Book Reviews -- Capital Elites: High Society in Washington, D.C. after the Civil War by Kathryn Allamong Jacob / Living in, Living Out: African American Domestics in Washington, D.C., 1910-1940 by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis

Article excerpt

Capital Elites: High Society in Washington, D.C. after the Civil War. Kathryn Allamong Jacob. Washington: Smithsonian Press, 1995.

Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics in Washington, D.C., 1910-1940. Elizabeth Clark-Lewis. Washington: Smithsonian Press, 1995.

Washington has always been the capital city of a republic trying to resist becoming a democracy. Various forces have braced this opposition. Leading has always been one of the least admirable of human characteristics--social elitism, the almost pathological need of people to be superior to others. In Washington there have been three of these drives, which Mark Twain in his novel The Gilded Age savaged as three kinds of people, the Political, the Parvenus and the Old Timber. The Political were the newcomers who, thriving on all kinds of backgrounds, used their assumed power to try to drive into society but could not. The Parvenus were new-and vulgar-money and people who consumed conspicuously but unsuccessfully. The Antiques were the washed-out self-styled aristocrats of a former day who managed to exclude the other aristocracies from their class by snubbing them.

This ugly world is carefully characterized and analyzed in this fascinating study of the people who, through the last 200 years, have ruled our lives but kept us from living them fully.

Underneath the elite there have always been the common people and the serving class, who undoubtedly had their own elites. …