Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

May 9, 1964

Guest post by Lauren Sendelbach, undergraduate student at Iowa State University.

On May 9, 1964, the Indianapolis Recorder ran an article by Pat Williams Stewart titled “Lovely Debs Make Bow in Glamorous Cotillion.” “Socialites were awed with delight…upon seeing the exquisite entry of a bevy of 19 lovely girls into society” is the first line of the article, which captured the readers’ attention by describing this high-class, glamorous event at the college (click to view article).

This event, which was held annually at the Indiana Roof Ballroom, featured several “debs,” short for debutante, or a young girl from an upper-class family who has reached the age of maturity. As a rich tradition in the South originally adapted from the English, when a woman comes of age she is to dress in a floor-length white gown, elbow-length white gloves, and pearls and is then introduced to society at a ball or reception by making a formal “debut.”

Sponsored by the Clem Randolph III Chapter of ALSAC (Aiding Leukemia Stricken American Children), the ball hosted over 500 guests who fawned over the debs as they entered the room under the shine of a spotlight carrying bouquets of yellow flowers. Each girl met her escort, an eligible man, who led her to the dance floor. Throughout the night, debs, parents, friends, and visitors enjoyed music played by local musicians Donald Overby and the Dudley Storms Orchestra. However, the most anticipated portion of the program was soon to come: the crowning of the 1964 “Deb of the Year.” The winner, Miss Beverly Sharon Boone, was crowned by Miss Margaret Sanford, the previous Deb of the Year, and Miss Shirley Ann Mastin was awarded the ALSAC Merit of Honor Award as first runner-up.

The ALSAC Merit of Honor was presented by National Campaign Director, Rich White, in appreciation of the chapter’s fundraising efforts for St. Jude Hospital during the past year. Mr. White was also able to present to the chapter and their guests personal recorded messages from President Lyndon B. Johnson and Senator Birch Bayh, which must have been an honor for the chapter.

Although the tradition of a debutante ball is not commonly practiced today, it still holds strong through many wealthy and noble families from all backgrounds. Today, an International Debutante Ball is held on even numbered years in New York City over the winter holidays and features elite, college-aged women from around the world. Debutantes raise money for a desired charity as well as make personal and professional connections throughout their community.

The cotillion held by the chapter in 1964 in Indiana may not have had the glamour of a New York City setting, but it still had as much pomp and circumstance as debutante balls today. At the end of the day, no matter who was crowned, what background they were from, or where the event was held, it was held to honor the women that deserved recognition for their efforts in their charity, which was ALSAC at St. Jude Hospital in 1964. 

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