White Anglo-Saxon Protestant
White Anglo-Saxon Protestant or WASP is an informal term, often derogatory or disparaging, for a closed group of high-status Americans mostly of British Protestant ancestry. The group supposedly wields disproportionate financial and social power. When it appears in writing, it is usually used to indicate the author's disapproval of the group's perceived excessive power in society. People seldom call themselves WASPs, except humorously; the term is typically used by non-WASPs. The term excludes Catholics, Jews, Slavs, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asians. The term also is used in Australia and Canada for similar powerful groups.

While WASP power in the United States was unchallenged throughout the 19th century and the early 20th century, most scholars agree that the group's influence has waned since the end of World War II, with the growing importance of Catholics, Jews, and other former outsiders.

Origin of term

Historically, "Anglo-Saxon" has been used for centuries to refer to the Anglo Saxon language of the inhabitants of England before 1066, and since the 19th century has been in common use to refer to people of English descent. The "W" and "P" were added in the 1950s to form a witty epithet with an undertone of "waspishness" (which means a person who is easily irritated and quick to take offense).

The first definition of the term was provided by political scientist Andrew Hacker in 1957, although it was already used as common terminology among sociologists:
"They are 'WASPs'—in the cocktail party jargon of the sociologists. That is, they are wealthy, they are Anglo-Saxon in origin, and they are Protestants (and disproportionately Episcopalian
Episcopal Church (United States)
The Episcopal Church is a mainline Anglican Christian church found mainly in the United States , but also in Honduras, Taiwan, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, the British Virgin Islands and parts of Europe...

). To their Waspishness should be added the tendency to be located on the eastern seaboard or around San Francisco, to be prep school and Ivy League educated, and to be possessed of inherited wealth."

The term was popularized by sociologist and University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Penn is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States,Penn is the fourth-oldest using the founding dates claimed by each institution...

 professor E. Digby Baltzell
E. Digby Baltzell
Edward Digby Baltzell was an American sociologist, academic and author.-Life and career:Baltzell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a wealthy Episcopalian family. "Digby" attended St. Paul's School, an Episcopal boarding school in New Hampshire. He attended the University of Pennsylvania,...

 in his 1964 book The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America. Baltzell stressed the closed or caste-like characteristic of the group, arguing, "There is a crisis in American leadership in the middle of the twentieth century that is partly due, I think, to the declining authority of an establishment which is now based on an increasingly castelike White-Anglo Saxon-Protestant (WASP) upper class."


Sociologists William Thompson and Joseph Hickey noted the expansion of the term's coverage over time:
WASPs vary in exact Protestant denomination, from secular to mainline Protestant to Fundamentalist Protestant. Though Anglo-Saxons and Scots-Irish are still the groups most commonly ascribed the term, other well-established American Protestants with Northwestern and Northern European heritage are also associated with the term, such as those of Dutch and German
German American
German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry and comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group...


In general, Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics, Orthodox
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

, and Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 are not considered WASPs, nor are African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

s or people of Hispanic
Hispanic is a term that originally denoted a relationship to Hispania, which is to say the Iberian Peninsula: Andorra, Gibraltar, Portugal and Spain. During the Modern Era, Hispanic sometimes takes on a more limited meaning, particularly in the United States, where the term means a person of ...

, Mediterranean and Southern Europe
Southern Europe
The term Southern Europe, at its most general definition, is used to mean "all countries in the south of Europe". However, the concept, at different times, has had different meanings, providing additional political, linguistic and cultural context to the definition in addition to the typical...

an, Middle Eastern, Slavic
Slavic peoples
The Slavic people are an Indo-European panethnicity living in Eastern Europe, Southeast Europe, North Asia and Central Asia. The term Slavic represents a broad ethno-linguistic group of people, who speak languages belonging to the Slavic language family and share, to varying degrees, certain...

, Native American
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

, or Asian
Asian American
Asian Americans are Americans of Asian descent. The U.S. Census Bureau definition of Asians as "Asian” refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan,...

 descent. In recent years, another minor usage has appeared in northeastern states to refer to a fashion style or a preppy lifestyle.`

Nevertheless, as social, political, and economic elites are no longer fully dominated by WASPs, the term itself is gradually heard less and less.

Culture attributed to WASPs

The original WASP establishment created and dominated the social structure of the United States
Social structure of the United States
Social class is a controversial issue in the United States, having many competing definitions, models, and even disagreements over its very existence. Many Americans believe in a simple three-class model that includes the "rich", the "middle class", and the "poor"...

 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. WASPs are still considered prominent at prep schools (expensive private high schools, primarily in the Northeast), Ivy League
Ivy League
The Ivy League is an athletic conference comprising eight private institutions of higher education in the Northeastern United States. The conference name is also commonly used to refer to those eight schools as a group...

 universities, and prestigious liberal arts colleges, such as the Little Ivies
Little Ivies
Little Ivies is a colloquialism referring to a group of small, selective American liberal arts colleges; however, it does not denote any official organization....

 or Seven Sisters
Seven Sisters (colleges)
The Seven Sisters are seven liberal arts colleges in the Northeastern United States that are historically women's colleges. They are Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Radcliffe College, Smith College, Vassar College, and Wellesley College. All were founded between 1837 and...

. Entry to these colleges is based on merit, but there is nonetheless a certain preference for "legacy" alumni. Students learned skills, habits, and attitudes and formed connections which carried over to the influential spheres of finance, culture, and politics.

WASP families, particularly the affluent upper-class, are sometimes stereotyped as pursuing traditional British diversions such as squash
Squash (sport)
Squash is a high-speed racquet sport played by two players in a four-walled court with a small, hollow rubber ball...

, golf, tennis, equestrianism
Equestrianism more often known as riding, horseback riding or horse riding refers to the skill of riding, driving, or vaulting with horses...

, croquet
Croquet is a lawn game, played both as a recreational pastime and as a competitive sport. It involves hitting plastic or wooden balls with a mallet through hoops embedded into the grass playing court.-History:...

, polo
Polo is a team sport played on horseback in which the objective is to score goals against an opposing team. Sometimes called, "The Sport of Kings", it was highly popularized by the British. Players score by driving a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team's goal using a...

, and yachting
Yachting refers to recreational sailing or boating, the specific act of sailing or using other water vessels for sporting purposes.-Competitive sailing:...

 — expensive pursuits that need both leisure time and affluence to pursue, and which sociologists such as Thorstein Veblen
Thorstein Veblen
Thorstein Bunde Veblen, born Torsten Bunde Veblen was an American economist and sociologist, and a leader of the so-called institutional economics movement...

 (The Theory of the Leisure Class
The Theory of the Leisure Class
The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions is a book, first published in 1899, by the Norwegian-American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen while he was a professor at the University of Chicago....

) have pointed to as a marker of social standing. Social register
Social Register
Specific to the United States, the Social Register is a directory of names and addresses of prominent American families who form the social elite, . The "Directory" automatically includes the President of the United States and the First Family, and in the past always included the U.S. Senators and...

s and society pages listed the privileged, who mingled in the same private clubs, attended the same churches, and lived in neighborhoods—Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Philadelphia County, with which it is coterminous. The city is located in the Northeastern United States along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. It is the fifth-most-populous city in the United States,...

's Main Line
Pennsylvania Main Line
The Main Line is an unofficial historical and socio-cultural region of suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, comprising a collection of affluent towns built along the old Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad which ran northwest from downtown Philadelphia parallel to Lancaster Avenue , a road...

 and Chestnut Hill
Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Chestnut Hill is a neighborhood in the Northwest Philadelphia section of the United States city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.-Boundaries:Chestnut Hill is bounded as follows:...

 neighborhoods, New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

's Princeton
Princeton, New Jersey
Princeton is a community located in Mercer County, New Jersey, United States. It is best known as the location of Princeton University, which has been sited in the community since 1756...

, Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

's Palm Beach
Palm Beach
-Places:Aruba*Palm Beach, Aruba, a town northwest of OranjestadAustralia*Palm Beach, New South Wales, a suburb of the city of Sydney*Palm Beach, Queensland, a part of the Gold CoastFrance*Palm Beach, France, located on the Mediterranean Sea in Cannes...

, New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

's Upper East Side
Upper East Side
The Upper East Side is a neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, between Central Park and the East River. The Upper East Side lies within an area bounded by 59th Street to 96th Street, and the East River to Fifth Avenue-Central Park...

 and Central Park West
Central Park West
Central Park West is an avenue that runs north-south in the New York City borough of Manhattan, in the United States....

; Boston's Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts
Beacon Hill is a historic neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, that along with the neighboring Back Bay is home to about 26,000 people. It is a neighborhood of Federal-style rowhouses and is known for its narrow, gas-lit streets and brick sidewalks...

 and Georgetown, Washington D.C. are fine examples. Also they may live or vacation in smaller wealthy communities like Cape Cod
Cape Cod
Cape Cod, often referred to locally as simply the Cape, is a cape in the easternmost portion of the state of Massachusetts, in the Northeastern United States...

, Massachusetts; Martha's Vineyard
Martha's Vineyard
Martha's Vineyard is an island located south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, known for being an affluent summer colony....

; Nantucket. In Connecticut: Greenwich
Greenwich is a district of south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich.Greenwich is best known for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time...

 has often been attributed as a WASP culture. In the Detroit area WASPs dominated the wealth that came from the huge industrial capacity of the automotive industry. In Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

, neighborhoods such as the North Shore (Chicago)
North Shore (Chicago)
The North Shore is a term that refers to the generally affluent suburbs north of Chicago, Illinois bordering the shore of Lake Michigan.- History :Europeans settled the area sparsely after an 1833 treaty with local Native Americans...

. In The Midwest, WASPs were attributed to Northwestern University
Northwestern University
Northwestern University is a private research university in Evanston and Chicago, Illinois, USA. Northwestern has eleven undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools offering 124 undergraduate degrees and 145 graduate and professional degrees....

, University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 and Lake Forest College
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest College, founded in 1857, is a private liberal arts college in Lake Forest, Illinois. The college has 1,500 students representing 47 states and 78 countries....


Fading dominance

It was not until after World War II that the doors of privilege and power in the old Protestant establishment were flung open from the inside, embracing the nation's growing diversity. Many reasons have been attributed to the WASP abdication of power, and books have been written detailing it. Self-imposed diversity incentives opened the country's most elite schools. The GI Bill brought higher education to new ethnic arrivals, who found middle class jobs in the postwar economic expansion. Nevertheless, white Protestants remain dominant in the country's cultural, political, and economic élite.

In the federal civil service, once dominated by WASPs—especially in the Department of State—Catholics and Jews as well as others of non-English ancestry made strong inroads after 1945. Georgetown University
Georgetown University
Georgetown University is a private, Jesuit, research university whose main campus is in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Founded in 1789, it is the oldest Catholic university in the United States...

, a Catholic school, made a systematic effort to place graduates in diplomatic career tracks, while Princeton University (a WASP bastion), at one point lost favor with donors because too few of its graduates were entering careers in the federal government. By the 1990s there were “roughly the same proportion of WASPs and Jews at the elite levels of the federal civil service, and a greater proportion of Jewish elites among corporate lawyers.”

With the 2010 retirement of John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from December 19, 1975 until his retirement on June 29, 2010. At the time of his retirement, he was the oldest member of the Court and the third-longest serving justice in the Court's history...

 (born 1920), the U.S. Supreme Court has no White Protestant members. 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), and 63% of undergraduates at the University were from immigrant families (where at least one parent was an immigrant), especially Asian.

The shifting of a significant portion of American economic activity and wealth to the Sun Belt
Sun Belt
The Sun Belt or Spanish Belt is a region of the United States generally considered to stretch across the South and Southwest . Another rough boundary of the region is the area south of the 36th parallel, north latitude. It is the largest region which the U.S government does not recognize officially...

 during the latter part of the 20th century, and an increasingly globalized economy, also contributed to a decline in the power of the Northeastern WASPS. While WASPS are no longer the sole elite in American society, they retain major positions throughout the nation.

Related political culture

WASPs are major players in the Republican Party. Politicians such as Leverett Saltonstall
Leverett Saltonstall
Leverett A. Saltonstall was an American Republican politician who served as the 55th Governor of Massachusetts and as a United States Senator .-Biography:...

 of Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

, Prescott Bush
Prescott Bush
Prescott Sheldon Bush was a Wall Street executive banker and a United States Senator, representing Connecticut from 1952 until January 1963. He was the father of George H. W. Bush and the grandfather of George W...

 of Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

, and Nelson Rockefeller
Nelson Rockefeller
Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller was the 41st Vice President of the United States , serving under President Gerald Ford, and the 49th Governor of New York , as well as serving the Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower administrations in a variety of positions...

 of New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 exemplified the liberal Republicanism of their social stratum, espousing internationalist views on foreign policy, supporting social programs, and holding liberal views on issues like racial integration. Catholics in the Northeast and the Midwest, usually Irish-American, dominated Democratic party politics in big cities through the ward boss system. Catholic (or "white ethnic") politicians were often the target of WASP political hostility.

A famous confrontation was the 1952 Senate election in Massachusetts where Irish Catholic John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

 defeated WASP Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. was a Republican United States Senator from Massachusetts and a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, South Vietnam, West Germany, and the Holy See . He was the Republican nominee for Vice President in the 1960 Presidential election.-Early life:Lodge was born in Nahant,...

 By the 1980s, the liberal Rockefeller Republican
Rockefeller Republican
Rockefeller Republican refers to a faction of the United States Republican Party who held moderate to liberal views similar to those of Nelson Rockefeller...

 wing of the party was marginalized, with the ascent of the conservative Republicans led by Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

. Today, there are two Republican members of the six New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 states' delegations to the U.S. House of Representatives, and only four Republican senators out of twelve. No Republican presidential candidate has carried more than one New England state since George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush
George Herbert Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 41st President of the United States . He had previously served as the 43rd Vice President of the United States , a congressman, an ambassador, and Director of Central Intelligence.Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, to...

 won four of six in the 1988 election
United States presidential election, 1988
The United States presidential election of 1988 featured no incumbent president, as President Ronald Reagan was unable to seek re-election after serving the maximum two terms allowed by the Twenty-second Amendment. Reagan's Vice President, George H. W. Bush, won the Republican nomination, while the...


Anglo-Saxon variant

Before WASP came into use in the 1960s the term "Anglo Saxon" filled some of the same purposes, especially when used by writers somewhat hostile to an informal alliance between Britain and the U.S. It was especially common among Irish Americans and writers in France,
"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 resisted British rule in Ireland. American humorist Finley Peter Dunne
Finley Peter Dunne
Finley Peter Dunne was a Chicago-based U.S. author, writer and humorist. He published Mr. Dooley in Peace and War, a collection of his nationally syndicated Mr. Dooley sketches, in 1898. The fictional Mr...

 popularized the ridicule of "Anglo Saxon" circa 1890-1910, even calling President Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...

 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 politician Tom Hayden. The depiction of the Irish in the films of John Ford
John Ford
John Ford was an American film director. He was famous for both his westerns such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and adaptations of such classic 20th-century American novels as The Grapes of Wrath...

 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."

"Anglo-Saxons" before 1900 was often used as a synonym for all people of English descent and sometimes more loosely, for the English-speaking peoples of the world as such. For example, American missionary Josiah Strong
Josiah Strong
Josiah Strong was an American Protestant clergyman, organizer, editor and author.-Overview:Josiah Strong was one of the founders of the Social Gospel movement that sought to apply Protestant religious principles to solve the social ills brought on by industrialization, urbanization and immigration...

 said in 1890: "In 1700 this race numbered less than 6,000,000 souls. In 1800, Anglo-Saxons (I use the term somewhat broadly to include all English-speaking peoples) had increased to about 20,500,000, and now, in 1890, they number more than 120,000,000." In 1893 Strong suggested, "This race is destined to dispossess many weaker ones, assimilate others, and mould the remainder until... it has Anglo-Saxonized mankind."

In Australia, "Anglo", "Anglo-Saxon" or "Anglo-Celtic
Anglo-Celtic Australian
Anglo-Celtic Australian are citizens of Australia with British and/or Irish ancestral origins.-Demography:From the beginning of the colonial era until the mid-20th century, the vast majority of settlers were British or Irish...

" remains in popular use to refer to Australia's majority English-speaking white population with no inherent pejorative connotations.

See also

  • Boston Brahmin
    Boston Brahmin
    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...

  • Elitism
    Elitism is the belief or attitude that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most...

  • Ethnic elite
    Ethnic elite
    An ethnic elite refers to an ethnic group which in a local context has gained a position of economic and power over that of other groups. Ethnic elites may also foster ideologies and beliefs which serve to sustain their relative power....

  • Hyphenated Americans

  • Preppy
    Preppy, preppie, or prep refers to a modern, widespread United States clique, often considered a subculture...

  • Socialite
    A socialite is a person who participates in social activities and spends a significant amount of time entertaining and being entertained at fashionable upper-class events....

  • Upper class
  • Yankee
    The term Yankee has several interrelated and often pejorative meanings, usually referring to people originating in the northeastern United States, or still more narrowly New England, where application of the term is largely restricted to descendants of the English settlers of the region.The...

  • Yuppie
    Yuppie is a term that refers to a member of the upper middle class or upper class in their 20s or 30s. It first came into use in the early-1980s and largely faded from American popular culture in the late-1980s, due to the 1987 stock market crash and the early 1990s recession...

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