Thoughts on Three Generations of The Social List of Washington.
By William Rolle
Helen Ray Hagner started her Washington “Social List” in 1930. She responded to what she believed to be a deficiency in the traditional blueblood social lists that did not register power brokers or foreign diplomats. Each new Presidential administration came with a whole new group of people whom no one had properly ranked or kept track of.
In addition to the old-family “cave dwellers”, there were government officials and the diplomats, who have an interior pecking order that no social seating could ignore. The diplomats have to be seated according to how long they have held their respective posts in Washington. The list also had to keep track of the “fanny pinchers” and “bad drunks” to maintain a good seating arrangement. Mrs. Hagner kept a file on them in code and in a secure place to protect their privacy.
From the very beginning, those who made the list (apart from officialdom) went through a selection process by an anonymous board. Some believed then as some believe today, that the board was a fiction. Social climbers sent cases of whiskey and roses to no avail. “Unpleasant notoriety” also got you removed from the list as it does today.
Through the years, the greatest Green Book service has been in seating dinners. Guests have been known to leave when they have not been seated according to their rank. Things get really fuzzy when government luminaries get seated with diplomats. The State Department did not (and still does not) issue an official list of precedence. William Howard Taft’s wife was a stickler for such things. She tried to organize a list of precedence, but was rebuffed by the Senate. Rumor has it that its members were loath to be outranked by anyone. So, it was left to the Green Book to ferret out the unofficial order.