Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Vassar College Presidents’ Names, Ranked by WASPiness

It was announced today that Vassar College’s new president, starting this July, will be Elizabeth Howe Bradley, a professor of public health at Yale.

Dr. Bradley has many qualifications to join the illustrious line of Vassar’s presidents, not least of which is: her name is really WASPy.

Yes, I’m starting to suspect that there’s a little-known provision in the Vassar College by-laws that requires its president to have a WASPy name. Behold: the list of Vassar presidents’ names, ranked by WASPiness.

12. Jonathan Lee Chenette, interim president 2016-2017
“Chenette”? Sounds dainty. Sounds French. Sounds suspiciously foreign and Papist. No wonder he’s only the Interim President.

11. Alan Simpson, president 1964-1977
This is a Boring White Guy Name, which is subtly different from a WASPy name. Mr. Simpson also loses points for being the only person on this list, as far as I can tell, who lacks a middle name.

10. John Howard Raymond, president 1864-1878
Another name that signals “Average White Guy” more than it specifically signals “WASP.” “John Raymond” could be a bank president, but he could also be a truck driver.

9. James Monroe Taylor, president 1886-1914
Ol’ James here gains points for having surnames that belonged to two U.S. Presidents, but loses points for being plain “James Taylor,” like your parents’ favorite folk-rocker, if you leave out his middle name.

8. Samuel Lunt Caldwell, president 1878-1885
Now we’re talking. This is the name of a man who wore mutton chops and a high collar and looked at you with Calvinist disapproval.

7. Elizabeth Howe Bradley, president 2017-
An excellent WASP name, especially by 21st-century standards. Note that her position on this list is provisional until I learn whether she uses a nickname for “Elizabeth” and, if so, what it is. “Liz” or “Beth” would likely keep her ranking the same, but if it’s “Libby” or “Buffy,” she’s definitely moving a few slots further up.

6. Virginia Beatrice Smith, president 1977-1986
Proof that you can possess the U.S.’s most common surname and still sound like a member of the top 1%, provided that your first two names are “Virginia” and “Beatrice.”

5. Frances “Fran” Daly Fergusson, president 1986-2006
A wonderfully WASPy name, with a breezy New England jauntiness in its short form, “Fran Fergusson.” My, she was yar.

4. Sarah Gibson Blanding, president 1946-1964
If I was reading a novel in which a Northeastern schoolteacher or headmistress was named “Sarah Gibson Blanding,” I’d think it was too on-the-nose.

3. Henry Noble MacCracken, president 1915-1946
“Noble”? Now you’re not even trying to be subtle.

2. Catharine “Cappy” Bond Hill, president 2006-2016

1. Milo Parker Jewett, president 1861-1864
The first, and still the best. Vassar's been trying for over 150 years, but I don't think they'll ever have a president with a name more WASPy than this.

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