Not to be confused with:
A “Calico Ball” is still much more than a title of a new collection from Timeless Romance.
by Carla Kelly, Sarah M. Eden, and Kristin Holt
An 1855 Newspaper Explanation of a “Calico Ball”
Calico Balls arose in the mid 19th Century United States–with good reasons!
I want to share a valuable newspaper article, encompassing the origin and purpose of the first Calico Ball. I’ll do so as a careful transcription, rather than by image (only), as the 1855 paper had faded by the time it was digitized, and it’s difficult to read. This article was published in Richmond Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia, January 10, 1855.
A GOOD IDEA.–There is very great suffering in New York, among the many poor who are without employment. It had been suggested that the pressure was in a great degree owing to the extravagance of “uppertendom,” who, having by their excesses become deeply involved, are no longer able to give employment to the many mechanics to whom they formerly gave occupation, and are compelled to discharge a considerable number of the servants formerly kept in waiting upon them. A correspondent of the Herald, who claims to belong to that exalted class of new York aristocracy, while he does not admit that it is culpable to the degree charged, suggests–and it must be confessed very generously–that this “upper-tendom” get up a “calico ball,” at which no lady shall wear a dress which costs more than 12 1-2 cents per yard, and that after the ball, all the dresses be sent to the Rev. Mr. Pease, the great reformer of the “Five Points,” to be by him distributed among the poor women of the city.
Whether this happy suggestion will be adopted or not, remains to be seen. It would afford the strongest proof of the humanity of the class to which it is offered. There is no aristocratic circle in the country which depends so entirely upon dress and formality for distinction from other people as the aristocracy of New York. Without attainments or merits of any kind above other people, save money–satin, brocade, broadlcoth, white kids, fine furniture, fine carriages, etc., are the only marks by which they are known from the “vulgar herd;” which they look upon as unfit to associate with them, and whose near approach many, who have themselves hardly gotten rid of the smell of tallow and shoemaker’s wax, think contamination! If this ignorant and arrogant community could so far descend from its exaltation, protected alone, as it is, by “outward show,” as to put on “calico” and dance before the town, and then give their dresses to the poor, we shall think a little better of them. It would be a self-sacrificing display, that the world h rarely witnessed–a surrender for one night at least of all, except their riches, that they hold dear on earth, viz.: their dress. It would indeed be a temporary suicide, a visit to the shades of social death, and their’s for the night would be nothing short of a “dance of death!”
The suggestion might be amended by requiring the young men to appear in domestic cloth for the night, and to send their toggery also to Mr. Pease. It is not fair that this great sacrifice should be one sided–the ladies ought not to be forced to dance in calico to broadcloth and white kids. There should be equality in this downfall of the upper-crust of Gotham. We trust the idea may be carried out–if it shall be, we think the Dispatch will be in New York on the occasion. The sight will be worth a voyage there to behold. We have not a doubt that the array will be far more graceful than the finest dress ball in New York for the last ten years. The people that would thus be clad, or the majority of them, are far better suited for domestics than for brocade and broadcloths.
The Idea Headed West
Newspapers, alone, show the gradual westward movement of the Calico Ball from NYC to San Francisco and every community in between. The ongoing enjoyment of the Calico Ball persisted until turn of the century.
Here’s a sample that explains more of the expectations of those invited to a Calico Ball, from Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, on December 18, 1860.
Those expectations include: Ladies are requested appear in an American Calico Dress (though none will be excluded for non-compliance), “It is hoped that the dresses worn at the party, or an equivalent amount of Calico in the piece, will be donated to the Ministry, for clothing the poor”, “Suits worn by the gentlemen at the Ball will not be refused on the next day. A full suit sufficient for and appropriate to the occasion may be bought for $6 to $10”. Oh, and NO fancy clothes.
In 1874, the SECOND Grand Calico Ball for the BENEFIT of the Ladies’ United Aid Society, was held in San Francisco, California, on a January night (dancing began at 9 o’clock).
Watch for many more blog articles detailing some of the true-to-history details mentioned within this new book. I had so much fun researching and learning, I want to share some of the best parts.
And three separate stories, each about a Calico Ball in the American West:
Copyright © 2018 Kristin Holt LC