Domhoff - The American Upper Class

Domhoff - The American Upper Class - 19 The American Upper...

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Unformatted text preview: 19 The American Upper Class : g cityt G. William Domhoff INTRODUCTION Princeton, and Stanford head the list, followed by boan i i If there is an American upper class, it must exist smaller Ivy League schools in the East and a hand— other i» not merely as a collection of families who feel ful of other small private schools In other parts of tant. i comfortable with each other and tend to exclude the country. Although some UPPBI'CIBSIS children her i“ l outsiders from their social activities. It must exist may attend pUth hlgh SChOOl If they live In a se— Iwel i as a set of interrelated social institutions. That is, cluded suburban setting, or go to a state university over there must be patterned ways of organizing the 1fthere 1s one of great esteem and tradltion in their It’s 11 lives of its members from infancy to old age, and home state, the system of formal schooling is so to ge '3 there must be mechanisms for socializing both the 1nsulated that many upper-class students. never see 5 younger generation and new adult members who the inside of a public school 1n all their years of mom have risen from lower social levels. If the class is a educat‘9n- . . . the? I‘ reality, the names and faces may change some- Th” separate educatlonal system 1s impor- fill} what over the years, but the social institutions that tant evrdence for the d15tm_theI?es§ 0f the men- {mu underlie the upper class must persist with remark— tality and llfestyle that ex1sts Withm the “PP“ mg ti ably little change over several generations. ' . ‘ class, for schools play a large role in transmlttlng dani 1“ the class structure to then students. Surveying and esot “ summarizing a great many studies on schools in Eve ‘ TRAINING THE YOUNG general, sociologist Randall Collins concludes: guir From infancy through young adulthood, members “Schools primarily teach vocabulary and inflec- prir of the upper class receive a distinctive education. tron, styles 0f dress, aesthetic tastes, values and are This education begins early in life in preschools manners. . , _ . are that frequently are attached to a neighborhood . The tralnmg ofupper—class children 13 ”at re— “PC church of high social status. Schooling continues stricted to the formal SChOOl setting, however. $Ch' during the elementary years at a local Private Spec1al classes and even tutors are a regular part 18 6‘ school called a day school. The adolescent years of their extracurricular educatlon. This Informal ma: may see the student remain at day school, but education usually begins. w1th dancmg classes in alu: there is a strong chance that at least one or two the elementary years, Wthh are seen as more 1m- years will be spent away from home at a boarding portant for learnmg Pm?“ manners and the so- 7 school in a quiet rural setting. Higher education C131 graces than for learning to dance. Tutoring ”1 T will be obtained at one of a small number of heav— a forelgn language may begin ”1 the elementary 9h ily endowed private universities. Harvard, Yale, years, and there are often lessons in horseback rld- AS ing and music as well. The teen years find the yor _.___ children of the upper class in summer camps or slig From Who Rules America Now by G. William on special travel tours, broadening their perspec- in Domhoff (Simon & Schuster 1983). Copyright tives and polishing their social skills. 10v © 1983 by G. William Domhoff. Reprinted The linchpins in the upper-class educational wh by permission of the author. system are the dozens of boarding schools that do 156 be a quick fix, like welfare, but in the long run would create a society that offers better opportunities to a more diverse population. lowed by d a hand— :r Parts of children ’6 in a se- university n in their ling is so never see ryears of is impor— the men- le upper Ismitting tying and :hools in ncludes: d inflec- lues and is not re- lowever. ular part informal :lasses in nore im- dthe so- toring in mentary back rid- find the *amps or perspec— lcational )015 that were developed in the last half of the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth centuries, with the rise of a nationwide upper class whose mem- bers desired to insulate themselves from an inner city that was becoming populated by lower-class immigrants. Baltzell concludes that these schools became “surrogate families” that played a major role “in creating an upper-Class subculture on al- most a national scale in America.”2 The role of boarding schools in providing connections to other upper-class social institutions is also impor- tant. As one informant explained to Ostrander in her interview study of upper—class women: “Where I went to boarding school, there were girls from all over the country, so I know people from all over. It’s helpful when you move to a new city and want to get invited into the local social clubs."3 Consciously molded after their older and more austere British counterparts, it is within these several hundred schools that a unique style of life is inculcated through such traditions as the initiatory hazing of beginning students, the wear- ing of school blazers or ties, compulsory atten- dance at chapel services, and participation in esoteric sports such as lacrosse, squash, and crew. Even a different language is adopted to distin- guish these schools from public schools. The principal is a headmaster or rector, the teachers are sometimes called masters, and the students are in forms, not grades. Great emphasis is placed upon the building of “character.” The role of the school in preparing the future leaders of America is emphasized through the speeches of the head- master and the frequent mention of successful alumni.* . . . * The Episcopal priest who served as headmaster at Choate from 1908 to 1947 often exhorted his students: “Ask not what your school can do for you, but what you can do for your school." This line was adapted slightly by one of this students, John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 as president of the United States asked his fel— low citizens in a stirring patriotic speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” 7. ~>——,—.vuuv THE AMERICAN UPPER CLASS 157 Whatever university upper-class students at- tend, they tend to socialize together as members of a small number of fraternities, sororities, eating clubs, and secret societies, perpetuating to some extent the separate existence of a day or boarding school. As sociologist C.. Wright Mills explained, it is not merely a matter of going to a Harvard or a Yale but to the right Harvard or Yale. That is why in the upper social classes, it does not by itself mean much merely to have a degree from an Ivy League college. That is assumed: the point is not Har- vard, but which Harvard? By Harvard, one means Por- cellian, Fly, or A.D.: by Yale, one means Zeta Psi or Fence or Delta Kappa Epsilon: by Princeton, Cottage, Tifer, Cap and Gown or Ivy.4 From kindergarten through college, then, school- ing is very different for members of the upper class from what it is for most Americans, and it teaches them to be distinctive in many ways. In a country where education is highly valued and the overwhelming majority attend public schools, less than one student in a hundred is part of this pri— vate system that primarily benefits members of the upper class and provides one of the founda— tions for the old-boy and old-girl networks that will be with them throughout their lives. SOCIAL CLUBS Just as private schools are a pervasive feature in the lives of upper-class Children, so, too, are private so- cial clubs a major point of orientation in the lives of upper-class adults. These clubs also play a role in differentiating members of the upper class from other members ofsociety. According to Baltzell, “the club serves to place the adult members of soci- ety and their families within the social hierarchy." He quotes with approval the suggestion by histo- rian Crane Brinton that the club “may perhaps be regarded as taking the place of those extensions of the family, such as the clan and the brotherhood, which have disappeared from advanced societies."5 Conclusions similar to Baltzell’s resulted from an interview study in Kansas City: "Ultimately, say ‘. j. 158 G. William Domhoff upper-class Kansas Citians, social standing in their world reduces to one issue: Where does an individ- ual or family rank on the scale of private club mem- berships and informal cliques."6 The clubs of the upper class are many and var- ied, ranging from family-oriented country clubs and downtown men’s and women’s clubs to highly specialized clubs for yachtsmen, sportsmen, gar- dening enthusiasts, and fox hunters. Many fami— lies have memberships in several different types of clubs, but the days when most of the men by themselves were in a half dozen or more clubs faded before World War 11. Downtown men’s clubs originally were places for having lunch and dinner, and occasionally for attending an evening performance or a weekend party. But as upper- class families deserted the city for large suburban estates, a new kind of club, the country club, grad- ually took over some of these functions. The downtown club became almost entirely a lun- cheon club, a site to hold meetings, or a place to relax on a free afternoon. The country club, by contrast, became a haven for all members of the family. It offered social and sporting activities rang- ing from dances, parties, and banquets to golf, swimming, and tennis. Special group dinners were often arranged for all members on Thursday night, the traditional maid’s night off across the United States. . . . Initiation fees, annual dues, and expenses vary from a few thousand dollars in downtown clubs to tens of thousands of dollars in some country clubs, but money is not the primary barrier in gaining membership to a club. Each club has a very rigor- ous screening process before accepting new mem- bers. Most require nomination by one or more active members, letters of recommendation from three to six members, and interviews with at least some members of the membership committee. Names of prospective members are sometimes posted in the clubhouse, so all members have an opportunity to make their feelings known to the membership committee. Negative votes by two or three members of what is typically a lO-to-ZO per- son committee often are enough to deny admis— sion to the candidate. be a quick fix, like welfare, but in the long run would create a soci The carefulness with which new members are selected extends to a guarding of club mem- bership lists, which are usually available only to club members. Older membership lists are some- times given to libraries by members or their sur- viving spouses, and some members will give lists to individual researchers, but for most clubs there are no membership lists in the public domain. Our request to 15 clubs in 1981 for membership lists for research purposes was refused by 12 of the clubs and left unanswered by the other three. Not every club member is an enthusiastic par- ticipant in the life of the club. Some belong out of tradition or a feeling of social necessity. One woman told Ostrander the following about her country club: “We don’t feel we should withdraw our support even though we don’t go much.” Oth- ers mentioned a feeling of social pressure: “I’ve only been to [the club] once this year. I’m really a loner, but I feel I have to go and be pleasant even though I don’t want to.” Another volunteered: “I think half the members go because they like it and half because they think it’s a social necessity.”7 People of the upper class often belong to clubs in several cities, creating a nationwide pat- tern of overlapping memberships. These overlaps provide further evidence for the social cohesion within the upper class. An indication of the na- ture and extent of this overlapping is revealed by our study of membership lists for 20 clubs in sev- eral major cities across the country, including the Links in New York, the Century Association in New York, the Duquesne in Pittsburgh, the Chicago in Chicago, the Pacific Union in San Francisco, and the California in Los Angeles. Using a clustering technique based on Boolean algebra, the study revealed there was sufficient overlap among 18 of the 20 clubs to form three regional groupings and a fourth group that pro- vided a bridge between the two largest regional groups. The several dozen men who were in three or more of the clubs were especially important in creating the overall pattern. At the same time, the fact that these clubs often have from 1,000 to 2,000 members makes the percentage of overlap within this small number of clubs relatively small, opportunities to a more diverse population. ety that offers better ranging from a l clubs in the sam in clubs at oppos One of the work, the Bohei also the most un the upper class. I in its 2,700-acre of San Francisu celebrities, and ation and enter gathering provi( the role of clubs The huge ft Grove was purch hemians and the 1,500 to 2,0005 campment, whic weeks in July, wl ern California. 1-] men in resident most return to th ends. During thr plays, symphonir commentaries t ars, and governn canoe, swim, drc guided tours inti forest. But a stay time for relaxal lodges, bunkhor obtrusively into three macadami acres within the for the power eli' The men g: 30 members dur imately 120 can Sons of Toil, ( Owl’s Nest, Hill men from Los A gels, and the In their camp Avia cial drinks, brun invite members a fraternity syste‘ members :lub mem- Jle only to a are some- r their sur- 11 give lists clubs there 0 domain. embership >y 12 of the 7three. isiastic par- :long out of :ssity. One [about her d withdraw much.” Oth- ssure: “I’ve I’m really a easant even Inteered: “I :y like it and :essity.”7 I belong to onwide pat- ese overlaps al cohesion n of the na- revealed by :lubs in sev- icluding the :ociation in burgh, the lion in San os Angeles. on Boolean IS sufficient form three 1p that pro— est regional me in three mportant in me time, the m 1,000 to e of overlap tively small, “UHUIIIUW va‘vax:r v—vw .. v, ~-:7; Vui. , ranging from a high of 20 to 30 percent between clubs in the same city to as low as 1 or 2 percent in clubs at opposite ends of the country.8 One of the most central clubs in this net- work, the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, is also the most unusual and widely known club of the upper class. Its annual two—week encampment in its 2,700—acre Bohemian Grove 75 miles north of San Francisco brings together the social elite, celebrities, and government officials for relax- ation and entertainment. A description of this gathering provides the best possible insight into the role of clubs in uniting the upper class.9 The huge forest retreat called the Bohemian Grove was purchased by the club in the 18903. Bo- hemians and their guests number anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 for the three weekends in the en— campment, which is always held during the last two weeks in July, when it almost never rains in north— ern California. However, there may be as few as 400 men in residence in the middle of the week, for most return to their homes and jobs after the week- ends. During their stay the campers are treated to plays, symphonies, concerts, lectures, and political commentaries by entertainers, musicians, schol— ars, and government officials. They also trapshoot, canoe, swim, drop by the Grove art gallery, and take guided tours into the outer fringe of the mountain forest. But a stay at the Bohemian Grove is mostly a time for relaxation and drinking in the modest lodges, bunkhouses, and even teepees that fit un- obtrusively into the landscape along the two or three macadam roads that join the few “developed” acres within the Grove. It is like a summer camp for the power elite and their entertainers. The men gather in little camps of about 10 to 30 members during their stay. Each of the approx- imately 120 camps has its own pet name, such as Sons of Toil, Cave Man, Mandalay, Toyland, Owl’s Nest, Hill Billies, and Parsonage. A group of men from Los Angeles named their camp Lost An- gels, and the men in the Bohemian chorus call their camp Aviary. Some camps are noted for spe- cial drinks, brunches, or luncheons, to which they invite members from other camps. The camps are a fraternity system within the larger fraternity. Janeq mayo imp £19th 12 91991:) plnom um Buol sq), u; 1nq ‘axeglam mm ‘xg 310mb 12 sq THE AMERICAN UPPER CLASS 159 There are many traditional events during the encampment, including plays called the High Iinx and the Low Iinx. But the most memorable event, celebrated every consecutive year since 1880, is the opening ceremony, called the Cre- mation of Care. This ceremony takes place at the base ofa 40—foot Owl Shrine constructed out of poured concrete and made even more resplen- dent by the mottled forest mosses that cover much of it. The Owl Shrine is only one of many owl symbols and insignias to be found in the Grove and the downtown clubhouse, for the owl was adopted early in the club’s history as its mascot or totem animal. The opening ceremony is called the Crema- tion of Care because it involves the burning of an effigy named Dull Care, who symbolizes the bur- dens and responsibilities that these busy Bohemi— ans now wish to shed temporarily. More than 60 Bohemians take part in the ceremony as priests, acolytes, torch bearers, brazier bearers, boat- men, and woodland voices. After many flowery speeches and a long conversation with Dull Care, the high priest lights the fire with the flame from the Lamp of Fellowship, located on the “Altar of Bohemia" at the base of the shrine. The cere- mony, which has the same initiatory functions as those of any fraternal or tribal group, ends with fireworks, shooting, and the playing of “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.” The at- tempt to create a sense of cohesion and solidarity among the assembled is complete. As the case of the Bohemian Grove and its symbolic ceremonies rather dramatically illus- trate, there seems to be a great deal of truth to the earlier—cited suggestion by Crane Brinton that clubs may have the function within the upper class that the clan or brotherhood has in tribal so— cieties. With their restrictive membership poli- cies, initiatory rituals, private ceremonials, and great emphasis on tradition, clubs carry on the heritage of primitive secret societies. They create within their members an attitude of prideful ex— clusiveness that contributes greatly to an in-group feeling and a sense of fraternity within the upper class. . . . 160 G. William Domhoff MARRIAGE AND FAMILY CONTINUITY The institution of marriage is as important in the upper class as it is in any level of American soci- ety, and it does not differ greatly from other levels in its patterns and rituals. Only the exclusive site of the occasion and the lavishness of the recep- tion distinguish upper-class marriages. The prevailing wisdom within the upper class is that children marry someone of their own social class. The women interviewed by Ostrander, for example, felt that marriage was difficult enough without differences in “interests” and “back- ground,” which seemed to be the code words for class in discussions of marriage. Marriages outside the class were seen as likely to end in divorce.10 . . . The general picture for social class and mar- riage in the United States is suggested in a statisti- cal study of neighborhoods and marriage patterns in the San Francisco area. Its results are very simi- lar to the Philadelphia study using the Social Regis- ter. Of 80 grooms randomly selected from the highest-level neighborhoods, court records showed that 51 percent married brides of a comparable level. The rest married women from middle-level neighborhoods; only one or two married women from lower-level residential areas. Conversely, 63 percent of 81 grooms from the lowest-level neig...
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