Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Clubs

The Idle Wild Social Club: Life Magazine Presents Black Debutantes — 1937

debs_life_120637-detThree of 1937’s debs (click for larger image and caption)

by Paula Bosse

In December of 1937, something appeared in a national mainstream magazine that had probably never appeared before: photographs of a society ball celebrating African-American debutantes. In the December 6, 1937 issue of Life magazine — in the recurring “Life Goes To a Party” pictorial feature — four pages were devoted to coverage of the annual Idle Wild Social Club ball (later Idlewild Social Club, and later Cotillion Idlewild Club — none of which is to be confused with Dallas’ 130-plus-year-old super-exclusive, white Idlewild Club). The letters this unusual pictorial elicited were either congratulatory or, dismayingly, shocked and irate. Although today these photos are nothing unusual, in 1937, to see African-Americans depicted in a magazine such as Life as just normal, everyday Americans, was exceedingly uncommon. To see photos of black high-society must have made people’s heads explode. So kudos to Life for running the only slightly patronizing story and for publishing some wonderful photographs.

life_debs_120637_aLife magazine, Dec. 6, 1937

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The Idle Wild Social Club was started in Dallas around 1918 by a group of socially well-placed black men — perhaps as a response to the white Idlewild Club. By the early 1920s they, like the white club, were presenting the cream of the crop of their young women to society in debutante balls. The ball covered by Life took place on November 18, 1937. The women making their debuts were:

  • Eddy Mae Johnson
  • Glodine Marion Smith
  • Lorene Marjorie Brown
  • Gladys Lee Carr
  • Gladys Lewis Powell
  • Hattie Ruth Green

life_debs_120637The debs and their escorts (Life, Dec. 6, 1927)

life_debs_120637-club-membersClub members (Life, Dec. 6, 1927)

life_debs_120637-crowd“Social chitchatterers” (Life, Dec. 6, 1927)

life_debs_120637-couple(Life, Dec. 6, 1927)

Read the article and see additional photos featured in this pictorial here.

There was an outcry in response to the article, and some of it was shockingly ugly — read the letters to the editor about the “Negro Ball” that Life published in the next issue, here (use the magnification tool at the top of the page to increase the size of the text).

Here is the more progressive response, from the Jan. 1938 issue of the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis:

the-crisis-mag_jan-1938

Progress moves at a snail’s pace, but if coverage of a debutante ball can help to move things forward even a step or two … great!

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All photos from Life magazine, Dec. 6, 1937; the scanned article (and, in fact, the entire scanned issue) is here.

The January, 1938 issue of The Crisis is available online; the page featuring the editorial is here. (This issue also has an interesting article, “Free Negroes In Old Texas” by J. H. Harmon, Jr., here.) The Crisis Wikipedia page is here.

To read coverage of earlier Idle Wild Social Club balls — published in the black-owned Dallas Express — see this from 1922, and this from 1923.

The African-American debutante ball has been called Cotillion Idlewild for many years now; information on their 2014 ball is here. (Again, this is not to be confused with the (white) Idlewild Club, which has been throwing heart-stoppingly elaborate balls in Dallas since the 1880s.)

Apparently there is a history of the club out there — Idle Wild Social Club History (1940) — and, according to WorldCat, appears to be available at nearby libraries.

Personally, I don’t really “get” debutante balls, but growing up in Dallas, I know that they’ve always been big, big, BIG deals. A. C. Greene’s snarky article “Social Climber’s Handbook” (D Magazine, October, 1976), is both amusing and informative; read it here.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Brook Hollow Country Club — 1940s

brook-hollow-country-club_1940sA modest clubhouse… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

A photo of Brook Hollow Country Club from a 1940s guide for newcomers. This photo is from a page of the area’s country clubs. This looks positively quaint.

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From an early edition of “So This Is Dallas,” a guide for new residents of Dallas — this edition is from the early ’40s. Thanks to the Lone Star Library Annex Facebook group for loan of the image.

For an early history of the Brook Hollow Country Club (including a photo of the overgrown thicket before it became a golf course), see here.

The Brook Hollow Golf Club is a bit swankier these days. The official site is here.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Century Room’s Retractable Dance Floor

ad-adolphus-hotel_century-room_sm(click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

If you’re getting all dressed up for a night on the town, you want to make sure you get your money’s worth, entertainment-wise. That’s why you head to the tony Century Room at the swank Hotel Adolphus. Not only is there dining and dancing, there’s also an ice show. Yep, an ice show. When “Texas’ Only Complete Floor Show on Ice” has wrapped up, a dance floor magically covers the ice, and you and your honey can trip the light fantastic to the fabulous strains of Herman Waldman & His Orchestra. Skates optional.

adolphus_hotel_century-room

adolphus_century-room

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An entertaining page with facts and photos of the Century Room’s many looks and themes over the years can be found here.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Society Ladies and Their Great Big Hats

shakespeare-club_c1895The Dallas Shakespeare Club (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Had The Graduate been set near the beginning of the twentieth century rather than the middle of it, that famous scene out by the pool (er…near the horse trough) might have gone something like this:

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir?

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, sir, I am.

Mr. McGuire: …Millinery.

Benjamin: …Exactly how do you mean?

Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in millinery. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Benjamin: Yes, I will.

Mr. McGuire: Enough said. That’s a deal.

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Photograph of the Dallas Shakespeare Club is from the Dallas Historical Society; it appears in the book Women and the Creation of Urban Life in Dallas, Texas, 1843-1920 by Elizabeth York Enstam (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1998). Enstam’s caption of this photograph identifies two women in the front row, on the right as Sallie Griffis Meyer (1863-1932), future president of the Dallas Art Association, and May Dickson Exall (1859-1936), president of the Dallas Shakespeare Club from 1886 until her death. Ms. Enstam has labeled this photo as “about 1895” — this appears to be incorrect. Other sources cite a year of a photo that sounds like this one, as being from 1911, taken on the steps of the Dallas Country Club. I think that this probably IS 1911, and it appears to have been taken on the steps of the first Dallas Golf and Country Club in Oak Lawn, a few months before the club moved into its current location in Highland Park. I’m going to make a wild guess and say that this photo might have been taken on April 27, 1911 when the club met at the Oak Lawn club to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare (their meeting had been delayed to take place on the day following Shakespeare’s birthday). Below is a photo of the old country club, from The Dallas Morning News (Feb. 20, 1912), printed when it was announced the old club’s very valuable land would be sold.

dcc_oak-lawn_dmn_022012(click for larger image)

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Dialogue (all but one word) from the film version of The Graduate, screenplay by Buck Henry, based on the novel by Charles Webb. “Millinery adaptation” by Paula Bosse, based on the screenplay by Buck Henry which was based on the novel by Charles Webb.

Click photos for larger images.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Ladies’ Reading Circle: An Influential Women’s Club Organized by Black Teachers in 1892

ladies-reading-circle_negro-leg-brewer_1935The Ladies (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

When one thinks of “ladies’ clubs” of the past, one probably tends to think of groups of largely well-to-do women in fashionable dresses, gloves, and smart hats who gathered for quaint meetings in one another’s homes to discuss vaguely literary or cultural topics, sip tea, chit-chat, and gossip. Often they would plan projects and events which would aid pet community or charitable causes. There were clubs of varying degrees of serious-mindedness, but, for the most part, club meetings were mostly an excuse for women to socialize. 100 years ago, these women rarely worked outside the home, and these groups offered an important social and cultural outlet for well-educated women of means. White women. Women of color were not part of that particular club world. They had to create clubs for themselves. And they did.

In 1892, eight African-American teachers in Dallas organized their own club, the Ladies’ Reading Circle, and while it, too, was an important social outlet for the women, the focus of the group tended to be more serious, with reading lists comprised primarily of political, historical, and critical texts.

The members of the Ladies’ Reading Circle (a group that lasted at least until the 1950s) were, for the most part, middle-class black women who set an agenda for the club of education, self-improvement, and social responsibility. Like most women’s clubs of the time, each meeting of the LRC was held in a different member’s home and usually ended with a “dainty” luncheon and light musical fare, courtesy of the Victrola or player piano; but what set the LRC apart from most of the other women’s clubs of the day was the choice of reading material — from books on world history and international politics, to texts on current affairs and social criticism. (Several surprising examples appear below.)

Not only did the women gather weekly to discuss current and cultural affairs, they also worked to improve their community by tackling important social issues and by inspiring and encouraging young women (and men) who looked to them as civic leaders. Noted black historian J. Mason Brewer dedicated his 1935 book Negro Legislators of Texas to the women of the Ladies’ Reading Circle. The photograph above is from Brewer’s book, as is the following dedication:

lrc_negro-leg-brewer_1935-dedication

Included were the names of the members, several of whom had organized the club in 1892:

lrc_members_brewer

One of the LRC’s concerns was establishing a home which, like the white community’s YWCA, offered housing and career training for young women. The charming frame house the club bought for this purpose in 1938 (and which is described in the Jan. 10, 1952 News article “Ladies Reading Circle Seeks $7,500 for Expanding Home”) still stands at 2616 Hibernia in the State-Thomas area

lrc-home_2616-hibernia_google2616 Hibernia (Google Street view, 2014)

But the group was organized primarily as a “reading circle,” and the minutes of three randomly chosen meetings show the sort of topics they were interested in exploring. The following three articles are from the post-WWI-era, and all appeared in The Dallas Express, a newspaper for the city’s black community.

lrc_dallas-express_040320April 3, 1920

lrc_dallas-express_041020April 10, 1920

lrc_dallas-express_102023October 20, 1923

My favorite juxtaposition of content on the pages of The Dallas Express was the article below which reported on a white politician’s promise that he would fight to keep “illiterate Negro women” from voting — just a column or two away was one of those eye-popping summaries of the latest meeting of the Ladies’ Reading Circle. My guess is that the black educators who comprised the Ladies’ Reading Circle were probably far more knowledgeable about world events than he was.

negro-womans-suffrage_dallas-express_052220May 22, 1920

In reading the limited amount of information I could find on the LRC, I repeatedly came across the name of one of the earliest members, Callie Hicks (she is in the 1935 photo at the top, seated, second from the right). She was a dedicated teacher as well as a respected civic leader who worked for several causes and was an executive of the Dallas branch of the NAACP. A Dallas News article about Miss Hicks appeared in Feb., 1950 when she was named “Woman of the Year” by one of the largest African American women’s organizations in Dallas County (“Honor Caps 40 Years of Helpful Teaching,” DMN, Feb. 10, 1950). Miss Hicks died in May, 1965.

callie-hicks_dmn-021950-photo1950

It’s a shame that the Ladies’ Reading Circle is not better known in Dallas today. I have to admit that I had never heard of the group until I stumbled across that 1935 club photo. Their tireless work to improve the intellectual lives of themselves and others no doubt influenced the generations that followed.

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Sources & Notes

Top photograph, dedication, and member list, from Negro Legislators of Texas and Their Descendants; A History of the Negro in Texas Politics from Reconstruction to Disenfranchisement by J. Mason Brewer (Dallas: Mathis Publishing Co., 1935).

Minutes from the Ladies’ Reading Circle meetings all printed in The Dallas Express.

Relevant material on the LRC and other historic African-American women’s clubs can be read in Women and the Creation of Urban Life, Dallas, Texas, 1843-1920 by Elizabeth York Enstam (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1998), here.

The Handbook of Texas entry for one of the founding members of the Ladies’ Reading Circle, Julia Caldwell Frazier, can be found here.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved

Alexandre Hogue and the Lost “Dead Eye Dick” Bookplate — 1927

hogue_bookplate_1927_full

by Paula Bosse

I am a huge fan of the paintings and prints by the Dallas Nine group, and Alexandre Hogue — one of the members of the group — has always been one of my favorite artists. I stumbled across this early, uncharacteristic work by him last night while looking for something else. I was browsing though a digital bookplate collection (…as one does…), and when I saw the thumbnail image of this western scene, I wondered who had drawn it. The citation had no artist attribution and noted merely that it was produced for the University Club of Dallas. As I have a background in rare books and Texas art, I thought I might know the artist, so I checked the signature. I never expected this drawing to have been done by Alexandre Hogue.

The bookplate was executed by Hogue for the University Club, a group whose well-heeled and literate members met in a tony downtown penthouse. It was done in 1927 when Hogue was working as an art instructor at the Dallas YWCA; his own work had begun to attract positive critical attention, but he had yet to make a big splash. I’ve checked various sources, but I don’t see mention anywhere of Hogue doing this sort of thing. Was he commissioned? Did he do it on spec, hoping to possibly network with influential members and perhaps improve his chances of showing his work there? Whatever his reason, things seem to have paid off, because he was showing his art at the club and participating in group shows there by 1928.

So here it is, art-lovers, a heretofore mostly (if not totally) unknown piece of Alexandre Hogue-iana from 1927 — a little piece of anonymous ephemera that has been stashed away for years in a bookplate collection in Illinois.

hogue_bookplate_1927_det

hogue_bookplate_sig_1927

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This bookplate is from the John Starr Stewart Ex Libris Collection, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It can be seen here.

If you are unfamiliar with Alexandre Hogue’s work, see here for a few examples of his work as well as those of his fellow Dallas Nine artists.

Also, there is a show featuring Hogue’s works currently on at the Dallas Museum of Art. For details see here.

And a short, informative video, presented by Susan Kalil, author of Alexandre Hogue: An American Visionary, can be viewed here.

Another uncharacteristic example of Hogue’s work, is the incredible “Calligraphic Tornado” (1970), which I’ve posted here.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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