The Prom

Posted on May 21, 2020 by

Blog post by JMM archivist Lorie Rombro. You can read more posts by Lorie HERE.


Yesterday I received a picture of my niece dressed in her prom dress. Like so many other teenagers this year she missed her senior prom, but her parents had her get dressed up, bought her a corsage, and did the best they could to make a special evening for her. This got me started thinking about prom. I sort of remember mine but what I do remember clearly is how important it felt at the time. The planning, the date, the dress – all of it seemed like such a big deal.

Advertising sketch for Modern Formal Wear Shops. JMM 1991.220.13.

I became interested in the history of “the Prom” and found a 2010 article by Claire Suddath for Time Magazine, Brief History of The Prom. In the article she writes, “the word prom is short for promenade, the formal, introductory parading of guests at a party. The prom can be traced back to the simple co-ed banquets that 19th century American universities held for each year’s graduating class.

A growing teenage culture pushed proms younger and younger, and by the 1940s the adolescent dance we know today had almost entirely taken hold. In the 1950s, a thriving postwar economy allowed high schools to eschew the traditional gymnasium in favor of proms held in hotels or at country clubs.

President Kennedy rescheduled a 1963 $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton to accommodate a local school whose prom had been booked for the same time. In 1975, President Ford’s daughter Susan held her high school’s senior prom at possibly the best prom location ever: The White House.”

Prom has become such an important rite of passage for high schoolers in our culture. Movies and tv constantly showcase the adolescent angst and pain involved in planning for the big dance. But when I went looking, I was surprised by how little we have in our collections at JMM on Prom!

So I’ve decided to share with you some of the photographs and documents we have related to prom and a few formals and to make a request: If you ever find that picture or program from your own prom, before you throw it out, think of us at the Jewish Museum of Maryland! We would love to add you to our collection – just drop me an email at lrombro@jewishmuseummd.org.

Senior Prom of 1929, Baltimore City College, JMM 1989.110.1.

Alpha Phi Pi Fraternity, Tau Chapter, formal at the Hotel Stafford, 1944, JMM 2011.33.8.

Aleph Zadik Aleph group on the day of the AZA Annual Anniversary Dance.  The AZA group used to meet at the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association on Monument Street in Baltimore, JMM 1998.79.1.

Tau Beta Sigma was a national high school sorority with three chapters in Baltimore, a dance from c. 1952, JMM 1984.211.15.

A dance at Hotel Sterling for the Tau Beta Sigma was a national high school sorority with three chapters in Baltimore, c. 1952, JMM 1984.211.37.

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