Many years have passed since the first cotillion was offered for young women in the area. Many will remember the event as one of the most lavish and delightful entertainments in the County.
It began in 1954 when the Wilberforce Chapter of Links, Inc. sponsored the first of many cotillions in Greene County. The event was designed for young women who were preparing to complete their high school studies as they looked forward to their futures.
High school juniors were recommended by school counselors, friends or sisters of previous participants. Each applicant was sponsored by her parents, grandparents or guardians who pledged their support and cooperation to the program. Each of the girls knew in advance there would be a series of meetings and lectures which would be beneficial to them in planning their future careers. A definite commitment was required from each girl and her sponsor to be present at each of these functions.
A debutante was described as being “unique in character, beautiful in spirit and a joy to be around.” After her application was accepted she embarked on a series of activities to prepare her for her role as a debutante. A Cotillion Girl Handbook for Debutantes was revised annually and presented to each participant explaining the goals of the program.
The debutant was expected to set goals for herself focusing on facial expression, poise, self- control, conversation, manners and etiquette. She was to become involved by giving time to a worthy cause, be altruistic and above all indeopendent, carrying out. She was expected to be independent and carry out her responsibilities in a proper and timely manner. They were reminded that all people are different and respect and appreciation should be shown to all. They were encouraged to learn more about themselves and reinforce their favorable strengths along with helping others.
Great emphasis was placed on the proper way to speak, walk, dance and relate to others. Good manners, polite conversation and proper etiquette were encouraged. Practical advice on wardrobe and makeup was offered. Motivational speakers provided information about career choices. The goal was to encourage each young woman to make the most of her abilities as she looked toward the future. Toward this goa, a scholarship was given to one of the debutantes, based on scholastic ability as well as need.
Traditionally the debutante was seen as a young lady with charm and inspiration. In her handbook was the following: “She is a visible reflection of sparkle with an infectious smile and pleasant disposition. She is to be ready for a season of enriching workshops and social affairs. The debutante is launched into a series of pre=cotillion activities designed to broaden her contacts, expand her cultural appreciation, and enhance her self-fulfilling. The debutante ball, the cotillion, is the highlight of that season. It signals the door is open to meeting and greeting society at large.”
Quite a number of activities and rehearsals were required. The ladies learned to dance, which taught poise and grace. Several of the rehearsals included escorts, an integral part of the cotillion. In the early years, members of the R. O. T.C. at Central State University served, but later the ladies were allowed to select their own escorts.
At The Cotillion, the highlight of the season, the each girl wore a long white ball gown with a full skirt. If the dress had short sleeves white above-the-elbow gloves were worn. If the dress had long sleeves, short white gloves were appropriate. White pumps and simple jewelry such as a strand of pearls along with a tiara in her hair completed her ensemble. Parents also dressed in formal attire, long gowns for the ladies and tuxedo for the men.
Usually the ball was held at the Blue Moon Ballroom, but other locations included the Armory and Central State University. In 1962, there were thirty-two young women who made their debut. The young women were from Xenia, Wilberforce, Springfield, Yellow Springs, Dayton, Urbana and one girl from Bermuda. Sponsored by relatives in Yellow Springs. More than 1,000 guests attended the ball that year.
The Cotillion was opened with a welcome and greeting. The excitement began to build when it was time for the Debutantes to be presented. As her name and school were announced, each yung woman walked onto the floor with her father. She carried a bouquet of flowers. Parents, grandparents and friends would all swell with pride when they saw their beautiful daughter come out onto the floor, a yung woman coming of age. When all had been introduced a special interpretative dance was followed by the debutante stroll and debutante waltz for the girls with their escorts. The parents were invited to the dance floor for one special dance. After this, all guests were invited to dance. The evening usually began about 8:30, continuing until well past the midnight hour.
Of course, sometimes something went awry. The evening that the furnace refused to work was a challenge. Kerosene heaters were brought in to warm the room, and the sponsors held their breath closely watching to be sure no ball gown got too close to the flame.
The tradition continued with great acclaim for many years, but as is the case with many activities, the young women no longer desired to take the time for such an elegant affair and so after thirty-five very successful years in which the entire community looked forward to the presentation of the “debs” the program ceased.
Those who participated have fond memories of the time spent in preparation and the delightful evening of dancing in their white gowns. Many of the young women have gone on to very successful careers in a wide variety of topics.
Joan Baxter is a Greene County resident and historian.