Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Comparing the Religious Affiliation of Omaha's Elites with Omaha's Population, 1910

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a golden age for amateur (often self-published) histories of American cities. Usually written by longtime middle- and upper-class residents, the histories are especially useful in showing the disconnect between the image of the city that "elite" citizens wanted to project and the reality of the city as experienced by the masses.

Often, these amateur histories would include a biographical directory of prominent citizens. Arthur Wakeley's Omaha: The Gate City (1917) was one such book. I decided to use it to compare the religious affiliation of the citizens that Wakeley included with the religious affiliation of Omaha as a whole. This methodology is admittedly crude, and Wakeley is certainly not the definitive arbiter of who is and is not an "elite." This is definitely skewed towards men, as well, since women were usually mentioned only as wives (or widows) of important men. 

But, the comparison below does provide at least a suggestive glimpse into the differences in religious affiliation between those who moved about in Omaha's high society (as defined by Wakeley) and those who did not, and it shows the outsized influence that Protestants had in Omaha compared to their actual membership numbers. As you'll see below, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Methodists claim a much higher percentage of Omaha's elite than they do the masses. Catholics, on the other hand, have a much lower percentage, as do the unaffiliated/unidentified.