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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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North Carolina Debutante Ball

by Hart Huffines, 2006The debutante ball at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh, 11 Sept. 1938. Courtesy of North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh.

Debutante balls, or cotillions-social events in which parents formally present their teenage daughters to adult society-have been a feature of U.S. culture since the late nineteenth century. These balls, some of them all-white affairs, continue to be held in small numbers in North Carolina and other states. They remain controversial because of their unconcealed exclusivity, which is often based on economic and racial distinctions. The private, closed nature of some of the clubs that sponsor debutante balls has raised concern among those who view them as anachronistic and disturbing remnants of a racially segregated past. Supporters of debutante balls, however, argue that the events are important cultural institutions rooted in honorable traditions of personal and family pride, women's stature, and social responsibility, as well as a constitutional right to form private organizations.

First Debutante Ball in Winston-Salem, 1956. The oldest and perhaps most influential ball still held in the state is the North Carolina Debutante Ball, sponsored annually by the Terpsichorean Club of Raleigh. Long considered the premier social event in the state, it originated in 1923 as the "Raleigh Fall Festival," sponsored by the merchants of the city. Prominent young white ladies from throughout the state were presented as candidates for Queen of the Festival before a queen was crowned by the governor. In 1927 the Terpsichorean Club was formed and held the first North Carolina Debutante Ball. The purpose of the club, which derived its name from the Greek mythological muse, Terpsichore, the goddess of dancing and choral song, was to "sponsor annually a ball for the presentation of North Carolina Debutantes to be held in Raleigh on the first weekend after Labor Day."

As the debutantes' activities grew from a one-night ball to a weekend of parties, teas, luncheons, and a second big dance, the ritual of having the debutantes formally presented was established. Each participant originally chose one chief marshal and four assistants. In 1956 the number of assistant marshals was reduced to two, and in 1963 the selection of fathers as chief marshals was encouraged, a change that greatly enhanced the dignity and significance of the occasion for the debutantes and their families.

The North Carolina Debutante Ball has been held every year since 1923, except during World War II. Because of the polio epidemic in 1948 it was postponed until a few days after Christmas, and it was postponed for the same period in 1996 because of the damage wrought across the state by Hurricane Fran.

Additional Resources:

Debutante Ball Society of Durham Inc. Records, 1951-2009, UNC Libraries:

Image Credit:

First Debutante Ball in Winston-Salem, 1956. 1st row: Elizabeth Fenwick, Margaret Boaz, Shannon Harper, Sara Pullen, Nancy Graves, Mary Shepherd, Betsy Babcock, Mary Hill, Jane Irby, and Florence Fearrington. 2nd row: Mary Carlyle, Sallie Hunter, Alice Eller, Murrianne Tinker, Sylvia Ferrell, Charlotte Harper, Susan Taylor, Louise Graham, Elizabeth Hightower, Evelyn Moore, Elizabeth Hart, and Nancy Hill. First Debutante Ball in Winston-Salem, 1956. Available online from Digital Forsyth at (accessed Septemeber 19, 2012).

Origin - location: 



Hi Porter,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia.  That's a good question, unfortunately I can't give you an easy answer.

Our understanding is that the Raleigh annual debutante ball is organized by the Terpsichorean Club in Raleigh.  I do not see that they have a website, although if you do a web search you can find news articles indicating that invitations go out in the summer and the ball is in September, generally.  There are also other clubs across the state that sponsor balls at other times as well.  You may want to try a web search or two.

Also -- you may wish to contact the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce to see if they have any additional information about locating the Raleigh club.

I hope this helps!

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library


My first cousin was a NC Terpsichorean Club debutante in the mid to late 60's or early 70's. She passed away in Raleigh years ago. Is there a listing of debs. Her name was Mary Ann Waters. Thank you, Donna


Dear Donna,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing this question.

I am connecting you via email with reference librarians at the N.C. Government & Heritage Library.  One of our librarians will contact you shortly to see if you are still looking for information, and if so they will try to suggest resources that you might consult.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan


Please send more information
Thank you!


Hi Darlene,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to post your question.

I would be very happy to help you find additional information.  Are you interested in something specific about the ball?  That would help me locate the most relevant information, if available.

I look forward to hearing back!

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


Hello, I have come across an official Nineteen Fifty-Six (thirtieth annual) North Carolina Debutante Ball, sponsored by the Terpischorean Club booklet. This booklet is an original and contains a list of all Debutantes. It is is very good condition and I am hoping the NC Government & Heritage Library would consider this a gift of value.

Please contact me to make arrangements for delivery.
Thank you,
Mr. John Provenzano


I was an escort at the 1959 Ball in Raleigh. Is there documentation you can refer me to listing all of the men and women who attended this Ball?

Comment Response:

Thank you for your inquiry in NCpedia. I've forwarded your request to Reference Services at the Government & Heritage library. Their direct email address is You should hear from them shortly. Good luck in your research!


Emily Horton, Government & Heritage Library, State Library of North Carolina

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