To be precise, today’s “holistic admissions” tended to be invented about a century ago to keep Ivy League colleges from being inundated by Eastern European Jews. On the other hand, the development of national standardized testing like the SAT and ACT tended to come a number of years later and be part of the push to mobilize talent that helped lead to the end of the quotas on Jews.
It’s striking that Jews created many of their own country clubs and hospitals, but only a couple of their own colleges (Brandeis and Yeshiva). Why did Jews put so much effort into getting into Harvard and Yale rather than founding more of their own colleges?
A 1925 article in “American Hebrew” magazine attributed to Italian-American golf champ Gene Sarazen, who was the pro at a Jewish country club, said that already a higher percentage of Jews than gentiles belonged to private golf clubs.
So, judging from all the hospitals and country clubs they started, mid-century American Jews had plenty of energy, talent, and money for institution building, but little of that went into starting Jewish colleges, probably because the quotas on Jews weren’t all that onerous.
In other words, the Ivy League continued to skim the cream off of Jewish-American society, so there wasn’t that much concern among potential rich donors that poor Eastern Jews were having to go to CCNY.
If smart but poor Eastern European Jews were having to go to CCNY, while the sons of rich German Jews were getting into the Ivy League, well… the potential donors to build Jewish colleges weren’t as motivated as they were about building Jewish country clubs for themselves.
One concern of Ivy League presidents a century ago was that the Ivy League would turn into Yogi Berra’s ex-favorite restaurant that got so popular that nobody goes there anymore: that so many Jews would get in that nobody (including rich German Jews) would want to get in anymore.
Another concern of the Ivy League must have been that Jews would start their own competing colleges the way they built so many country clubs and hospitals.
About a half dozen years after liberal Jews finally got Brandeis U. off the ground in the suburbs of Boston in 1948 (the Depression and WWII no doubt slowing things) with the intention of making it the “Jewish Harvard,” the real Harvard lifted its quota on Jewish undergrads. Yale, farther away, took another decade.
In hindsight, it would seem as if the Ivy League’s quotas on limiting the number of Jews were extremely successful in that they threaded the needle between keeping out so many Jews that they would start their own competing colleges and letting in too many to stay fashionable.
Similarly, it would appear that today’s heavily Jewish Ivy League leadership is doing a competent job of letting in enough Asians to keep Tiger parents obsessed with the Ivy League, but not letting in so many that Asians would start to find the Ivies less glamorous.