Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Boston Brahmins

Lew Rockwell has posted this great clip of two Boston Brahmins in conversation.

From Wikipedia here's a little history about the Brahmins:
Boston Brahmins are wealthy Yankee families characterized by a highly discreet and inconspicuous life style. Based in and around Boston, they form an integral part of the historic core of the East Coast establishment. They are associated with the distinctive Boston Brahmin accent, and with Harvard University.

The term Brahmin refers to the highest caste in the caste system in India. In the United States it has been applied to the old, upper crust New England families of British Protestant origin that were extremely influential in the development and leadership of arts, culture, science, politics, trade, and academia. The term was certainly applied partly in jest to characterize the often erudite and pretentious nature of the New England gentry to outsiders. The nature of the Brahmins is summarized in the doggerel "Boston Toast" by Harvard alumnus John Collins Bossidy.

"And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God."

Boston's "Brahmin elite" developed a semi-aristocratic value system by the 1840s. Cultivated, urbane, and dignified, a Boston Brahmin was the very essence of enlightened aristocracy. The ideal Brahmin was not only wealthy, but displayed suitable personal virtues and character traits. The term was coined in 1861 by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.The Brahmin was expected to cultivate the arts, support charities such as hospitals and colleges, and assume the role of community leader. Although the ideal called on him to transcend commonplace business values, in practice many found the thrill of economic success quite attractive. The Brahmins warned each other against "avarice" and insisted upon "personal responsibility". Scandal and divorce were unacceptable. The total system was buttressed by the strong extended family ties present in Boston society. Young men attended the same prep schools and colleges,[5] and heirs married heiresses. Family not only served as an economic asset, but also as a means of moral restraint. Most belong to the Unitarian or Episcopal churches, although some were Congregationalists or Methodists. Politically they were successively Federalists, Whigs, and Republicans. They were marked by their manners and distinctive elocution, the Boston Brahmin accent, version of the New England accent.

Do you have a Brahmin surname? According to Wikipedia, there seems to be only 24:

2.1 Adams
2.2 Amory
2.3 Bacon
2.4 Cabot
2.5 Chaffee/Chafee
2.6 Choate
2.7 Codman
2.8 Coffin
2.9 Coolidge
2.10 Cooper
2.11 Cushing
2.12 Crowninshield
2.13 Dana
2.14 Delano
2.15 Dudley
2.16 Dwight
2.17 Eliot
2.18 Emerson
2.19 Endicott
2.20 Forbes
2.21 Gardner
2.22 Holmes
2.23 Jackson
2.24 Lawrence
2.25 Lodge
2.26 Lowell
2.27 Minot
2.28 Norcross
2.29 Otis
2.30 Parkman
2.31 Peabody
2.32 Perkins
2.33 Phillips
2.34 Putnam
2.35 Quincy
2.36 Rice
2.37 Saltonstall
2.38 Sears
2.39 Tarbox
2.40 Thorndike
2.41 Tudor
2.42 Weld
2.43 Wigglesworth
2.44 Winthrop


  1. Another very interesting post... more like these plllzz

  2. How many been in Skull and Bones?

  3. Do I have a Brahmin surname? Let me check. Nope, 'Ruiz' did not make the cut.

  4. So the Kennedy family wouldn't count then? Certainly wealthy and erudite. And certainly Bostonian.

    1. And definitely made rich from bootlegging.

  5. Lysander,

    The Kennedys are Catholics (some would say 'Catholics'), while the Brahmins come from Protestant stock (Wikipedia says that most were members of Episcopalian or Congregationalist churches). It's the difference between coming from England and Ireland. Anyone with any blood in either camp could talk your ear off about it, but I'll spare you.

    1. Well, and the Kennedys aren't from old money. I presume that, from the standpoint of the Boston aristocracy, one would need to spend more time than they Kennedys have enjoying the right sorts of experiences to stop being parvenus.

  6. Y'know, it would be easy to blow these people off as "elitists" (duh).
    But I mourn the death of so many regional dialects and cultures in America. From these fine gentlemen to Gullah in the Sea Islands, it will all too soon be wiped out by "TV Standard" speech.
    Some day we'll all be Valley Girls....

  7. Rhode Island, where I grew up, had its own much smaller coterie of brahmins, lead by the Brown family. One evening when I was in my early teens, my very-not-brahmin family was having dinner in a Howard Johnson's when a lady at a nearby table managed to slide off her seat onto the floor, from which position she began to laugh in the distinctive way that brahmins do. My father helped her up off the floor. A short time later the lady and her husband walked out the front door into their waiting limo, attracting the attention of most of the wait staff. It was my first close encounter with the breed. Very entertaining.

  8. Awesome article.