How the Boston Brahmins Persist Today

The elitism of the Boston's upper crust — not to be confused with India’s Brahmins — may have sowed the seeds for the inequality and xenophobia America sees today.

Parth Vohra

October 8, 2019

How the Boston Brahmins Persist Today
Benjamin Crowninshield (1758–1836) was part of the Boston Brahmin family that ran a shipping business in Salem, Massachusetts. (Wikimedia)

Tripartite names; Harvard grads; Beacon Hill homes; roast beef each Sunday night; colossal wealth; political clout; a Britain-meets-New England accent; creators of The Atlantic; a liking for literature and culture; and black vests with three-piece suits topped with tall, silk top hats. 

The Boston Brahmins, a self-proclaimed elite, were well-to-do, well-educated families in Boston that made up the region's upper-crust. They were different from the sacred thread-wearing, beef-abstaining Brahmins of India — many of their families have been around in America since the Mayflower docked on its shores. Boston Brahmins were largely Puritan descendants with origins in New England, and nearly 80%, according to an April 1949 survey, said that they regularly attended either Episcopal or Unitarian Church. 

The Boston Brahmins may no longer walk around in silk top hats, but you know their names: from John. F. Kennedy, America’s 35th president, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, American's 32nd president, to John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, who hails from the extended Forbes family. India’s Brahmins and Boston Brahmins had something in common. They used qualities they were born with as a means to discriminate and gain advantages for themselves. And Boston Brahmins — known to be anti-immigrant and anti-Brahmin — may have helped shape the America we know today.