Entry into this elite has certainly eased since Baltzell wrote The Protestant Establishment. Now what matters most is not a prep school diploma and the proper social pedigree, but graduation from a select group of graduate law and business schools. Jews and Catholics have broken into the upper circles. In 1916, Boston's Brahmins took umbrage at Wilson's appointment of Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court. Eighty years later, there was virtually no reaction to Bill Clinton's consecutive appointment of two Jewish judges, Ruth Bader Ginzburg and Stephen Breyer, to the high court.
The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale By Jerome Karabel:
And in one regard the metaphor was particularly apt: in its stance toward Jews, who were excluded from Princeton's eating clubs as surely as they were kept out of the country clubs that arose in the suburbs of America's cities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In both cases, social exclusion -- and the preservation of Anglo-Saxon dominance -- was one of the main functions of the institutions.
As with Harvard's final clubs and Yale's senior societies, the exclusion of Jews from Princeton's eating clubs was part of a broader pattern of anti-Semitism. But anti-Semitism at Princeton was particularly early and intense, especially given its tiny number of Jewish students. In 1907, during the controversy over the Quadrangle Plan, a Jewish alumnus named Leon Michael Levy, who had attended Princeton from 1901 to 1903, wrote to Woodrow WIlson, blaming his departure on its "abominable system of club life." The eating clubs, Levy claimed, were responsible for the "social humiliation," "racial contempt," and "class prejudice" he suffered at Princeton.
Yet despite this hostile atmosphere, the number of Jewish students slowly grew, bringing the number of "Hebrews" (as they were called in the official statistics) to 4 percent of the freshmen class in 1918. In New Haven and Cambridge, the growth in Jewish enrollment was much more pronounced. At Yale, the Jewish proportion of the freshman class rose to a historic high of 9 percent in 1917. And at Harvard, located in a metropolitan area where Jews numbered well over 100,000, Jewish students made up a remarkable 20 percent of the freshmen in 1918.
This growing Jewish presence profoundly discomfited the men who ran the Big Three. [. . .] From the perspective of the Anglo-Saxon men who ran Harvard, Yale, Princeton and like institutions, something had to be done soon or their schools would be overrun by culturally alien students.
Such sentiments were much in evidence in May 1918 at a meeting of the Association of New England Deans held at Princeton. The topic of the day was the rapid increase in the "foreign element," and the deans of Tufts, Bowdoin, Brown, and MIT all expressed concern about the growing number of Jews. [. . .] Though no formal action was taken, the issue was now on the table: should measures be taken to limit the number of Jews?
Harvard, Yale, and Princeton thus faced a painful choice: either maintain the almost exclusively objective academic standards for admission and face the arrival of increasing numbers of Jews or replace them with more subjective criteria that could be deployed to produce the desired outcome. Their decision to do the latter was a great departure from their historic practices and bequeathed to us the peculiar admissions process that we now take for granted.
Though by no means an extreme imperialist by the standards of the era, [Groton-founder Endicott] Peabody did believe "that the Anglo-Saxon race should be the predominant one
for the good of the world" (quoted in Ward, Before the Trumpet, 190).
More excerpts from The Chosen:
In the wake of the new global position of the United States, many white Americans (though not Irish Americans), as the historian Nell Painter has noted, “renounced their traditional anglophobia (a legacy of the American Revolution and, especially, the War of 1812) to proclaim the kindredness of the English-speaking people and the natural superiority of Anglo-Saxons.”78 The ideology of Anglo- Saxonism, though hardly new, received a powerful boost from America’s entry into the ranks of imperial nations. Among the core tenets of the ideology was the conviction that, not only blacks, Native Americans, and Asians, but also the burgeoning population of Italians, Jews, Poles, Irish, and other immigrants lacked the distinctly Anglo-Saxon talent for self- governance.79
During the three decades before 1900, the Protestant elite had become a true national upper class. Under the stimulus of rapid industrialization, urbanization, and nationalization of what had been a largely regional economy, the upper class developed a set of institutions that helped weld it into a national entity that bridged the cultural and social divide between the old patricians and the nouveaux riches of the Gilded Age. Among the upper-class institutions that either were invented or came to prominence in the 1880s and 1890s were the Social Register (its first edition was published in New York City in 1888), the country club, the exclusive summer resort, and the elite men’s social clubs that arose in cities such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.80
Educational institutions — notably, boarding schools and the elite private colleges — played a critical role in socializing and unifying the national upper class. Indeed, it was only during this period that entry into the right clubs at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale — few of which predated the Civil War — became a student obsession. Meanwhile, the upper classes of the great eastern cities increasingly sent their children to the Big Three; by the 1890s, 74 percent of Boston’s upper class and 65 percent of New York’s sent their sons to either Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.81
Perhaps even more than the Big Three, the emblematic institution of the Protestant upper class was the private boarding school. Bringing together children as young as eleven from the upper classes of the major eastern metropolitan areas, the boarding school was the ideal instrument to shape the personal qualities and instill the values most esteemed by the Protestant elite. Educational and cultural ideals, Max Weber once observed, are always “stamped by the decisive stratum’s . . . ideal of cultivation.”82 In the United States in the late nineteenth century, the “decisive stratum” was the WASP upper class and its ideal, that of the cultivated “gentleman” along British lines.
As early as 1879, the North American Review, a venerable magazine founded in Boston in 1815 that was one of the few American periodicals to compete with the great British quarterlies, published a two-part series, “The Public Schools of England.” It was written by Thomas Hughes, the author of the popular Tom Brown’s School Days, and it was intended to introduce an American audience to the peculiar British institution that had proved so successful in welding the aristocracy and the rising bourgeoisie into a cohesive ruling class.83 Hughes proposed that private boarding schools on the British model be built in the United States to serve as a “stepping-stone . . . between the home of the American gentry and the universities.”84
“It is not easy,” he wrote, “to estimate the degree to which the English people are indebted to these schools for the qualities on which they pique themselves most — for their capacity to govern others and control themselves, their aptitude for combining freedom with order, their public spirit, their vigor and manliness of character, their strong but not slavish respect for public opinion, their love of healthy sport and exercise.” “However discriminating a nation may be in spirit and character,” he argued, “the time must come when it will breed a gentry, leisure class, aristocracy, call it by what name you will.” The public schools had “perhaps the largest share in molding the character of the English gentleman.” Two “nations of the same race, and so nearly identical in character and habits as the people of the United States and the English, ”Hughes concluded, would benefit from employing the same type of educational institutions to shape their leadership class.85
Less than four years later, a young Massachusetts patrician named Endicott Peabody proposed the establishment of a boarding school in New England almost exactly on the model described by Hughes. A member of a distinguished family whose roots went back to the Puritans, at the age of thirteen Peabody had moved to England, where his father joined Junius Morgan (the father of J. P. Morgan) as a partner in a banking firm. “Cotty,” as the young man was called by friends, immediately entered Cheltenham, an English public school, and soon became a devoted Anglophile. The sturdy Peabody flourished at Cheltenham, joining enthusiastically in the athletic life of the school and becoming skilled in cricket, tennis, and rowing. After five years at Cheltenham, he went on to Trinity College at Cambridge, where he studied law and once again was a star athlete. Though born a Unitarian, Cotty developed a deep attachment to the Church of England during his time at Cambridge.86
[. . .] he conceived the idea of a school that would stress religious education and Christian life while striking a balance between the acquisition of culture and participation in athletics. [. . .]
For most twenty-five-year-old men, such a vision might be a distant dream, but Endicott Peabody was no ordinary young man. Tall, broad- shouldered, blue-eyed, and fair-haired, he was a striking presence whose enthusiasm, energy, and obvious decency left a strong impression. More than personal presence was needed, of course; founding a school, especially a boarding school on the British model, would require considerable resources. Cotty’s family, fortunately, was at the center of a network of some of the wealthiest and most powerful patricians in the United States, so resources would prove no obstacle. Starting with his relative James Lawrence, who (along with his brother) donated ninety scenic acres of farmland for the school, Peabody put together a board of trustees that included J. P. Morgan, James and William Lawrence, Phillips Brooks, and his father, Samuel Endicott Peabody. Its site was approved by no less a figure than Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape architect. The Groton School opened its doors in the fall of 1884.88 Groton was the second of seven elite boarding schools — the others were Lawrenceville (1883), Hotchkiss (1892), Choate (1896), St. George’s (1896), Middlesex (1901), and Kent (1906) — founded between 1883 and 1906.89 It was a period of tremendous social change in America, and many of the transformations were deeply disturbing to the old Protestant upper class. Mass immigration and rapid urbanization, in particular, created a sense among patricians that they were losing control of the country, especially its cities. Increasingly, they withdrew to their own clubs and summer resorts.
The transformed urban environment of the late nineteenth century presented a distinctive set of problems for the rearing of upper-class children; whereas in previous years the elite had relied on private day schools and tutors to educate their offspring, they believed that the city had become an unhealthy place for children to grow up.
[. . .]
The Groton ethos, like that of the leading British public schools, was an uneasy admixture of two seemingly contradictory systems of belief: gentility and social Darwinism.119 On the one side, men such as Peabody were deeply committed to the nurturance of Christian gentlemen: men whose devotion to such virtues as honesty, integrity, loyalty, modesty, decency, courtesy, and compassion would constitute a living embodiment of Protestant ideals.120 But on the other side, life was viewed as a struggle in which the battle went to the strong, and those individuals and nations not manly enough to participate would be left remorselessly behind in a world in which only the fittest survived. The Christian gentleman thus had no choice but to be aggressive and even ruthless in order to win.121