Debutantes Bibliography

Query From Julie Berebitsky 25 Feb 1998

I have a student who is doing a senior research project in debutante balls and societies in the 1950s and early 1960s. Sources on the 1950s suburban middle class are abundant, but can anyone suggest critical material on the "elite" of the 1950s? Sources which address the relationship between husbands and wives and parents and teenagers would be especially useful. Also of interest would be any works which examine the role of children in establishing a family's class position or the use of children as a means for a family's social advancement.


From Elizabeth Johnson exj2@po.CWRU.Edu 25 Feb 1998

You might look at Women of the Upper Class by Susan Ostrander. While this does not directly address the subject of debutantes, it does analyze the role of mothers in managing the social and educational environments of their children.

From Lori Askeland 25 Feb 1998

This might be a little bit after the period you cite, but the work of Robert Coles is excellent in regard to the use of children in establishing a wealthy family's class position. I can't recall the title of his book, but I'm looking at a photocopy of a table of contents from a collection called FAMILY LIFE IN AMERICA, 1620-2000, ed. Mel Albin and Dominick Cavallo (New York: Revisionary P, 1981), which contains an excerpt from Coles work entitled, "How the Other Half Lives: Children of the Rich" (pp 49-61). It's very interesting, and although I don't recall that the chapter actually discusses debutante balls, it does get at some of the issues you listed. I did my dissertation on foster children in 19th century American lit and culture, so I know of other work that addresses children and class issues, but this work seems closest, from my reading, to what your student needs.

From Renee Romano 25 Feb 1998

I don't know of historical works that address the issue of how children can help establish a family's class position, but if your student is looking for fictional accounts of debutante balls and a different elite than the white middle-class, she/he might want to read Dorothy West's The Wedding. The TV movie which was just on highlighted the role that children play in helping families maintain elite status, or climb to a higher status.

From Diana Laulainen-Schein 26 Feb 1998

This doesn't address your question directly but it might be of some help. The debutante event in St. Louis was the Veiled Prophet Ball. The VP Fair still goes on there...anyway, I know that the St.Louis History museum has a lot of historical materials on the Veiled Prophet. They used to have a large number of materials on diplay. It might be worth contacting them to see if there are any materials available for use.

From Cheryl Thurber 27 Feb 1998

A friend of my daughters (At the predominately Jewish and Presbyterian private high school she attended) participated in a debutante ball because there was a need to expand the elites of Memphis to include and wealthy Jewish community. I don't know whether someone approached her father, or it was his idea, but she viewed her participation as something her father wanted. But she was the first "token" jewish debutante--this was about in 1994.

From Maria Elena Raymond 27 Feb 1998

I don't have cites for your query, but I would think the latest works on the Joe and Rose Kennedy family "dynasty" would fall into the category of relationships you are researching. From Joe's grandmother, a widowed barkeep from Ireland who moved to Boston, through (arguably) the very latest of the Kennedy clan, I can't think of a clearer example of a family using their children to advance into the rich "elite" circles, and vice-versa.

Another family to consider would be that of John "Jock" Hay Whitney and his sister (Babe?). Whitney owned (among many other endeavours) 6 fledgling television stations in early 60s, and Bill Paley thought it advantageous to marry Whitney's sister, as his eye was on the prize of CBS TV. Of course, this seems more of a calculated gold-digging scenario, but I think it would be splitting hairs to argue which family or individual displayed a lesser degree of greed.