"Floating Across the Catwalk": Women's Labor in Three Debutante Societies in San Antonio, 1930-1960

Date
2019
Authors
O'Hara, Dylan G.
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Abstract

Three debutante societies defined part of the upper class landscape of early twentieth century San Antonio. Between 1930 and 1960, these three societies were mechanisms through which women, as mothers and daughters, as planners and debutantes, and as fundraisers and performers expressed their racial, gendered, and class identity. The Selene Club, made up of upper class Mexican immigrants and white businessmen, Pal's Social Club, San Antonio's only black debutante society, and The Order of the Alamo, consisting of whites only, will be explored to further understand how various women in San Antonio conceptualized, created, and performed their specific identities. The significance of gendered ritual is central to this project. Across all three debutante societies, the training and the presentation of a younger generation of women was essential to the cultural event. Teenage debutantes will be examined in this work, and so too will their mothers and grandmothers, who raised money, created guest lists, rented party spaces, trained the debutantes, and much more. Thus, the centrality of women's labor and performance across all three clubs is unmistakable and paramount. At the same time that debutante societies provided strict models of gendered and class expressions, they also provided spaces for creative cultural difference, and unique ethno-racial expression of identity and politics.

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Keywords
Class, Debutante, Race, Ritual Performance, San Antonio, Women
Citation
Department
History