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The Season: A Social History of the Debutante

The Season: A Social History of the Debutante

by Kristen Richardson
The Season: A Social History of the Debutante

The Season: A Social History of the Debutante

by Kristen Richardson


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A Smithsonian Best History Book of 2019

In this enthralling history of the debutante ritual, Kristen Richardson sheds new light on contemporary ideas about women and marriage.

Kristen Richardson, from a family of debutantes, chose not to debut. But as her curiosity drove her to research this enduring custom, she learned that it, and debutantes, are not as simple as they seem.

The story begins in England six hundred years ago when wealthy fathers needed an efficient way to find appropriate husbands for their daughters. Elizabeth I’s exclusive presentations at her court expanded into London’s full season of dances, dinners, and courting, extending eventually to the many corners of the British empire and beyond.

Richardson traces the social seasons of young women on both sides of the Atlantic, from Georgian England to colonial Philadelphia, from the Antebellum South and Wharton’s New York back to England, where debutante daughters of Gilded Age millionaires sought to marry British aristocrats. She delves into Jazz Age debuts, carnival balls in the American South, and the reimagined ritual of elite African American communities, which offers both social polish and academic scholarships.

The Season shares the captivating stories of these young women, often through their words from diaries, letters, and interviews that Richardson conducted at contemporary balls. The debutantes give voice to an array of complex feelings about being put on display, about the young men they meet, and about what their future in society or as wives might be.

While exploring why the debutante tradition persists—and why it has spread to Russia, China, and other nations—Richardson has uncovered its extensive cultural influence on the lives of daughters in Britain and the US and how they have come to marry.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393608731
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 11/19/2019
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 570,613
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Kristen Richardson was born in London, England, and lives with her son in Brooklyn, New York.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Too Many Daughters

1 The Girl Standard: Understanding the Currency of Daughters 13

2 Revolution and Republic: The Antebellum North 43

3 Frozen in Time: The Antebellum South 66

4 The Four Hundred and Beyond: Old New York 94

5 Transatlantic Crossings: The Gilded Age 117

6 The Bright Young People: An Old Ritual at the Dawn of the Modern 145

7 Café Society, Celebrity, and Conformity: 1930s-7980s 159

8 Prophets, Krewes, and Fiesta Queens: The Modern South 178

9 Creating a Black Elite: Debutantes in African American Society 196

10 Nouveau Now: The Debutante Reimagined 212

Afterword 239

Acknowledgments 245

Notes 247

Index 257

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