BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Magnifique times 125! That’s what we are expecting from the Woman’s Board of the Alliance Française de Chicago, known for the city’s most glamorous galas hosted biennially with elegance and elan. On May 7, in the Four Seasons Hotel’s grand ballroom, the 75-member board will salute the Alliance’s history as one of Chicago’s first cultural institutions and recognize two leaders applauded internationally and beloved at home—Catharine Hamilton and Myriam Bransfield—for their roles in shaping the organization. Hamilton will be honored for her many years of dedication to French culture and to the Alliance, and Bransfield will be presented the Prix de l’Alliance Française de Chicago.
Liz Adams, who, along with Gail Hoffman, serves as co-chair, told us: “Because of the pandemic, we have not had an in-person gala since 2018 and are thrilled to be back together live at the Four Seasons. We have looked at this opportunity very intentionally. We celebrate our history but have a forward-looking theme with innovative décor and fast-forward entertainment. Of course, our menu will be French-inspired with French wine pairings. The evening will be modern, elegant, and filled with surprises and lots of dancing. Expect the unexpected!”
The Alliance Professionals Group recently hosted 125 Le Bal’s kickoff event in the Eleanor Wood Prince Salon at the Alliance’s headquarters on Chicago Avenue at Dearborn, toasting the upcoming gala. Guests included Yannick Tagand, General Consul of France to Chicago; David Horn, President of the Board of Directors, and his wife, Libby, who founded the Woman’s Board in 1995 along with Hamilton and Bransfield and served as its first president; and Cheryl Sandner, current Woman’s Board president.
A tangential joy of Le Bal planning has been the updating of the Alliance’s history since its beginnings in 1897. “The founders, like those in cities around the world at that time, celebrated this new organization for being a cultural and language center,” Adams said. “It is interesting and probably not coincidental that the Art Institute, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Field Museum, and the University of Chicago were all started around that time, and what a time that must have been here.”
In studying the Alliance’s history, Adams said that one of the most fascinating figures was Olive Hulbert, who served as the Alliance’s President from 1919 to 1923: “After World War I, she worked tirelessly to raise money, a dime at a time, to rebuild the village of Pagny-sur-Moselle. She also held cultural events and dinners honoring prestigious guests to raise money, much as we do today with our fundraising galas. She instructed members and friends to stand the dime holder on their dresser or desk or carry in pocket, and added, ‘Put a dime every day this month and watch your dollars grow.’ ”
Adams added that her co-chair, Gail Hoffman, and members of the committee reviewed the archives of the Alliance dating to the early 1900s. “We discovered that, among many bits of history, it was an Alliance member that was responsible for first bringing the great Maria Callas to Chicago,” she said. “We also found a menu from a 1956 scholarship dinner that included ‘Notes for the Enjoyment of the Dinner.’ In addition to ‘no smoking or cognac until the dessert course,’ it said: ‘You will notice there are no salt or pepper shakers on the table. The chef has prepared this meal with consummate care; any further use of condiments would be superfluous.’ A very French admonition!”
The goal is to raise $700,000 to advance the Alliance’s mission of education, including language immersion programs for CPS high school students in Chicago’s core neighborhoods, and cultural offerings. A live auction will feature travel, exclusive experiences, and fine wines. An afterparty with DJ Madrid will cap off the festivities.
As we await this year’s festivities, enjoy these photos from the 2018 Gala, representing a taste of the evening’s je ne sais quoi.
For further information, visit af-chicago.org or call 312-337-1070.