Gastonia Debutante Club
Friday, June 14, 1957, the night of the Gastonia Debutante Club’s first Debutante Ball, had finally arrived. It was the culmination of more of a year’s planning and work by a group of women whose purpose was two-fold: to present to society eligible young women at an annual ball, and to make a contribution to a charitable organization from any surplus funds. Since that time, over 1150 outstanding young women have been presented at sixty-four balls.
More then $170,000 has been contributed over the years to the former Mary Ellen Nelson Center, now Webb Street School, Gaston Comprehensive Day Center and Gaston Skills. Additionally, one-time donations have benefited the Schiele Museum of Natural History, Hospice of Gastonia, the Gaston County Art and History Museum, the Community Foundation of Gaston County, the Loray Girls’ Home, Gaston Literacy Council, the House of Mercy, the West Gastonia Boys and Girls Club, Holy Angels, Hoyle Homestead, Heart Society of Gaston County, Backpack Weekend Food Program and Gaston County Virus Relief Fund.
The first board of directors was composed of all the members of the original organizational group: Mrs. Phil Jackson, president; Mrs. James Clay Williamson, first vice-president; Mrs. Albert Myers, Jr., second vice-president; Mrs. H. K. Herrin, secretary; Mrs. Ben B. Culp, treasurer. Also serving were Mrs. Richard H. Mason, Mrs. George Burton, Mrs. L. B. Hollowell, Mrs. J. Lee Robinson, Mrs. Harold T. Sumner, Mrs. Fred L. Smyre, Jr., and Mrs. Percy Freeman. Twelve outstanding women of the community served as the first sponsors of the organization: Mrs. C. C. Dawson, Mrs. Ernest Sumner, Mrs. Plato Durham, Mrs. Ralph Robinson, Mrs. W. D. Lawson, Jr., Mrs. Arthur H. Fuller, Mrs. Joseph L. Barnett, Mrs. Charles D. Gray, Mrs. E. L. Patterson, Mrs. Harold Mercer, Mrs. W. B. Garrison, and Mrs. Fred L. Smyre. One hundred women were invited to join as members-at-large.
The setting for the first ball was the old Gaston Country Club, which was decorated to represent a southern garden at the height of its glory. The columned front porch, greenery, multi-colored flowers and the elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen were reminiscent of an old plantation cotillion. Mr. Charles D. Gray, Sr., the first Master of Ceremonies, introduced the first fourteen debutantes in his usual courtly and gracious manner. Each year the debutantes have received gold charms with engraving indicating the date of their debut, and beginning with the second ball, red roses became the traditional flower.
The Debutante Club history has been preserved in scrapbooks for each year. The changes in skirt lengths, hair lengths, and dancing styles are recorded for posterity as are the parties given by friends, relatives, and family, which make for a festive debutante season.
The governing body of the Gastonia Debutante Club remains its board of directors. Fifteen sustaining club members are honored annually as sponsors. Membership is perpetuated each year, and new members are introduced at a membership brunch in May.
So it is with a deep sense of appreciation for the continuity and tradition that has been established throughout the years and with great pleasure that the Gastonia Debutante Club is preparing for the Sixty-fifth Annual Debutante Ball to be held on Thursday, December 30, 2021.
Originally penned by Frances Culp and since amended.