Reminiscences of debutante balls and cotillions
at the turn of the century were related recently by
Mrs. Theron Roundell Strong of New York and
Southampton, L.I., in her apartment at the Carlyle.
Her remarks were prompted by the coming week of
important debutante events.
"Whenever I look back on those happy times." Mrs.
Strong said, "I have always been glad that New York
and I were young together."
In those days, young women were presented to society
at afternoon receptions in their homes, elaborate
balls were given also in private homes and the
cotillion was an integral part of every ball held
either in homes or hotel ballrooms.
Mrs. Strong, then Miss Maud Robbins, daughter of Mr.
and Mrs. Henry Asher Robbins, was introduced to
society on an afternoon in December at a large
reception held in the home of her parents at 410
Fifth Avenue just opposite the present site of
Franklin Simon & Co.
Several evenings later, in a beautiful ball gown of
white tulle flecked with gold, designed and
made-especially for the occasion, the debutante
attended her first ball, the Patriarchs Ball, which
took place at Delmonico's, than at Fifth Avenue and
Twenty-sixth Street. There she danced the cotillion
with Elisha Dyer, famous cotillion leader, whom Mrs.
Strong recalls as "a fascinating fellow with a keen
sense of humor, tall and slight, with hair that
curled, and impudent smile."
Other well-known cotillion leaders of that day, the
debutante of yesterday recalled were J. Frederick
Tams, Thomas Howard, George H. Bend and Harry Lehr.
Cotillion Favors in Vogue
Popular debutantes of that era came home from balls
laden with cotillion favors, for these were
important accessories at every private dance and
were provided by the hostesses. Many young women of
that time carried bags or fancy baskets to take home
the elaborate articles they received from their
partners in the cotillion figures.
Favors for the young women and the men were piled
high on tables, and hostesses were famed for the
richness and elaborateness, or for the simplicity
and commonplaceness of the favors they bestowed.
These colorful and glittering arrays presented a gay
spectacle. They included in many instances articles
of value, costly wide-sash ribbons in pastel hues
attached to long-stemmed roses or other glowing
blossoms, gold pencils, fashionable neckties,
jewelry of all kinds for men and women, intricately
carved or enameled boxes of varying sizes and
expensive baskets filled with flowers.
Cotillions of the past were in striking contrast to
the balls of today. There were no tremendous crushes
on the ballroom floors. The cotillion rules were
precise. Couples sat in gold chairs with red velvet
cushions placed along the walls of the ballroom or
the vast drawing rooms of that era. There they sat
until they were called out in turn and told to get
their favors for the figures. It was considered bad
form to leave the ballroom during the cotillion.
Only a few couples were called out at a time, thus
eliminating the congestion now in vogue. After these
had danced, others were called.
Formality and traditional dignity are stressed at
the Debutante Cotillion and Christmas Ball. All of
the debutantes to be introduced must wear long white
ball gowns and long white gloves. Each must make a
court curtsey at the head of the red velvet carpeted
stairway when she is presented. Their escort must be
attired in formal evening clothes, white tie and
The Junior Assembly is one of the oldest and best
established dances for debutantes in this city.
Predecessors of the Junior Assemblies were known as
the Junior Cotillions, of which the late Mrs. Arthur
Murray Dodge was the organizer and president for
Debutantes are introduced at dinner parties in
advance of the Junior Assembly, as there is no
formal presentation at this dance.