If Richmond makes the national press these days, especially in leisure magazines, chances are it’s for the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene, or to mention the young Quirk Hotel, which was featured recently in Condé Nast Traveler.
But in its December 1960 issue, Ladies Home Journal spotlighted another local attraction -- Richmond’s debutantes. Accompanying the cover photo depicting 10 beauties is the headline: “What It Means to be a Debutante: Presenting Emily Tyler -- A President’s Great-Granddaughter Bows to Richmond Society.”
In a lavish photo feature and long article, the publication chronicled the year that Emily Tyler, a St. Catherine’s School graduate and a student at Mary Baldwin College, came out to society. She lived at Sherwood Forest, a storied James River estate in Charles City County that was home to President John Tyler.
The article depicts a savage social season with an exhausting round of parties -- some formal, some casual -- often requiring quick outfit changes. A summer highlight was the Bal du Bois, which translates to Woodland Dance, held in June on the terrace of the Country Club of Virginia -- as it will be again this weekend with 35 young women.
The theme at the time was old Vienna. The Journal wrote: “As the forty pastel-gowned girls moved through the intricate figure, as they waltzed with their fathers, as they smiled up at the first young man who came to cut in, they seemed appealingly fresh and youthful. ‘And I certainly hope she stays that way,’ Alfred Tyler said as he and Katherine stood watching their daughter jitterbugging with Princeton sophomore Freddy Fisher [a Charles City neighbor who lived at Westover].”
Since the first Bal itself debuted in 1957 there have been some changes. The debutantes are now called sponsors. They wear white gowns and opera-length gloves. And they’re older -- at least 21. But the event remains an important funding source for the Sheltering Arms Physical Rehabilitation Centers. Last year’s ball generated $180,000 for its programs.
On Friday, June 3, for the 60th time, some of Richmond’s brightest and most attractive young women will be presented formally to society at the country club, amid décor reflecting the theme of a Southern summer soiree. Regardless of year, an explosion of fireworks over the golf course remains a concluding exclamation point of the evening. S