First German Calls Virginia's '400'
Society and Debutantes Aflutter on Eve
of Historic Premier Social Event of the East;
Modernism Usurps Little of Quaint Charm
With Which Noted Gathering Was Endowed
Tomorrow evening the Commonwealth Club will be the scene of the most fashionable function of the year when the proverbial "400" local society members dine and dance at the opening Richmond German.
Following the custom of many years, the season's debutantes will formally make their bows and for the first time will pass before the receiving line of the german officers and their wives. More than 20 girls comprise the list which is representative of Richmond society as well as that in several other cities. Twenty-four debutantes received invitations. They are:
Miss Anne Byrd, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Francis Otway Byrd of Upper Brandon.
Miss Elizabeth Christian, daughter of Mrs. Robert W. Daniel of Brandon.
Miss Virginia Thomas, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Irvington Thomas.
Miss Florence Glen Parkinson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James T. Parkinson.
Miss Mary Moyler, daughter of Mrs. John Moyler.
Miss Archer Coke, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Archer Coke Jr.
Miss Peggy Nolley, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Tolar Nolley.
Miss Iris Johnson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Pegram Johnson.
Miss Rhoda Taylor, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. H. Seldon Taylor Jr.
Miss Elizabeth Leake, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David H. Leake.
Miss Em Bowles Locker, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Willis Clyde Locker.
Miss Courtenay Norton Sands, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Hamilton Sands.
Miss Helen Jones, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard M. Jones.
Miss Ida Ellerson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Watkins Ellerson.
Miss Janie Preston Lamb, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Brockenbrough Lamb.
Miss Katherine Lea Marshall, daughter of Mrs. Harry Tucker Marshall of University.
Miss Mildred Coles Boyd, daughter of Mrs. James Boyd of California.
Miss Betty Hamill, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Barker Gummere Hamill of New York City.
Miss Mary McIlwaine Archer, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Jefferson Archer.
Miss Frances Sampson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Jefferson Sampson.
Miss Elizabeth Field Orgain, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Barbour Orgain.
Miss Alice Alexander of Chrlotte, N. C., niece of Dr. and Mrs. William Branch Porter.
Miss Anne Pendleton Ryland, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Fleet Ryland.
Miss Maria Gray Valentine, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Granville Gray Valentine.
General Stern, who was born at Chesterfield, changed to Ruther Glen in 1866, Caroline County, entered the Confederate Army at the age of 14. He served as telegraph boy to General Lee until the Surrender of '65. His brothers are Cary Ellis Stern who is now residing on Grove Avenue and the late Lewis Henry Stern.
A graduate of Washington College at Lexington, General Stern came to Richmond where he practiced law until the time of his death. He was inspector-general of the Virginia Forces for more than 15 years and during that time traveled extensively through the State. Later, he was appointed adjutant-general for the State of Virginia during the World War. This position was held while Governor Westmoreland Davis was in office.
At the death of General Stern, Colonel Thomas Branch McAdams, who is now making his home in Baltimore, was appointed to lead the Grand Marches. Other leaders from time to time have been Mr. H. Watkins Ellerson and Mr. Elmore D. Hotchkiss Jr., both of whom are officers of the german today.
In contrast to the nineteenth century belle, dressed in Swiss muslin, with elbow sleeves and a ruffled skirt, the debutante will appear tomorrow night in a formal white evening gown with a shoulder bouquet of orchids. With her escort she will dance the opening figure, the feature of the first affair. Velvets and satins will replace organdies and tarlton while the curl, once worn over one shoulder, has been transformed into well-groomed coiffeure.
Tiaras and sparkling bracelets will ornament the frocks where formerly a gold locket hung from a velvet ribbon. Sable and ermine will combine with brocades and soft velvets in evening wraps to supplant the quaint pelisse which four generations ago protected milady's costume.
There has scarcely been a Richmond belle who failed to dance the first german for almost since its inauguration, debutantes have been invited to attend these functions.
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The number of buds this year far exceeds that of last season and the preceding one. Despite the fact that today "coming out" is merely a side issue in the lives of many young women, the debutantes have become more plentiful than ever during the last few years. That making a debut is not as serious a business as it once was may be disputed but the fact has been proven that debutantes are combining social activities with other things. Some are continuing their college education or have taken regular positions or part-time jobs. Others rely on charity work or individual projects and hobbies to fill their spare time. Be this as it may, it is the supposed ambition of almost every mother that her daughter may lead the Richmond german.
Ranking in distinction with the St. Cecelia Ball in Charleston and the Bachelors' Cotillion at Baltimore, the german is received as the most social organization in the city. Members of the german cling to the accepted order of a dress suit and only once since its beginning has there been exception to this tradition. In this case, the party was corrected in no unmeasured terms. When prohibition was introduced, the customary "cup that cheers" was stored away and during those "17 years in the desert," again only once was a member severely censored for "dancing under the influence of too much drink."
Recently it has become customary for Richmond fashionables to entertain with a cocktail party at their homes, preceding the german affairs. However, the motion to serve wine with the dinner was declined by the members this year.
During the early days of the german the dues were insufficient to serve dinner preceding the dances and at that time it was the general custom for individual ladies invited to the affair to entertain at informal supper parties. When the supper was first introduced into the organization, it was served shortly before midnight. Tomorrow there will be dinner at 8 o'clock.
During the first years of organization, a piano, cello and violin served to furnish music for the guests whereas today a complete orchestra, under the direction of a nationally known artist, will entertain the dancers, when foxtrots and tangos will replace the old mazurka, Boston dip corkscrew waltz and the gallop.
The Commonwealth ballroom is a contrast to the double parlors with folding doors where once the cream of Richmond society gathered to dance. Formal winter greens will bank the stage and tall vases of fall flowers will ornament the ballroom. No longer is there Southern smilax twined about the chimney pieces and family portraits. Formality will mark the function tomorrow evening. The Franklin Street entrance to the clubhouse will be protected by a striped awning and a ladies' maid will stand at the door to admit the guests. Cards will be presented and only german members will attend the affair.
Silver sandals and matching satin slippers will not be covered with tiny high button overshoes and the place of Aunt Sarah Hope, who was a fixture at the first germans, is occupied by another servant.
History of the Richmond German is scarce and newspaper clippings, yellowed with age and almost illegible, are few. Only one Richmond woman who was present at the first german survives to tell the story. Scrapbooks which once prized the tale of the social organization and its beginning have been destroyed and almost no detailed written information is available today.
A scrapbook in the possession today of a Richmonder gives a brief summary of the founding of the Richmond German. As early as the spring of 1868, dances were given each week at the Spotswood Hotel on Main Street. These affairs were called "hops" and it is said that a Mrs. Baker of Baltimore was the lady with whom Sprigg Campbell opened the first ball. Mr. Campbell was the brother of Mrs. David Edmunds of this city, the former Miss Ida Campbell.
The hotel burned in the late sixties and the parties were given in the homes of several Richmond families, including those of Parker Campbell, John Enders and Mrs. Aylett, mother of Mrs. William Lawrence Royall, and Mrs. Bradley S. Johnson. As the need came for more dancing space, the weekly Mondays took place at St. Alban's Hall, which was at the corner of Main and Third Streets, and Levy's Hall, formerly at Main and Eleventh Streets. Since then they have danced at Saenger Hall on Seventh Street near Marshall, Belvidere Hall, the Masonic Temple, the Jefferson Hotel and now at the Commonwealth Club.
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It was at St. Alban's Hall that the famous duel between John B. Mordecai and Page McCarthy was begun. Rumor hath it that the verses written to the beautiful Mary Triplett was the cause of the duel. The poem began:
"When Mary's queenly form I press
In Strauss' latest waltz,
I would as well her lips caress
Although those lips be false."
The poem is recorded in William Lawrence Royall's book, "Some Reminiscences."
There were several leaders in the early years of the german. And an incident is told in connection with the first figures.
"The leader of the dance at that time, unintentionally offended one of the members and was called by the gentleman to the dressing room. The dance continued with a second leader conducting the figures in his place. Hardly a measure had been danced before he also offended someone and was likewise called out to the dressing room.
"While the young gentlemen settled their differences, the dance perforce remained at a standstill until the president requested Jo Lane Stern, later General Stern, to see if he could lead without in any way offending any one. Thus was the general elevated to his position as leader.
Miss Ida Ellerson will lead the principal figure tomorrow evening. She will dance with William H. Palmer Jr., who was voted to succeed Colonel McAdams at a meeting of the german officers and executive board last week.
Miss Ellerson, who attended St. Catherine's School, studied for a year in Switzerland and is now majoring in dramatics at the Stuart Club, Childe Walker School of Fine Arts at Boston.
She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Watkins Ellerson of River Road and will be presented to society during the Christmas holidays. Her debut party will be a tea dance on Monday afternoon, December 24 at the home of her parents.
Mr. Palmer, who formerly assisted General Stern as second leader, has been a member of the Richmond German for many years. For the past few years he has taken no active part in the organization. And it was with an almost unanimous vote that Mr. Palmer has been chosen to serve again as leader of the figures.
Rumor hath it that Mr. Palmer made a collection of german cards which he carried in the pockets of his dress suit. It is said that he frequently showed these souveniers at the midnight suppers which were served during the intermission of the Richmond German in the Masonic Temple.
Among the first to attend the germans were Bettie Brander, Nannie Enders, later Mrs. J. Caskie Cabell; Mary Triplett, Mattie Ould, Lizzie Cabell, Belle Pleasants, later Mrs. Reginald Gilham; Lizzie Campbell, who married a Mr. Bolton; Sue Brown Sutton, later Mrs. Lewis Crenshaw; Kate Pleasants, who married E. C. Minnor; Emmie McCance, later Mrs. Minfield Travern; Jennie Pleasants, Mary Mabin, later Mrs. Frank Clark; Ella Meredith, who married Preston Cocke; Emma Gilham, later Mrs. William Page; Bessie McCaw, who married Christopher Tompkins; Nellie Nalle, later Mrs. Ben Palmer; Helen Palmer, who married Edward Christian; Sallie Montague, later Mrs. J. Arthur Lefroy, and Helen Montague.
The gentlemen present, according to authorities, were Sprigg Campbell, Corbin and Byrd Warwick, William Gilham, A. Calle Watkins, William R. Trigg, John Mordecai, Gideon Davenport, Charles Davenport, J. Caskie Cabell, Thomas Bolling Jrs., Charles Bolling, William H. Allison, John Triplett, William Lawrence Royall, John Enders Jr., William H. Grant Jr., Jesse Nalle, J. Spotswood Crenshaw, R. D. Hudgins, Page McCarthy, Dr. Robert G. Cabell, Dr. Spiers George, D. Joseph A. White, Charles Anderson, Percy Montague, Meredith Montague and John Montague.
After the germans, during the eighties, when no refreshments were served during the evening numerous parties were held in private homes. Affairs were elaborate in some instances and the famous John Dabney and his contemporaries were called in to cater.
Synonymous with the Richmond German is the name of the late General Jo Lane Stern, who led the german figures for more than half a century. When less than 21 years old, General Stern led his first ball in 1874. He died in 1930, having led the march for four generations of the same family.
General Stern is said to have danced with Mrs. John H. Montague, and subsequent members of her family, Mrs. J. Arthur Lefroy, Mrs. Clifford Randolph Caperton, Mrs. John Wilson Brown 3d, Mrs. W. L. Land, Mrs. Thomas Dew, Miss Mary Caperton, Miss Harriette Caperton and Mrs. Robert Nelson Page.
A few of the city's noted belles who have danced the opening figures at the germans are Miss May Handy, now Mrs. James Potter Brown; Miss Mary Triplett, later Mrs. Philip Haxall; miss Mattie Ould, who married Oliver J. Schoolcraft; Miss Lizzie Cabell, now Mrs. Albert Ritchie, mother of the past Governor of Maryland; Mis Amelie Rives, who married Prince Trobetskoy, and Bettie Brander, later Mrs. Edward Mayo.
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A copy of the old invitations which were issued by the german in 1877 shows that the original ones were printed in script, not engraved. The officers at the time were as follows: Byrd Warwick, president; Charles Anderson, vice-president. The executive committee included Robert G. Cabell Jr., G. A. Davenport, Alfred Gray, M. F. Montague, Charles P. Lathrop, Thomas Atkinson and R. D. Hudgins. The patronesses were Mrs. H. T. Douglas, Mrs. J. Caskie Cabell, Mrs. O. A. Crenshaw, Mrs. John S. Wise, Mrs. John R. Triplett, Mrs. Bradley Johnson and Mrs. J. S. D. Cullen.
A Richmonder who danced at the germans during the 'nineties tells that eight or more germans were held each year. The present series includes only three. The dates this season include December 17 and 31 and April 22.
Incumbent officers for the german are Henry Watkins Ellerson, president; Elmore D. Hotchkiss Jr., vice-president; George Melville Reid, secretary and treasurer, and members of the executive committee include Julien Harrison Hill, Spencer L. Carter, Walter Spencer Robertson, Edward Clifford Anderson and Archibald Robertson.
Patronesses for the affairs this year follow: Mrs. Ellerson, Mrs. Hotchkiss, Mrs. Reid, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Walter Robertson, Mrs. Archibald Robertson, Mrs. Andrew H. Christian, Mrs. John Kerr Branch, Mrs. William T. Reed, Mrs. Saunders Hobson, Mrs. Douglas VanderHoof, Mrs. Benjamin Hodges Smith and Mrs. John Archer Coke Jr.