The Passavant Cotillion

              Chicago’s Ultimate Benefit





By Megan McKinney



Debutante Adele Dunlap Smith, with UN Ambassador Adlai E. Stevenson II, at the 1960 Passavant Cotillion.


When the Passavant Cotillion and Christmas Ball was founded by members of the Woman’s Board of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in 1949, among those most involved in organizing the new benefit was Colleen Moore Hargrave. Following her marriage to Merrill Lynch executive Homer P. Hargrave, the former silent screen star had moved to Chicago, where she was extraordinarily socially and philanthropically active. In 1949, she was also mother of a debutante aged daughter.



Film star Colleen Moore was thought by many, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, to be the original flapper.  Fitzgerald said of her, “I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused all that trouble.”  


Mrs. Hargrave was aware that the investment parents make in a child’s lavish debut could be spent in a more productive and lasting way, yet result in an equally lovely celebration. Thus, under her leadership, and that of other Woman’s Board members, the 30-odd Chicago area private coming out parties scheduled for the year were combined in one great ball for the first time—as had been done routinely in Eastern cities—and the money raised was contributed to the hospital.

The first of these annual invitational balls was held on December 23, 1949, at the Stevens Hotel, now the Chicago Hilton, which continues to be home to the Passavant Cotillion and Christmas Ball.

The concept was so sound and the force behind it so powerful, the Passavant Cotillion immediately became the social centerpiece of the holiday season and has been ever since, prevailing even through years when debuts were thought to be “irrelevant.”

We have assembled this collection of photographs from a spectrum of early cotillions, from 1949 through 1965. Classic Chicago readers will find, in these pictures, images of many friends and acquaintances–captioned with their formal names–who were then so touchingly young.



This classic image of Passavant debutantes and their escorts was photographed by Town & Country during the summer of 1949 in national anticipation of Chicago’s first debutante cotillion. Seated lower right is Colleen Moore Hargrave’s daughter, Judith. In the middle row, left to right, are Peggy Dushane, Betty McFarland and Betty Jean McGregor; back row: Barbara Brown, Barbara Wedelstaedt, Bunny Dean, Polly Clancy and Gloria Green.

Escorts, standing left to right: William B. McIlvaine III, Conrad Peterson, Homer P. Hargrave Jr., Charles Rowley Jr. and, seated, Wesley M. Dixon Jr. and George Rutherford.



Props for the Passavant Cotillion’s first Figures in 1949 were frilly white parasols, which mirrored many of the deb gowns fashionable during the era.


Judy Hargrave, later Mrs. R. Jackson Coleman, is the debutante on the far left in the above 1949 photograph.



Thierry L. McCormick and Barbara Brown were able to unwind following her 1949 presentation.



The party was well under way, with guests crowding the Hilton’s Grand Ballroom dance floor, when this picture was taken two years later at the 1951 Cotillion.

debut1Figures props had grown immensely for the 1953 Passavant Cotillion and Christmas Ball.


A segment of the 1954 Figures, with props down to a reasonable size.


This charming photograph was taken moments before the first guests proceeded through the receiving line at the 1959 Passavant Cotillion.



Shaun Cudahy, pictured in 1961, is now Mrs. Andrew Block.



Abra Prentice greeted guests from the receiving line before bowing at the 1961 Passavant Ball. Today, she is Mrs. James P. Wilkin and an active member of the Woman’s Board.



Mrs. Wesley M. Dixon, of the Woman’s Board, fastens the last dress hook for Fredericka Volckens before the 1963 Cotillion.



Jeanette Hunt with her father, Mr. William O. Hunt Sr., in 1963. She is now Mrs. Peter Van Nice.


Julia Foster Winston and Nancy Cramer Ryerson with their fathers during the 1964 Grand March.



Jane Beach in the 1965 Cotillion receiving line.



From the 1965 Cotillion: The third deb from the left is Suzanne Sivage, now Mrs. John J. Borland; she is preceded in line by the late Gretchen Fentress Needham.

Author Photo:

Robert F. Carl