A Statistical Study of Prominent Marriages
In addition to the survey of some of the most important statistical studies made in the field of social class by other researchers, the following investigation is presented. All the news items relating to marriages found in the Sunday editions of the New York Times during the year 1938 were clipped. Some very short items might have escaped notice, but it was the intention to catch every one. In all, more than 600 items were clipped, many of which were too short to give any information beyond the names and places of the weddings.
However, some short clippings contained genealogical data indicating that two long lines of well-known families were marrying. The problem, then, was to reduce the number of clippings without handpicking them. The only suitable device found was to confine the study to the longest clippings. By using it, the researcher hoped to obtain (1) information about the most important marriages, since the length of space given to weddings indicates something of the Time's evaluation of the importance of the parties concerned, and (2) clippings which would give enough data to be subject to statistical treatment.
By choosing the longest clippings, the study was limited to exactly 100 weddings, involving 200 persons. The social class data desired was:
1. Nationality backgrounds.
2. Religious backgrounds.
3. Number of residences.
4. Places of permanent residence.
5. Occupations of ancestors and subjects.
6. Length of residence of subjects or ancestors in America.
7. Number of prominent family lines mentioned.
8. Kinds and amounts of education.
9. Kinds of clubs and organizations.
Data was not given on all of these items in sufficient quantity to allow for incorporation in statistical forms. For instance, except for the names, little evidence was given as to the nationality backgrounds of the participants in the ceremonies. The names, however, judging from their linguistic origins, were predominantly British.
The same was true of the religious backgrounds. The names of the churches indicated a preponderance of Protestant Episcopal services, but this was not often specifically stated in so many words.
The number of residences run from one to four, with a liberal sprinkling of two's. However, the data were too infrequently given to allow for statistical tabulation.
The occupations of ancestors proved interesting, indicating a considerable number of prominent business men, with a heavy showing of political, military, and religious leaders. These, of course, are not self-excluding categories. Data on clubs and organizations were scanty, and there were so many types and kinds given that classification proved to be impossible. Length of residence in America is rarely revealed.
On two points, however, society editors were careful to put in their accounts the facts. These were: 1. Prominent ancestors and 2. The kinds and amounts of education.
From the former one gets the impression that persons socially prominent today receive part of their recognition because of the prominence of their ancestors, in some cases even of relatively remote forebears. From the latter one can see that exclusiveness in educational institutions is one of the hallmarks of high social class in the United States. The figures follow:
1. Of the 100 longest newspaper articles pertaining to weddings that took place in 1938, as printed in the Sunday editions of the New York Times, 97 persons were referred to as having illustrious ancestors. Of these (97) persons whose prominent ancestors were mentioned, there was an average of 2.6 such ancestors named and referred to as prominent. Ancestors were not mentioned for the other 103 persons, but since their eminence was not stressed, it was impossible to determine how many of them might, on careful scrutiny, deserve also to be listed among important persons of their times.
2. In order to tabulate the educational backgrounds of the subjects, the following scale was set up, ranging from 1 to 5, as follows:
1. Private school, finishing school, or fashionable college.
2. Private school or other college.
3. Public school and college.
4. Public school.
5. Business school.
For the 200 persons in all the weddings data were given for 126. The mean average of these was 1.2. Only four persons were listed in category three (public school and college). In the second category nineteen persons were listed; whereas 102 were classified in the first category. None were listed under the last two headings.
The importance of a private school education in the making of social class standing is indicated in the value placed upon it by the parents or by the fact that such is the custom among those of social importance.
Conclusion. The customs of the middle and upper classes, and their sense of values, are revealed in the society columns of the daily press. They may be revealed directly or in a roundabout fashion. The society editors must have a keen sense of what is important to the various middle and upper class groups. Travel, weddings, social gatherings, and charitable endeavors are sources of the news which must not be neglected by the editors. Again, the substance of the news stories covering these topics must conform to the sense of values and mention the information deemed appropriate by the subjects. In this way the middle and upper classes "spread themselves" before the public eye in a manner suitable to their own sense of advertising.
From the foregoing study of some of these newspaper accounts of socially important events it is clear that the upper classes do not parade their religious preferences before the world. But they are proud of and eager to maintain prominent ancestors and private schooling.
The first three clippings, as they lay where they fell, contained the following indicative words:
"Hundreds of colonists at reception . . . great-grandfather, John Carter Brown . . ."
" . . . great-granddaughter of Hiram Sibley, first president of the Western Union . . ."
"A wedding uniting two families long prominent in Connecticut . . . "