It was an eventful year. Ford manufactured its 10 millionth Model T, J. Edgar Hoover began his legendary stint as director of the FBI and, across the Atlantic, the first Winter Olympic Games were held in a place called Chamonix, France. Here in Pittsburgh, the city’s oldest charity event got its start in the same year — 1924.
The Cinderella Ball was a way for young women to be introduced into society while providing philanthropic support to St. Margaret Memorial Hospital. It’s still going strong more than 90 years later, making it the second-longest running debutante ball in the United States. We plunged into the Post-Gazette archives to see how the ball changed and adapted to a depression, a world war, and different social norms.
“In keeping with the Cinderella legend, a pair of dance slippers with rhinestone heels and buckles were given to the girl dancer whose feet they would fit as a feature of the evening’s program.” — Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Jan. 5, 1926
“The Cinderella Ball was the Thanksgiving season’s largest party, and one with a purpose. As a result of it each year the dispensary board of St. Margaret Hospital finances the work of a nurse, social worker and librarian at the hospital, even paying for the car and gasoline which permit speedy transportation to and from patients’ homes. And last year they donated an X-Ray machine also.” — Doris Duquesne, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 1, 1934
“Another Cinderella Ball has come and gone, this one even more brilliant than that given last season…. And a gay assemblage it proved to be, for added to the dancing which started unusually early and closed soon after midnight in accordance with the original hours of the Cinderella Ball, was an engaging group of dances in which debutantes of the season participated…. Clusters of silver and purple ballons used as decoration against a background of southern smilax, bamboos and palms, made an effective setting for the smart, unusually brilliant gowns worn by the guests. Miss Marjorie Gethoefer was charming in a gown of gold and black metallic cloth.” — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 10, 1929
“Stepping spryly onto the floor as the first number was a chorus of sophisticated French dolls…. Glorified peasant girls of the Old World were represented by Miss Adele Lippincott, as a Dutch; Miss Mariana Lippincott, from Russia, and Miss Madelaine Alexander, France; Miss Nancy Scott Craig represented the Orient, and Miss Jane Marshall, an unusually attractive hula girl from the Pacific Islands.” — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 29, 1930
“We’ll make a Grecian goddess of you (in shirred crepe fit for Helen of Troy) or transform you into a shimmering siren in knife-pleated satin or striped metal taffeta. Our ingenuity plus your $17.50 and you’re ready for the Cinderella Ball, November 27th (for instance).” — Rosenbaum’s ad, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 15, 1935
“The University Club’s ballroom and its first and second floor lobbies were hardly spacious enough to accommodate the crowd, some of whom came to see an unusually large number of graceful debutantes dance.”– Doris Duquesne, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 28, 1935
“The people who visit [the White Elephant booth] will buy such things as a week’s food for a dog, a carload of coke, a carload of coal, two round-trips by plane to New York, and an order for a week’s supply of milk.” — Anne Ryan Lesh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 19, 1941
“Joe E. Brown, Hollywood comedian, received something to laugh about yesterday – a large check from an insurance company to reimburse him for an expensive set of cufflinks and shirt studs lost here at the Cinderella Ball held last Thanksgiving eve in the William Penn Hotel.” — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 16, 1941
“The Cinderella Supper is a wartime adaptation of the Cinderella Ball, designed to fit into the present-day social lacks like the absence of dance-age men and the need to conserve rubber.” — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Saturday, October 17, 1942
“Most of the other girls who are on this year’s debutante list, have also gone on to college, getting ready, like their brothers, to give service where it is needed.” — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thursday, November 26, 1942
“Total postwar reconversion is what the members of St. Margaret Memorial Hospital Dispensary Board are planning in connection with their annual benefit. Instead of the Cinderella balls of before the war and the Cinderella suppers of the war years (which started at five o’clock in the afternoon) they are going back to formality with a Cinderella Dinner Dance on November 21 – Thanksgiving Eve – in the University Club.” — Anne Ryan Lesh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 25, 1945
In contemporary Cinderella Balls, young women are presented beginning at promptly 7 o’clock in the evening at the Omni William Penn. Then, there’s dinner and dancing. Beginning in 2002, debutantes have volunteered a minimum of 30 hours at a different beneficiary organization each year. Cinderella is no longer picked by shoe-size, but determined by a “Prince Charming” that pulls a name from a pumpkin.
Photographs of the most recent Cinderella Ball can be found at the PG’s In Focus page.
— Rebecca Droke