Eva G. Simmons oral history interview, 2013 February 04. OH-01700. [Audio recording] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Ne
Standardized Rights Statement
Tell me about Les Femmes Douze. Okay. As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Fitzgerald recruited a whole crop of young black teachers from Virginia and North Carolina and places back that way. And so I'm thinking right now that there probably were close to two or three hundred of us; I mean really a critical mass. But the black community was growing and we needed black teachers for those black schools, so there you go. We were chatting, a group of us, and the leader of the pack was Gwendolyn Bennett, who was Reverend [Marion] Bennett's wife at the time, who thought we should do something to pull our girls together because they had been bussed somewhere throughout their high school, secondary school experience; they didn't even know one another unless they lived close enough in the black community or attended the same church or whatever. So the notion of debutantes was borne the summer, maybe the spring of 1964. Our first ball was in November of that year. Wow, that was fast. Yes, it was fast. We selected girls with a 2.0 GPA, good character and who wanted to participate. We started out with a formal tea with the gloves and the hats and all of that. We're going to do that this year, too. We're going to have a retro tea for our fiftieth year. The program has grown and has become more sophisticated over time, but the reputation of the organization still stands. As an afterthought, when the girls graduated we're thinking, well, what now? The deb's last name was Watkins. I'll think of her first name, hopefully. But anyway, she was going to a local beauty school and we gave her a fifty-dollar scholarship. Well now, I don't know what that bought back in 1964. But anyway, we started to build on the notion of this being a scholarship-granting organization. So this past November, November of 2012, we granted thirty-seven thousand dollars in scholarship to about twenty-two girls. So once we made the decision that we were going to be a scholarship-granting organization, well, how are we going to get the money? So we did a souvenir journal. The girls and their parents went pounding the streets for ads; so did the ladies. We stopped doing that eventually. That was a lot of work. And so that's how we acquired the money. At the first ball, which occurred at the Convention Center, the Gold Room—you probably haven't been here long enough to know the Gold Room at the Convention Center. Well, the convention center then was this little old domed building, which looked humungous to us, and off to the side was a smaller ballroom known as the Gold Room. That's where we had our first debutante ball with eight girls and enough security for the president because they insisted that we hire security. I don't know what they thought we were going to be doing up in there. Anyway, we hired the security because that's what we had to do. We had our little ball and we had a fall theme and the little book was about an eighth of an inch think, but it was a beginning. Isn't that great? And just Saturday afternoon we were here putting together the program proposal for the group for this year coming. And how many debutantes did you have in 2012? Thirty-two. The last three years we've had thirty-some girls. The highest number we've ever had was thirty-six and that was in the eighties.