From Citizendium
Revision as of 17:38, 14 February 2010 by imported>Howard C. Berkowitz
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

WASP refers to White Anglo-Saxon Protestants in the United States or Canada, usually in a reference to an apparent elite status. The "Anglo-Saxon" part means of English descent, though in common usage people descended from elsewhere in western and northern Europe are included. By contrast Yankee refers to New Englanders of English descent, regardless of social status, while WASP includes high status white Southerners. The term WASP is used by some in a disparaging manner. More generally, Southerners in the U.S. call all Northerners "Yankees", and people outside the U.S. call all Americans "Yankees" or "Yanks."

A class factor is implicit, so that working class whites are not usually called WASPs. By the 21st century, less than 25% of the American population is of English descent, yet they continue to have disproportionate influence over major American institutions, especially cultural, educational, business and financial ones.


People seldom call themselves WASPs; the term is used by outsiders, often with a slight negative undertone.

Irish usage

"Anglo-Saxon" was a term favored by the French (to criticize close diplomatic relations between the US and Britain), and by the Irish Catholics, who considered themselves Celtic and resisted Anglo-Saxon (English) rule in Ireland. American humorist Finley Peter Dunne popularized the ridicule of "Anglo Saxon" circa 1890-1910, even calling President Theodore Roosevelt one. Roosevelt insisted he was Dutch, and invited Dunne to the White House for conversation. "To be genuinely Irish is to challenge WASP dominance," argues Irish politician Tom Hayden.[1] The depiction of the Irish in the films of John Ford was a counterpoint to WASP standards of rectitude. "The procession of rambunctious and feckless Celts through Ford's films, Irish and otherwise, was meant to cock a snoot at WASP or 'lace-curtain Irish' ideas of respectability."[2]


WASP was popularized by sociologist and University of Pennsylvania professor E. Digby Baltzell in his 1964 book The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy & Caste in America. However, its first recorded use was by Andrew Hacker in 1957.[3]

The original use of WASP denoted either an ethnic group, or the culture, customs, and heritage of early Western European settlers in what is today the United States. The New England Yankee elite were almost exclusively of English extraction.

WASPs vary in religion, from secular to Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist and Methodist. George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush fit the WASP profile exactly. John Forbes Kerry fits the profile except he is Catholic. Catholics, Mormons and Jews are not called WASPs, nor are people of Hispanic or Asian descent.

In the western and southwestern U.S., "Anglo" is often used to contrast Americans of European ancestry from Hispanics of Mexican ancestry.

Culture attributed to WASPs

The original WASP establishment created and dominated the social structure of the United States and its significant institutions when the country's social structure took shape in the 17th century until the 20th century. Many scholars, including researcher Anthony Smith, argue that nations tend to be formed on the basis of a pre-modern ethnic "core" that provides the myths symbols and memories for the modern nation and that WASPs were indeed that core.[4] WASPs still dominate America's prep schools (expensive private high schools, primarily in the Northeast) and to Ivy League universities and prestigious liberal arts colleges, such as Amherst, Williams, Trinity, Middlebury, Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Bates, Bowdoin, and Colby Colleges. Those colleges are overwhelmingly meritocratic, but still favor "legacy" alumni. Students learned skills, habits, and attitudes and formed connections which carried over to the influential spheres of finance, culture, and politics.

Social registers and society pages listed the privileged, who mingled in the same private clubs, attended the same churches, and lived in neighborhoods — Philadelphia's "Main Line", New York City's Upper East Side, and Boston's "Beacon Hill" neighborhoods.

Fading dominance

It was not until after World War II that the networks of privilege and power in the old Protestant establishment began to lose significance. Many reasons have been attributed to the WASP decline and books have been written detailing it. [4] Among the reasons often cited is increased competitive pressure as the WASPs themselves opened the doors to competition. The GI Bill brought higher education to the children of other groups , and the postwar era created ample economic opportunity for a growing new middle class. Nevertheless, white Protestants remain represented in the country's cultural, political, and economic élite.[5]

In the federal service, once dominated by WASPs--especially the State Department--Catholics and Jews made strong inroads after 1945. Georgetown University, a Catholic school, made a systematic effort to place graduates in diplomatic career tracks, while Princeton University (a WASP bastion), got into trouble with donors because too few of its graduates were entering careers in the federal government.[6] By 2000 there were roughly equal proportions of WASPs and Jews at the elite levels of the federal civil service.[7]

While the white Protestant establishment is no longer the sole elite group in American society, it remains a significant presence throughout the nation. The University of California, Berkeley, once a WASP stronghold, has changed radically. Only 30% of its undergraduates in 2007 were of European origin (including WASPs and all other Europeans), with 63% of undergraduates from immigrant families, especially from Asia.[8]

WASPs in the Northeast, Midwest, and West were once dominant in the Republican Party. they are still present but ethnics, especially Italians are more prevalent. The Democratic party in the cities of the Northeast and Midwest came under Irish Catholic control in the late 19th century. The process was speeded in 1896 when many Democratic WASPs left the Democratic party in protest against the economic radicalism of William Jennings Bryan. This left a vacuum the Irish immediately filled.

WASPS in much of the 20th century tended toward temperamental conservatism (or "noblesse oblige" progressivism). The old style "Rockefeller Republican" wing of the party favored by WASPs weakened, as most recent successful Republican politicians in the Northeast have been Catholics, such as George Pataki. Five of the six New England states have recently become reliably Democratic in their presidential voting, with the exception of New Hampshire. White Protestants in the South are largely Republicans. Liberalism or Progressivism has also come to define a certain portion of WASP politics, especially in the Northeast. [5] Prominent WASPs such as Howard Dean and Ned Lamont have become visible leaders of the contemporary Democratic party.

External links


  1. Tom Hayden, Irish on the Inside: In Search of the Soul of Irish America (2003) p. 6
  2. Luke Gibbons, Keith Hopper, and Gráinne Humphreys, The Quiet Man (2002) p 13
  3. Andrew Hacker, 1957, American Political Science Review 51:1009-1026. Prior to Baltzell, WASP was also used by Duke University sociologist Erdman B. Palmore in The American Journal of Sociology in 1962.
  4. see [1]
  5. Davidson, James D.; Pyle, Ralph E.; Reyes, David V.: "Persistence and Change in the Protestant Establishment, 1930-1992," Social Forces, Vol. 74, No. 1. (September., 1995), p. 164
  6. The princeton debate was not about ethnicity per se. see the attack at [2] and Princeton's defense at [3]
  7. Kaufman (2004) p 220
  8. John Aubrey Douglass, Heinke Roebken, and Gregg Thomson. "The Immigrant University: Assessing the Dynamics of Race, Major and Socioeconomic Characteristics at the University of California." (November 2007) online edition