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Education of an Elite

  • Edward N. Saveth (a1)

About a century ago, the private boarding school movement began in earnest in the United States. What are today considered among the best, if not the best, boarding schools were founded between 1883 and 1906: Lawrenceville (1883); Groton (1884); Woodbury Forest (1889); Taft (1890); Hotchkiss (1892); Choate (1896); St. George's (1896); Middlesex (1901); Deerfield (1903); and Kent (1906). Other schools launched earlier, were enlarged or their character altered during this quarter century: Phillips Andover (1778); Phillips Exeter (1783); Episcopal (1839); Hill (1851); St. Paul's (1856); and St. Mark's (1865). This is the “select sixteen” identified by E. Digby Baltzell in The Protestant Establishment. Baltzell should know—being a Philadelphia mainliner, a graduate of St. Paul's, and for years professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

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1 Digby Baltzell, E., The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Class in America (New York, 1964), 128.

2 Useem, Michael, “The Social Organization of the American Business Elite and Participation of Corporation Directors in the Governance of American Institutions,American Sociological Review 44 (Aug. 1979): 553–72.

3 Packard, Vance, The Status Seekers: An Exploration of Class Behavior in America and the Hidden Barriers That Affect You, Your Community, Your Future (New York, 1959), 253–56.

4 Cookson, Peter W. Jr., and Hodges Persell, Caroline, Preparing for Power: America's Elite Boarding Schools (New York, 1985).

5 Profile of Private Secondary Boarding Schools,” in Sargent, Porter, The Handbook of Private Schools: An Annual Descriptive Survey of Independent Education (Boston, 1981).

6 Keller, Morton, ed., Problems of Modern Democracy: Problems and Economic Essays (Cambridge, 1966), 280; Armstrong, William M., ed., The Gilded Age: Letters of E. L. Godkin (Albany, N.Y., 1974), 101.

7 Adams, Henry, The Education of Henry Adams Sentry ed. (New York, 1961), 285.

8 Kirkland, Edward C., Charles Francis Adams, Jr., 1835–1915: The Patrician at Bay (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), 159–60.

9 Godkin, E. L. to Frederick Law Olmsted, quoted in Geoffrey Blodgett, “Reform Thought and the Genteel Tradition,” in The Gilded Age, ed. H. Wayne Morgan (Syracuse, N.Y., 1970), 71; Godkin, E. L., “Role of the Universities in Politics,” in Reflections and Comments, 1865–1985 (New York, 1895), 157–60.

10 William Curtis, George, The Public Duty of Educated Men (Albany, N.Y., 1897).

11 Haraszti, Zoltan, John Adams and the Prophets of Progress (Cambridge, Mass., 1952), 74.

12 Schwartz, Barry, “The Character of Washington: A Study in Republican Culture,American Quarterly 38 (Summer 1986): 202–22; Cappon, Lester J., ed., The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams 2 vols. (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1959), 2: 402; McFarland, Gerald W., ed., The Mugwumps, 1884–1900: Moralists or Pragmatists? (New York, 1975), 1.

13 Shils, Edward, Center and Periphery: Essays in Macrosociology (Chicago, 1975), 278.

14 Kirkland, , Adams 180, 189.

15 Ibid., 54, 296.

16 Hughes, Thomas, “The Public Schools of England: Part II,North American Review 128 (1879): 352, 369, and “Part III,” 129 (1879): 52.

17 Sargent, , Handbook (1915), xxi, 78.

18 Kirkland, , Adams 148.

19 McLachlan, James, America's Boarding Schools: A Historical Study (New York, 1970), 84.

20 Kit, and Konolige, Frederica, The Power of Their Glory: America's Ruling Class, the Episcopalians (New York, 1978), 8194, 140–71.

21 Pier, Arthur S., St. Paul's School, 1855–1934 (New York, 1934), 223.

22 Heckscher, August, St. Paul's: The Life of a New England School (New York, 1980), 93.

23 Morison, Elting E., ed., The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt (Cambridge, 1951), 3: 107–8.

24 Link, Arthur S., ed., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson (Princeton, N.J., 1966), 19: 226ff. One wonders why the reputedly strong fathers of the Victorian era surrendered their sons to headmasters serving in loco parentis. Why were both J. P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt impressed by the strong moral force that drove Henry Augustus Coit, headmaster of St. Paul's before Drury? Is this another episode in the decline of the father's role, which, according to psychohistorians, began with the rebellion of Americans against the father king? George B. Forgie traces paternal weakening throughout the nineteenth century, and Joe J. Dubbert interprets Victorian fathers as voting in large numbers for Theodore Roosevelt because they saw in him a father image stronger than they. No wonder the boys idealized and idolized their headmasters as fathers larger than life. Joe J. Dubbert, A Man's Place: Masculinity in Transition (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1979); Forgie, George B., Patricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and His Age (New York, 1979).

25 Sargent, , Handbook (1915), xxi.

26 Szasz, F. M., “The Stress on ‘Character and Service’ in Progressive America,Mid-America 63 (Oct. 1981): 145–56.

27 Pocock, J. G. A., Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 1985); idem, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, N.J., 1974); Wood, Gordon S., “The Fundamentalists and the Constitution,New York Review of Books, 18 Feb. 1988, 33–40.

28 Appleby, Joyce, Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790's (New York, 1984).

29 Hall, Peter D., The Organization of American Culture, 1700–1900: Private Institutions, Elites, and the Origins of American Nationality (New York, 1982), 90; Diggins, John P. and Kann, Mark E., eds., The Problem of Authority in America (Philadelphia, 1981).

30 Dutton Taft, Horace, Memories and Opinions (New York, 1942), 197–99, 222–23, 227, 245, 257, 260.

31 Howard Taft, William, “The College Slouch,Ladies Home Journal, 31 (May 1914).

32 Ward, Geoffrey C., Before the Trumpet: Young Franklin Roosevelt, 1882–1905 (New York, 1985), 179.

33 Schwartz, , “The Character of Washington,205.

34 Szasz, , “Stress on ‘Character and Service.'

35 McLachlan, , America's Boarding Schools 285.

36 Isaacson, Walter and Thomas, Evan, The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made: Acheson, Bohlen, Harriman, Kennan, Lovett, McCloy (New York, 1986), 40.

37 Davies, John, The Legend of Hobey Baker (Boston, 1966), x.

38 Crosbie, L. M., The Phillips Exeter Academy (Norwood, Mass., 1924), 218.

39 Ashburn, Frank D., Peabody of Groton: A Portrait (New York, 1944), 100101.

40 Memorials of St. Paul's School (New York, 1891), 137.

41 Cabot, R. C., Prescriptions … (Boston, 1915), 26.

42 Santayana, George, The Last Puritan: A Memoir in the Form of a Novel (New York, 1936), 380, 382, 387, 395, 397, 541.

43 Thimmesch, Nick and Johnson, William O., Robert Kennedy at 40 (New York, 1965), 28.

44 Davies, , The Legend of Hobey Baker xi.

45 Quoted in Stimson Bullitt, To Be a Politician (New York, 1959), xix.

46 Morison, , Roosevelt 8: 1434–35.

47 Quoted in Dubbert, A Man's Place, 181.

48 Isaacson and Thomas, Wise Men 55.

49 The Grotonian (June 1907), 154.

50 Adams, , Education 420. Professor Samuel P. Huntington and the late Professor Warren Susman have indicated the importance of research into American aristocratic traditions. Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, and Joji Watameki, eds., The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission (New York, 1975), 89; Susman, Walter, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1984), 95.

51 Godkin, E. L., Introduction to Orations and Essays by Edmund Burke (New York, 1900), xiii.

52 Keller, , Problems of Modern Democracy 2728, 44; “What Is the Use of Going to College?” The Nation, 4 Apr. 1867, 276; Godkin, E. L., Henry G. Pearson: A Memorial Address Delivered June 21, 1894 (New York, [1894]), 5.

53 Quoted in McLachlan, America's Boarding Schools, 136; Levine, Steven B., “The Rise of American Boarding Schools and the Development of a National Upper-Class,Social Problems 28 (Oct. 1980).

54 Wilkinson, Rupert, Gentlemanly Power: British Leadership and the Public School Tradition: A Comparative Study in the Making of Rulers (New York, 1964), vii, 37.

55 It has been said of the English public schools that, in view of the backgrounds of students, the goal of training for leadership may be superfluous. “The future leaders just happened to be lodged there to spend their youth.” Brian Simon and Jan Bradley, eds. The Victorian Public School: Studies in the Development of an Educational Institution: A Symposium (Dublin, 1975), 61.

56 Ashburn, , Peabody 176–77; The Grotonian (June 1897).

57 Bundy, McGeorge and Stimson, Henry L., On Active Service in Peace and War (New York, 1948), xvii; Morison, E. E., Turmoil and Tradition: A Study of the Life and Times of Henry L. Stimson (Boston, 1960), 17, 27, 38, 40. Adlai Stevenson, of Choate and Princeton, and John V. Lindsay, of St. Paul's and Yale, stress the role of their preparatory schools and colleges in shaping their decisions for public service. Kenneth S. Davis, A Prophet in His Own Country: The Triumphs and Defeats of Adlai E. Stevenson (New York, 1957), 20, 36–37, 52; Davis, Kenneth S., The Politics of Honor: A Biography of Adlai E. Stevenson (New York, 1967); Miller, H. J., Adlai Stevenson: A Study in Values (New York, 1967); Brown, Stuart G., Conscience in Politics: Adlai E. Stevenson in the 1950's (Syracuse, N.Y. 1961), 251–52; Ives, E. S. and Dolson, H., My Brother Adlai (New York, 1956), 152–55; Lindsay, John V., Journey into Politics: Some Informal Observations (New York, 1967), 4.

58 Choate Alumni Bulletin 8 (Nov. 1946): 74–75.

59 Drury, Stephen S., Drury and St. Paul's 86, 108.

60 Seidel Canby, Henry, Alma Mater: The Gothic Age of the American College (New York, 1936), 126, 135–36.

61 Byrnes, Robert F., Awakening American Education to the World: The Role of Archibald Cary Coolidge, 1866–1928 (Notre Dame, Ind., 1982), 153. A similar role was played by William and Robert Morse Lovett. Ernest R. May, American Imperialism (New York, 1968), 44–48.

62 Isaacson and Thomas, Wise Men 142–54, 157–58; Destler, I. M., Gelb, Leslie H., and Lake, Anthony, Our Own Worst Enemy: The Unmaking of American Foreign Policy (New York, 1984), 103, 124–25, 189; Weil, Martin, A Pretty Good Club: The Founding Fathers of the U.S. Foreign Service (New York, 1978).

63 Wyman, David S., The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941–1945 (New York, 1984).

64 Grant, Madison, The Passing of the Great Race; or, the Racial Bias of European History (New York, 1921); Stoddard, T. L., The Rising Tide of Color against White World-Supremacy (New York, 1920).

65 Alsop, Joseph, FDR: 1882–1945: A Centenary Remembrance (New York, 1982), 12.

66 Eliot, Charles W., “The Function of Education in Democratic Society,” in Charles W. Eliot: The Man and His Beliefs, ed. Neilson, W. A. (New York, 1926); Hawkins, Hugh, Between Harvard and America: The Educational Leadership of Charles W. Eliot (New York, 1972), 182, 224–62.

67 James, William, “The Social Value of the College Bred,McClure's Magazine 30 (Feb. 1908): 419–22.

68 Canby, , Alma Mater 225, 240.

69 Oren, David, Joining the Club: A History of Jews and Yale (New Haven, Conn., 1985), 8586.

70 Sam Anson, Robert, Best Intentions: The Education and Killing of Edmund Perry (New York, 1987). The subject of Jews and blacks in preparatory schools is treated tangentially in Frederick S. Allis, Jr., Youth from Every Quarter: A Bicentennial History of Phillips Academy (Hanover, 1979), 344–45, 616; Saltonstall, William G., Lewis Perry of Exeter (New York, 1980), 77–78; Levine, , “Rise of American Boarding Schools.”

71 Heckscher, , St. Paul's 361–63.

72 Allis, , Youth from Every Quarter.

73 Preppies: The Last Upper-Class,” Atlantic 243 (Jan. 1979): 5566.

74 Heckscher, , St. Paul's 363.

75 Anson, , Best Intentions 108.

76 Cookson and Persell, Preparing for Power.

77 Smigel, Erwin O., The Wall Street Lawyer: Professional Organization Man? (New York, 1964), 7273.

78 Bell, Daniel, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (New York, 1976), 83.

79 Cookson and Persell, Preparing for Power 168, 188, 196, 260, 265, 288, 316. Diverse views concerning the value to society and, to some extent the individual, of education in elite private schools are advanced by J. P. Marquand in Millicent Bell, Marquand: An American Life (Boston, 1979), 65; “Twelve of the Best American Schools,” Fortune 13 (June 1936); Curwen, Henry D., ed., Exeter Remembered (Exeter, N.H., 1965). Criticism is centered mainly in the failure of graduates to contribute to public life. John F. Kennedy took this position in 1946. Shortly before his assassination, Kennedy acknowledged the values of elite education in training public servants. He also said: “These schools will not survive if they become the exclusive possession of a single class or creed or color.” Curwen, Exeter Remembered, 109.

80 Johnson, Owen M., Stover at Yale (New York, 1912), 88, 188, 260, 265, 288, 316.

81 Bloom, Allan, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students (New York, 1987), 8990.

82 Bundy, McGeorge, The Strength of Government (Cambridge, 1968), 90.

83 Marty, Martin E., “Pluralists Take It on the Chin—Deservedly,New York Times, 2 Apr. 1988, 23.

84 Quoted in Sandra Frances Van Burkleo, “Honour, Justice, and Interest': John Jay's Republican Politics and Statesmanship on the Federal Bench,” Journal of the Early Republic 4 (Fall 1984): 239–74.

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History of Education Quarterly
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  • EISSN: 1748-5959
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