How ‘debutante’ stopped being a dirty word

Listen Now
6min 43sec

Photo: Joanne DavidsonThe society pages in a newspaper often carry a connotation of rehashing the going-ons of a city’s wealthy elite.

But the Denver Post’s society editor Joanne Davidson says that times are changing and society pages are evolving as well. Davidson has held her position at the Post for nearly three decades. Over that timespan, she has witnessed society pages taking on a new role within journalism.

With the debutante ball season kicking off this weekend, we invited Davidson to join us in the studio earlier this week.

She chatted with arts editor and Colorado Art Report host Chloe Veltman about what the Denver Post’s society pages looks like presently and how this cultural shift is reflective of what is happening more broadly in Colorado.

Here’s a preview of the interview, which can be heard in full on The Colorado Art Report this Friday at 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.:

CPR: The Denver Post society pages carry this connotation of covering the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But that’s not necessarily the case today. Can you walk us through this evolution and why the shift occurred?

Joanne Davidson: Back in the day and when I’m talking back in the day, I’m going back to the 1930s and '40s it really was a chronicle of the upper crust of society. If you weren’t part of the sacred 10, or however many people were considered true society of the time, your name would never appear in the society pages. Over the years, that certainly has changed. Now, basically anything that’s a legitimate nonprofit organization can get coverage. If they are having a fundraising event and think to invite me, I will be there if I can. I think this shift is just an evolution of the times. When I was hired at the Denver Post in 1985, I was given two instructions. Number one, to have the column reflect the entire community. And, number two, not to humiliate or embarrass myself by saying “Oh so-and-so was there in her frilly frock eating succulent shrimp.”

CPR: Looking ahead to big events this year, debutante season kicks off May 25. Debutante balls are often stereotyped as coming-out soirees for teenaged girls thrown by their wealthy families. Is this still the case, or has this type of event seen a shift as well?

Joanne Davidson: Debutante balls, I think, get a bad rap. Every single debutante ball in Denver is a fundraising event. It’s not a “let’s try and find husbands for all of these young ladies.” Back in the olden days, that is definitely how it was. But it’s not that way anymore. Now, they all raise funds for a nonprofit in town.

CPR: I hear that sometimes you get to more than one event a night. Can you talk us through a typical night out when you are covering events?

Joanne Davidson: A typical day, I should say, is one luncheon event and then three evening events. However, my personal best is nine events in one night. Three were, fortunately, in the same hotel. And all of them were downtown, so within easy, quick walking distance. I made seven of the nine on time. I was late for the two others, but it all worked out in the end.