Secret Sharing: Debutantes Coming Out in the American South

St. Cecilia debutante, 2012. Photo by Susan Harbage Page.

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Secret Sharing: Debutantes Coming Out in the American South

by Susan Harbage Page, CynthiaLewis
Southern Cultures, Vol. 18, No. 4: Winter 2012

"'There's no choosing. It isn't choice. Are you the daughter of somebody who was somebody who was somebody? And if you are, and you're not a heroin addict, you are there.'"

The grand staircase fronting the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston leads to large, wooden, locked double doors and instructions to ring the bell for service. The summons brings a face between the doors and, in a moment that recalls the Wizard’s brushing off Dorothy through a similar aperture, the question “May I help you?” faintly discourages a reply. Inside, other assistants hustle to retrieve documents from the unseen depths where archives are stored. I pay my five-dollar non-member’s fee and ask to see any documents pertaining to the St. Cecilia Society, a Charleston musical society established in 1762, which became, sometime in the nineteenth century, perhaps the most exclusive and mysterious of all debutante societies in America.