What a Ball

The Society of Martha Washington Colonial Pageant

South Texas Debs Make Grand Entrance

By Lance Avery Morgan
Photos courtesy of Rodolfo Guzman

If you think high society may be dead, or at least waning, it really isn’t at all. Recently in the border town of Laredo big things were happening to show that debutantes are just as lovely as ever. It turns out that The Society of Martha Washington Colonial Pageant & Ball, formed in 1939, continues to thrive and grow more popular every year.

The Society hosts the Colonial Ball, which of course, is an annual debutante gala for young women making their debut into society. The Colonial Ball, held in the city’s Civic Center, is part of a citywide festival of Washington’s Birthday Celebration, which takes place each year near the first US president’s special holiday. The Society of Martha Washington helps Laredo present an image of “racial and national harmony” by working in conjunction with the Princess Pocahontas Council and the Abrazo Children, and has attendees who are notables from all over Texas.

Besides being philanthropic, the society chooses two prominent members of Laredo society to don costumes to portray President George and Martha Dandridge Washington. The debutantes and their escorts who are presented either have family in the Society or are invited guests. It’s interesting to note that membership into the Society is exclusive, yet there are no racial or ethnic discriminations and Laredo’s elite consists of bi-cultural residents.

What is it like from the audience’s point of view, you may ask? The participants portray contemporaries based on the story line, which changes every year to honor the President and his First Lady. What a spectacle it is since each deb wears an elaborate handmade colonial-era dress that is the outer shell over a corset, bloomers, and layers of petticoats.

Linda Leyendecker Gutierrez is the official dressmaker for the pageant. She says that yards of fabric are used to make these elaborate costumes… silks, satins and velvets from all over the world. The intricately designed gowns are adorned with beads, lace and ribbon to create the perfect dress, weighing up to 80 pounds. All of the pomp and circumstance is worth it for the debutantes, families and their once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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