A history of and about “WASPs”

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A rose bush winding down for the winter at the Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023. Rainy weather with temps dropping to the mid-40s. And maybe we’re going to get that storm that the weather men and women have been warning us about to mark the memory of the upcoming holiday tomorrow.

Thanksgiving is a “mood” day. I bring that with me from childhood. It was a very special day then. And always marked by a dry and even boring conclusion, with a lot of complaints based on digestive tracks, with a telecast of a football game in the background. It was a national family day when I was growing up and the poor turkey that we gobbled down in one afternoon was the center of our gratitude.

It also marks beginning of the Christmas holiday which in memory meant all kinds of celebrations for all ages (depending), not to mention the frequent family dramas superimposed on the celebratory potential. There is also the additional prominent problems affecting everyone in one way or another on holidays related to “never enough,” or “just too much.” We can hope the Christmas and holiday celebrations will bring some comfort for all.

Meanwhile this Autumn season has seen a lot of book parties in New York. ‘Tis the season for the latest published. Book parties also become an opportunity for people to get out and socialize face to face. It’s how New Yorkers get to feel the neighborhood. And maybe even learn something that enhances the experience of reading.

The spread at Asher and Michelle Edelman’s Champagne book launch party for Michael Gross.

A perfect example was last week when Asher and Michelle Edelman hosted a Champagne book signing and launch party for Michael Gross and his latest book, a social history, Flight of the WASP: The Rise, Fall and Future of America’s Original Class.

The Edelmans’ art-filled home in the East 70s attracted journalists, authors, social figures and members of prominent WASP clans, some of them featured in the book, bringing an intimacy with the book’s characters into the party. It is a history of and about “WASPs.”

A “WASP” as you may or may not know refers to the term White Anglo Saxon Protestant, a term initially describing the ruling class in America from late to mid-19th, to mid-20th centuries. They were also mainly of British background, hence the “anglo-saxon.” It is not a scholarly term but like those who fall under that category, it implies “class” in the social sense of outward behavior.

By the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century, Society in America, and most specifically New York — as was conjoined with the needs of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor — was specifically a category describing political and financial power. The WASP was the ultimate, and they ruled. And as Michael Gross points out in his history, in many cases they still rule.

Click to order Flight of the WASP: The Rise, Fall and Future of America’s Original Class.

However, being of such high stature often invites the lowest behavior in families of wealth and power. In this history, you see how that power possessed manifests in some ulterior motive like power and/or sex. The title of this book (Michael’s 15th) is the outline of its contents: FLIGHT of the WASP; The Rise, Fall, and Future of America’s Original Ruling Class. Which includes sex, drugs and rock and roll, of course, and all of its adventures when there’s spare time and spare cash when required. But keeping up appearances.

The author explains the technical background of the term WASP by definition — Anglo/Protestant that describes those “who inhabited and ruled Britain between the end of Roman occupation in the fifth century and the Norman Conquest in the eleventh century, came from Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands.”

I’m in the middle of another historical, non-fiction which I’ll write about when I finished. But I picked up “Flight of the WASP,” following one of the names vaguely familiar to me. That led to a part of the book about Jock Whitney’s grandfather, whose ambition was maxed by complications resulting from his private love life which left sadness and tragedy.

The great thing about Michael’s story telling, which is what his “histories” are, is that the characters exude real life like it was yesterday.

Among the guests at the Edelmans’ book party, were also those members of “Society” as developed and practiced by Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, The Mrs. Astor. In other words they were the legit aristos (by their own invention). Among the WASPs: Nick and Jackie Astor Drexel, George Biddle, Christine Mortimer Biddle, Liz and Jen Bonsal, direct descendants of Founding Father Gouverneur Morris, Podie Peabody Lynch, Sara Stuyvesant, and George King.

Roger de Cabrol, Michael Gross, Asher and Michelle Edelman, and Bara de Cabrol.

Journalists and authors, too, including William Cohan, Candace Bushnell, Teri Agins, Richard and Sessa Johnson, Ed Kosner, George Gibson, George Wayne, Carl Swanson, Christopher Mason, Steven M.L. Aronson, Bob Morris, Petra Kobayashi, Ben Diamond, Nancy Newhouse, and Ben Ryder Howe.

And also: Angela Chen, Nicole Miller, Bonnie Pfeifer Evans, Ankie Leeds, Jamee and Peter Gregory, Kevin Gray, Alexandra Lebenthal and Jay Diamond, Fred Doner, Roger and Bara de Cabrol, Pierre and Connie Crosby, Maria Smith, Yanna Avis, Lilianna and Willie Cavendish, and Michele Gerber Klein.

L. to r.: Michelle Edelman with Jamee and Peter Gregory; Roy Kean and Christine Mortimer Biddle.
L. to r.: Bonnie Pfeifer Evans and Yanna Avis; Jen and Liz Bonsal.
L. to r.: Ed Kosner and Michael Gross; Nicole Miller, Pam Taylor Yates, and Richard and Sessa Johnson.
L. to r.: Pierre Crosby and Connie Cook Crosby; Wendy Sarasohn and Ankie Leeds.
L. to r.: George Biddle; Dan Strone, Candace Bushnell, and George Wayne.
Bara de Cabrol, Roy Kean, and Jackie Astor Drexel.
L. to r.: Ben Diamond and Alexandra Lebenthal; Chris and Asher Edelman.
L. to r.: Willie Cavendish, Michelle Edelman, Michael Gross, and Liliana Cavendish; Steven Aronson and Christopher Mason.
Nick Drexel (seated) and George Wayne.

Photographs by Daniella Liguori and Pamela Taylor

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