Gold Coast’s rich history and role in World War I
By Steven Keehner
via The Island 360 newspaper (NY) web site
Following Memorial Day last week, the Nassau County Historical Society continued the theme of service with an event Sunday that focused on the Gold Coast elite and World War I.
Richard Welch, a former American history professor at LIU Post and Farmingdale State College, gave the lecture. Much of the content was based on his new book, “Long Island’s Gold Coast Elite and The Great War.”
An influx of wealthy individuals along Long Island’s North Shore began in the 1890s. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously fictionalized the area in his novel “The Great Gatsby.”
The event focused on these influential North Shore families and why they backed the Allies’ cause when the war began in 1914. As Welch explained, these initiatives ruptured President Woodrow Wilson’s neutrality policy and eventually brought the country to war.
“Virtually all the Gold Coast families — the bankers, the lawyers, insurance agents, etc. — were pro-Allies,” he said. “And one of the reasons is that, I don’t know if I mentioned this before, in addition to the other things that unite them, they’re all basically ethnically the same.”
As the war in Europe erupted, the American viewpoint on taking up arms was divided.
Yet Welch said many of these elite families had an innate affinity for the Allies. He refers to them as “old stock or what we sometimes refer to as WASPs.”
“It depends on where you are in some ways. I once described it to a class as it’s almost like when the war breaks out and we’re neutral,” he said. “How you look at it depends on where your ancestors came from — it’s like watching a ballgame.”
During this time, the Morgans, Davisons, Phipps, Martins, Hitchcocks, Stimsons and Roosevelts were among the families who played pivotal roles or fought on the front lines.
Welch noted how these North Shore power brokers also made calculated moves to push the country into war. Many of them met and collaborated through boarding schools, elite universities and social clubs.
“You have people who have enormous political, social and cultural clout,” he said. “They use it during this time period to affect American foreign policy in ways which were not really seen in previous times.”
Read the entire article on The Island 360 web site here:
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