

I had a marvellous time ruining everything
A marvellous time ruining everything
A marvellous time
I had a marvellous time