DEBUTANTE BALLS, which announce the arrival of young women into adult society, were originally limited to the upper class. Traditionally, they were held at the Christmas season.
Cleveland's first debutante ball was the Assembly Ball, which was first held on New Year's Eve
in 1937 and sponsored by the RECREATION LEAGUE OF CLEVELAND. The Recreation League was founded in 1927 by several of Cleveland's affluent families. Cleveland's first Assembly Ball was held at the UNION CLUB and was modeled after the first one held in America, the Philadelphia Assembly of 1748.
Membership in the Recreation League, which was approx. 350 families in the mid-1970s, has been by invitation only. The number of debs at the annual ball was usually less than 50. The event has held to its traditional time and location: the Union Club at the end of December. The Bachelor's Ball is usually held in conjunction with the Assembly Ball.
Ironically, at a time that the tradition was in a slump in East Coast cities, Cleveland saw expansion of this tradition. The first Cotillion Ball, sponsored by the Cotillion Society of Cleveland, was held in 1964. Unlike the Assembly Ball, some of the money earned at the ball went toward scholarships for deserving women in the northern Ohio area; this reflected the new social concerns of the era. Also unlike the Assembly Ball, the Cotillion Ball is traditionally held in August, at the Country Club in PEPPER PIKE.
In the 1970s, the debutante ball tradition began to spread to Cleveland's ethnic communities. Groups including the Poles, Italians, Hungarians, Lebanese-Syrians, and African Americans established their own debutante balls, and in some cases preparation for the balls included lessons regarding the group's heritage.