Ellie Kemper was the queen of a debutante ball steeped in racism in 1999

Ellie Kemper at the 2017 CFDA Fashion Awards at the Hammerstein Ballroom, Manhattan Center

Ellie Kemper is the star of TV shows like The Office and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Kemper has also appeared in a number of films and other TV projects, and her go-to comedy shtick is wide-eyed naif. She’s a talented comedienne, honestly. She’s 41 years old and she comes from an old-money St. Louis family. In St. Louis, there’s something called the Veiled Prophet Ball, which is a debutante ball for old-money white families. The roots of the Veiled Prophet Ball are in post-Civil War Reconstruction, which saw the rise of Ku Klux Klan. It’s all connected – the Veiled Prophet Ball uses imagery similar to the KKK, and every year, a (white) debutante is crowned the Queen of Love and Beauty. In 1999, Ellie Kemper received that title when she was 19 years old.

Welp. I have no words. To me, cotillions and debutante balls already seemed so foreign, and it’s still strange to think about how they still exist in this era. Even back in the 1990s, it felt like the trend was moving away from these kinds of local balls/pageants, many of which are steeped in segregation, racism and white supremacy. What I find weird, as well, is that this is the first we’re hearing about it with Ellie? Granted, I don’t follow her career and I don’t remember the last time I read an interview with her, but was it widely known that she came from a wealthy St. Louis family? Was it widely known that she was a local debutante at a ball steeped in KKK-lite vibes?

NBC FYC Series "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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211 Responses to “Ellie Kemper was the queen of a debutante ball steeped in racism in 1999”

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  1. Ellie says:

    It’s fairly widely known, at least if you’ve read her book My Squirrel Days or excerpts, that she comes from an old money family who seem to have helped her along in life. THIS I did not know, and I’m fairly sure I would’ve remembered that part from the book…

    • Lizzie says:

      I’ve always known this as I’m from St Louis. It’s not a secret but maybe not something reported often. It’s a ball for the richest of the rich and no one else really cares and wouldn’t even know about it if there wasn’t a parade and the news papers always mentioned who the VP queen is each year. This is the first time I’ve read that the ball exclusively white.

      • Yup, Me says:

        There’s a great informative book about the history of debutante balls and how they were established (and pretty much have always been) so that rich (white) families could maintain and combine property and wealth and keeping that money within their rich (white) communities (and away from others).

        Whether or not people understand the nuances of the history of debutante balls (and their pretty veneer to celebrate what was essentially the sale of girls’ virginity through arranged social status marriages), they are rooted (and steeped) in various issues.

      • readingissexy says:

        I know some will disagree…..but I find debutante balls absolutely creepy and unsettling. I just can’t! I heard about them in southern California when I was young and just couldn’t even imagine participating, even when I was a teenager.

      • Kim says:

        This is a fascinating thread, however I can’t seem to reply to @Yup, Me says

        I had thought debutante balls originated far back, longer than historical US slavery, in Europe as Coming Out balls, where the highest of society young girls were presented to society and were officially presented as “on the market,” looking for a n equally or (hopefully) higher well placed gentleman.

        You can see this depicted in Bridgerton when Phoebe is presented at court.

        In reality, color didn’t ever enter into it, as in no way were people of color admitted into high society (I know there’s the question of the one Queen in England, but that’s a different story).

        I understand the US cotillions have taken on their own meaning, but didn’t the practice originate in Europe?

        Regardless, it’s a silly, dumb practice which should be ended, especially in the US where it has taken on a whole new meaning. Due to racism and classism. However, does this mean the all black debutante balls popular in the south should also be ended? Based on countering the racist exclusivity of the white debutante balls, however still seeped in classism.

      • Lizzie says:

        These balls are classist and racist but most of all demeaning to women. I just saw a similar ball in Russia this weekend. Young ladies dressed in white to be inspected basically. Ugh.

      • MM2 says:

        I grew up going to dog shows, and breeding them is the goal, so I knew what a debutante ball was a kid & I’m still horrified.

      • Chai says:

        Sounds fascinating @YupMe can you please share the name of the book

      • bettyrose says:

        Did none ya’ll read Jane Austen in school? This is what is meant by the “London season,” parading your daughters at wife auctions, I mean debutante balls. Of course it’s about money, breeding, and exclusivity. Even when not overtly racist, it’s absolutely about maintaining a hierarchical status quo (which in the U.S. is always racist).

      • Xiolablue1971 says:

        Bettyrose is exactly right. I grew up in the South in a poor branch of a family with money. My second cousins (from the wealthy branches) were all debutantes and when I was that age, I waivered between being proud of my branch’s working class ethics and also being slightly sad that I couldn’t participate in the debutante right of passage that my family name entitled me to (but our budget could not support). These balls and the debutante organizations are absolutely about money (old money, to be precise), breeding and and family name, and exclusivity. Not overtly racist, but the systems are sexist, classist, and inherently meant to exclude most (including BIPOC). Looking back, I believe that my family’s exclusion based on lack of money meant that we had greater independence to separate ourselves from those systems and act based on conscience and need, rather than perception and societal pressure. This meant that when my uncle came out as gay and HIV+ (before the time where this was commonplace and more understood), we felt free to support him and faced less pressure to hide things that deserved to be exposed and discussed. I would like to think we’d have done this regardless, but I suspect that being free of that systemic weight helped a lot.

      • Maria says:

        I mean…these organizations excluding BIPOC sounds pretty overtly racist to me.

      • emu says:

        It sounds like the ball was “opened up” to black families in the 70’s after protests, but it doesn’t look like the court ever diversified.

      • Wendy says:

        It’s not exclusively white, it integrated in the 70’s.

    • pottymouth pup says:

      When I was in grad school, one of the post-docs told us about how she was a debutante as this was something her family/parents had been part of for ages. She described her coming out at whichever debutante ball was in her area and how the announcements or introductions of the debs were made based on the family’s net worth as that’s how ones rank/status in the pecking order is determined. It is, as folks described above, the same as the introduction to society described in Jane Austen novels. She didn’t mention anything about the KKK or racism (and she would have) but she did make it clear that in the 20th century, it was primarily about showing & maintaining your blue blood/old riche status.

      celebrities & other rich famous people now have their daughters make their debut at the Crillion Ball in Paris, which is a fashion/charity event because I guess they feel emulating that crap is classy or something

      • Maria says:

        Even royalty participates. The Duke of Kent’s granddaughter Amelia Windsor attended the Crillon Ball.

      • Wiglet Watcher says:

        My father was adopted privately into an old money family of Maryland. They had all girls and wanted a boy. So, I know a bit from a side of this world. I found out later a potential ball was declined on my behalf By my father early on. The casual racist jokes I grew up with are not something I speak of. And I was aware of them at an early age being something inappropriate to repeat.

        I have doubts about your statement/recollection of your speaker saying she would have mentioned the racism attached to her deb ball. Because you either accept it as part of the culture or you acknowledge it and understand it to be what it is. Racism and classism. I don’t believe there’s a gray area here unless you’re dim.
        While my father made statements until his passing that I find questionable and do not support, I do understand his upbringing and won’t fault/dwell with that on his memory.

        With that said I understand how difficult it is to admit immediate family is racist. But do not understand how you accept their money and help for your career and education.
        I admit this because none of you know me.

      • pottymouth pup says:

        @Wiglet you’re making a huge and incorrect assumption about someone you don’t know and also assuming she was actually comfortable with & proud of being a Deb and the antiquated (at best) process for blue blood introduction to society. Had she been proud of happy about it & thought nothing was wrong with that, I would have clearly said as much. It was quite the opposite so I am confident that she most certainly would have relayed any ties to the KKK or racism attached to her deb ball of which she was aware at the time or reasonably would have assumed/found out about in the years between her ball(some time in the 80s) and her telling us about it (early 90s). This isn’t about me being uncomfortable admitting someone I know, regardless of how close I am/was to them is racist (or isn’t the ally they purport to be) – I have no skin in doing so nor would I feel a need to protect her in any way. She very much acknowledged it was a bunch of obnoxiously rich WASPs which is what “society” in America was understood to be going back to when these traditions originated (so the understanding that excluding anyone who was not a WASP was understood) but, as ties to the KKK wouldn’t be something understood, had there been any, yes I’m sure she would have mentioned it

    • deering24 says:

      emu–on paper, the organization “opened up.” But most POC know that the same racists are still running things–and joining means getting endless micro- and macro-aggressions.

  2. Snuffles says:

    I don’t even know what to think about this. I have no idea how aware she was of it’s history. Maybe it’s something her parents forced her to do. A lot of these rich white people are/were obsessed with this debutant crap.

    It’s been 22 years. Lots can change. I know absolutely nothing about her personally so I won’t judge what I don’t know.

    • LillyfromLillooet says:

      Signing off on this. I cringe to think of things I thought were a great idea at 19 being brought up thanks to the interwebs 22 years later.

      • VS says:

        I agree it has been 22 years now but I am a bit surprised that we want to excuse things that a 19 year old did…..Travyon was 17 when he was murdered, yet I do vividly recall how some (not any of you, I am talking here about the conversation in the US) called him an ADULT… yet somehow a 19 year old here is still “too” young

        Yes 19 is very young but a 19 year old already knows right from wrong….I don’t necessarily disagree with the influence her parents might have had on her doing it but a 19 year old is not a baby either

      • Haylie says:

        Lots of people had bad ideas at 19. If racism was one of them. I think it’s fair game. We aren’t talking about chunky hair coloring and ultra low rise jeans. It’s a KKK ball. It’s the one thing society points to when they say things like, “I’m not racist because I’m not in the KKK.”

      • Mac says:

        The organization that hosts the ball was founded decades before the KKK infiltrated St Louis. The founders wanted to maintain St Louis as the preeminent manufacturing city in the US by asserting the supremacy of wealthy white Anglo Saxon Protestants. They hosted a parade and ball annually to draw attention to St Louis. Their mascot wore a costume that looks like the KKK hood and robe, but the costume was made almost 40 years before the KKK adopted the covering.

        After being targeted by civil rights groups, the organization integrated and changed its name. It’s possible Ellie wasn’t aware of its racist roots because organizations have a way of burying their ugly past.

      • MissMarirose says:

        Oh, here we go. It never ceases to amaze me how many people will cover for white women. A 19 year old Princeton student from one of the richest families in St. Louis ABSOLUTELY KNEW what she was doing.

        Stop infantalizing women.

      • MM2 says:

        @Mac- The KKK was not a terrorist organization that sprang suddenly, out of nowhere. It was formed, welcomed & supported by the other rich, white fraternities. The KKK didn’t “infiltrate” cities in the way we like to say, think & repeat- they were welcomed, voted for & became beacons. The KKK were not “other people”, they were the already established citizens of this country. These racist fraternities (like the one in St Louis) were the soil & breeding ground for the KKK, which was an organization that men who were in other fraternities joined & recruited.
        The fact they had a costume that the KKK later chose for their costume…I’m not going to say this proves they were NOT involved, but instead suspect that they gave the KKK inspiration & support.
        To give an example of modern day for this- there is no way to say the Tea Party, QAnon & Trumpers are not connected or supported by each other, but people will try this spin in the future too.

      • Enny says:

        My high school had an actual minstrel show. They deflected criticism by saying that the actual blackface part had been abolished years ago, and I (age 14-17) believed that was enough – they had de-racialized a racist show. As a singer, I happily participated in this show. And it was not outwardly racist at all, just a form of entertainment that had profoundly racist roots.

        Fast forward a couple of years, I’m in college, the same age Ellie was when she was a debutante. And I was so ashamed for what I participated in. I would never go back to see beloved friends perform because the very idea of performing in a “minstrel” show, even a “de-racialized” one, absolutely haunted me.

        I believe Ellie’s experience was similar to mine, yet she did not have the same come to Jesus moment, apparently. I think that speaks volumes.

    • Sigmund says:

      Yeah, I’m kind of at a loss. These type of balls are appalling. I will say though that 19 is young, and while it says quite a lot about her family, I’m not sure what it says about her as an adult today.

      I do think it would be appropriate for her to say something, though. This is a bad look.

      • bettyrose says:

        I don’t know much about her, so I don’t know if she’s tried to distance herself from the culture she grew up in, but I can see going through with something like this just to make one’s family happy. If you don’t think you’re directly hurting anyone by acquiescing to it, I can see just going along to get along. From others who know more about her, though, it sounds like she hasn’t tried to to directly address this and explain her role. Which says something.

    • Haylie says:

      But why are we still giving white people credit for “not knowing” about the racism they created and that greatly benefits them. Particularly among the St. Louis elite class. You really think she didn’t know the history of this KKK debutante shindig? A Princeton graduate?

      They know. She knows.

      • VS says:

        Thank you….yes she is young but a 19 yr old knows right from wrong….I replied before I read your comment!

      • LadyMTL says:

        This exactly. She was 19, not 9…she should have known better. She doesn’t get a pass because “Oh, she was Kimmy Schmidt” or whatnot. I did some dumb things when I was 19 but guess what? Going to a quasi white-surpremacist debutante ball was not one of them.

      • Tom says:

        Read the Wikipedia article about this ball. This Veiled Prophet shindig does not fly beneath the radar. She knew.

      • tolly says:

        +1. You said it perfectly. She knew everything worth knowing at the time, and she was old enough to make her own choices.

      • Snuffles says:

        I’m not excusing her. I’m just saying I don’t know enough to comment. But I agree she should make a statement about it now.

        There are a lot of things I thought or did at 19 that I would never do today. And at 19, I definitely let my parents push me into doing things I didn’t want to do because they were holding the purse strings and felt like I didn’t have a choice.

      • Maria says:

        Yeah, I did lots of stupid stuff at 19, but it was old enough for me to know the KKK is bad, lol.

        Unfortunately a lot of people are okay with this kind of thing and don’t see any big deal. As someone mentioned below, see Blake Lively’s plantation wedding (which they only apologized for last year) or the band Lady Antebellum (which not only changed their name EXTREMELY recently but in doing so stole the name of an existing Black artist), etc. People think the Southern moonlight-and-magnolias thing is charming and they don’t care what it’s built on. Or they’re truly horrible and believe the “Lost Cause” ideology and think the original KKK were a bunch of heroes while condemning the modern KKK (make it make sense, lol).

      • Mac says:

        Except there is no KKK history. That is misinformation. Veiled Prophet was started by a group of rich white men who wanted to maintain St Louis as the leading manufacturing city in the US. They hosted parades and balls to showcase how great right white people are. They were a fraternal organization, not a terrorist organization.

      • Maria says:

        Former Confederate officers and white supremacists did begin it and no, Black people were not allowed till 1979. Furthermore, one of the founding members was aide-de-campe and close associate of Nathan Bedford Forrest who was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and the original costumes publicizing the event in 1878 are almost direct copies of Klan robes. Of course, the first Klan “officially” disbanded in 1871 but plenty of regional attempts existed to revive it.
        so I think the idea that “at least they weren’t officially Klansman” is splitting hairs and probably not true.
        (to reply to your earlier comment as well: there’s some debate about when the KKK robes as they appear are adopted. The hoods appear to be a matter of debate but the robes itself appear to have been rather regular if not uniform, they appear in illustrations of the Jim Crow era a lot, Thomas Nast depicts them as such in 1874 illustrations).
        So I’m taking the idea that this is not affiliated with the Klan with a grain of salt.

      • Sid says:

        Racism and racist acts seem to be considered almost a rite of passage for white people when they are young. The way people will bend over backwards to excuse it away and say that they were just young and didn’t know better, etc. is quite something.

      • Kalana says:

        @Mac. It was about intimidating labor against organizing unions so I would hold off on saying they were not a terrorist organization.

      • bettyrose says:

        At Tom’s suggestion, I peaked at the Wiki page and deargawd. There’s so much wrong with this ball there’s nothing right about it.

    • Wiglet Watcher says:

      I’m mixed on this. At 19 you’re enough aware of the racist subtleties around you from your family. It’s not like fashion and love interest choices we make at 19. And let’s not downplay her intelligence. She’s very smart and very talented. She was at the age when she would have rebelled if she thought differently. Not accept the help they offered.

      No way she wasn’t aware and she did participate. Idk if she reinvented herself for her career or her personal choices, but this is something she should speak to.

      • EveV says:

        She may not have known/been aware what she was participating in at 19 (and that’s still a big IF) but the fact that she didn’t mention it in her book and say that she was ashamed in participating in something like that speaks volumes imo. While I don’t think we should be calling for her head for something that took place 22 years ago, Im surprised at the excuses that are up and down this comment section. As a white woman, I know us white women need to do a lot better and that starts with calling shit out like this.

    • Peace Piece says:

      Oh please. She is s as k Ivy League graduate and you think she didn’t know? She was clever enough to exclude it from her book …

      By 19, She was already traveling to Rhode Island and attending school. She went home from a diverse ivy league and starred in a KKK ball. It’s not like she was stuck on some farm and didn’t know what she was doing

      • Peace Piece says:

        Ooops. Sorry. She went to Princeton. She knew

      • cassandra says:

        Ehhhh Ivy League schools are insular and deeply privileged. People of color at Ivy League schools tend to be categorized as Affirmative Action admits. I wouldn’t argue that attending one is a path to racial enlightenment.

        That being said, this is gross but 19 is pretty young. It can take a while to unpack your racist upbringing-which hers undoubtedly was. Hopefully she’s grown.

      • Ann says:

        I would say Princeton overall is less liberal than the other Ivies. Not to say that there are not liberal people at Princeton, but overall it has a more Old Money, conservative vibe than the others. And it’s a little more Southern, too. They have these Eating Clubs.

        I don’t know what Ellie was thinking when she did this event. It might be she was a little reluctant but was pressured by her family, so I won’t jump to conclusions, but she should address it.

        Debutante balls really started to phase out in the 70s, but they were still around in the 90s especially in the South. Fewer people did them and they were less of a scene, not taken seriously. And no longer a literal marriage market, as they had been to some degree even up to that point. And were in the UK too, among the Posh, until recently?

      • deering24 says:

        Princeton is notorious for being the Northern college that slave-holding Southerners felt safe sending their heirs to. The school just recently started dealing with their history in this department. So, no, Kemper doesn’t get a pass here.

    • Lucky says:

      At 16 my mom forced my sister to do one of these. I don’t remember there being a queen, I just remember that they girls all had to where white, be presented and there was a huge party. My sister wasn’t a willing participant, but she smiled for the camera. She kind of had to. It was extra weird because we didn’t hVe money and other than that I don’t remember my family taking part in any other “high society” type things.

      • Sunny says:

        Then it must have been the Fleur des Lis, StL’s other ball, considered to be the “lesser” ball.

        You have to wear white to the Fleur des Lis ball as well.

        Families of modest means are easily able to participate in the Fleur des Lis.

    • It’sJustBlanche says:

      She was 19 and educated. I am not giving her a pass. I would have politely declined any involvement—actually, NOT politely declining involvement would have been even better.

      Bless her heart, she actually looks much older than 41 though.

      • Lucky says:

        Yeah I wasn’t giving her a pass. I think it’s weird AF and if she came from money she probably understood it a lot more. Also at 19, while you are often still under your parents you have your own say in what you choose to participate in.

      • KatC says:

        Ok, her being involved in this thing is undoubtedly a bad decision, the level of which may be a matter of some debate. but I cannot accept that ANYONE thinks she looks ‘ much older than 41’ she looks at most 28. Christ I’m a young looking 34 and I look older than her.

        That said, yeah, this was a terrible choice and she has missed every opportunity to get out ahead of it. Not good

    • liz says:

      She was aware. She had to be. Even back in the late 50s/early 60s my aunt was aware of the history and overt racism of the system. But she agreed to go through with being a deb in New Orleans, in order to get her father to agree to let her go to college, if she didn’t find a husband. She went to Barnard (he would only pay for a Women’s College) and met my uncle while living in New York after she graduated.

      By the mid-80s, my now sister-in-law simply refused. Her mother and grandmother had been debutantes in Atlanta. Her father, raised in the northeast, agreed with her that it was an “outdated custom” and let it be her choice. She chose to pass on the whole thing and wouldn’t even consider it for my niece (now in her early 20s).

      • Legalese says:

        Isn’t the whole point that racism is taught, not something we are born with? So how do you “know better” when you are surrounded by people who reinforce your heinous beliefs? If your family, friends, and classmates are ignorant, who do you learn from? It’s not even like there was social media in 1999.

    • HeyJude says:

      Seriously I don’t blame her for this at all at 19. It’s clear this was something her weird society parents expected her to do. It’s a damn shame it’s being used to attack her as at 40 year old adult.

      Guess what? When I was 19 I was a registered Republican and thought George W. Bush was doing a good job. (Both absolutely repellent ideas to me now at 30.) Why? Because I was a stupid 19-year-old kid and literally knew nothing beyond what my parents told me. I was well educated (that was part of the problem- private schools reinforce these beliefs), just completely sheltered and had no idea a world existed beyond what I was told.

      People are saying “she knew”. They clearly have not been inside these wealthy enclaves of society. You live in another world and are almost completely kept blind from thinking about anything like this in depth. It’s really a cult, TBH.

      It’s like Scientology you live in the world but you don’t really live in the world. You live in a parallel plain of existence. Your experiences are completely different and confined to pre-approved people and places. You’re conditioned to not think and question about these type of events as being impolite and ungracious to the hosts. Stuff like this is rationalized as benign and facetious.

      There’s a reason so many kids like me wake up after a several years in college once you’re deprogrammed and finally taught to examine yourself.

      • Maria says:

        There are other people in this post from St. Louis stating this is pretty well-known. Let’s not pretend this is like actual forcible brainwashing.

        The idea that this is a shame for her have to undergo the scrutiny just shows the priority people place on whiteness and excusing it.

      • Joy says:

        I grew up in a poor white area of the south in a very tight knit community. I’m almost the same age as her and the internet was not a thing. We didn’t even have cable. I’ve since escaped thank GOD but the comparison to a cult is not far off. They try to ingrain in from birth. The notion that even though you’re all poor, you’re better than anyone who is a minority. It permeates every aspect of your life and if you say a word against this ideal, it’s a very bad deal for you. I know in hindsight we all want to say what we would have done, but at 19 she was probably JUST starting to realize that her world was abnormal, her life was based around racism, and the majority of what she knows is just wrong. Also, if you buck the system they’ll leave you penniless in the street. What she did was bad, but there is a level of cultishness that you really can’t get unless you’re in it. I do hope she addresses it and has bettered herself.

  3. Darla says:

    Yeah, but she shoulda made a statement. Honestly, this is the kind of thing you want to get out there yourself first. This looks bad to my eyes. I certainly wouldn’t trust her, nope.

  4. Trix says:

    What is funny to me is I actually already I knew this. But I can’t remember who reported on it. Not that it matters, cuz my half hearted search for a source suggests it’s been buried by those discovering it for the first time.

    So it was either reported without any of this shock in the last few years (I guess it just kinda faded due to a past megalomaniac leader’s ongoing daily insanity) or there is a glitch in the matrix.

    I enjoyed the first season of that Kimmy show, but didn’t bother to tune in for the second so there is no reason I should know this because I am at best a casual fan.

    • FHMom says:

      Yes, I knew this also. There was a book written about that particular ball not that long ago, and it mentioned that actress Elle Kemper had participated. I don’t remember where I read it, but I did read this. Perhaps the book was reviewed by the New York Times?

  5. Izzy says:

    Well, this wasn’t on my 2021 Apocalypse Bingo Card.

    • Esmom says:

      Seriously, ugh. I honestly hate this country so much right now.

      • Courtney B says:

        In some ways it makes me feel better. This wouldn’t have been a big deal for a lot of people even a few years ago like Blake Lively’s plantation wedding or the name of Lady Antebellum for a band. Confederate statues and names weren’t blinked at and the confederate flag certainly wasn’t banned at nascar. At least people seem to recognize it’s bad, that it’s not just MAGA rednecks who used to have no problem with these things, and there’s a discussion needed to be had, and usually is, even though there’s still too much ‘oh who cares, it’s harmless/part of history /tradition and people shouldn’t be so sensitive.’

      • Esmom says:

        Good point, Courtney B. I was feeling especially salty because I had just been listening to a discussion on NPR about changing the name of a high school in the south, which is now 70% minority, from Robert E Lee high school to something else. They had a guy on who just would not budge about why the name should stay. He even said he would go to a high school named after Hitler if they “had a great football team,” insisting that the name really doesn’t matter. Change doesn’t have to be this hard.

  6. Eleonor says:

    To me, cotillions and debutante balls are something should not exist anymore: they smell like classism and racism.

    • Esmom says:

      PREACH. Same with university greek systems. Don’t even get me started on the horrors they continue to perpetuate.

      • Snuffles says:

        Ugh! Same. I can’t stand the Greek system. Especially in its modern form. It’s just hazing and cruelty. They say you form life long friendships but that’s not always the case.

        I used to mentor a teenage girl and stayed in touch with her as she entered college. Having a very large, active social circle was super important to her. So she pledged a sorority. I had my reservations but I wished her the best. She would tell me how much fun she was having and that she got accepted into the sorority. But her family was financially struggling and she couldn’t afford to pay the membership fees. The moment that sorority found out, not only did they kick her out, her new “friends” iced her out too. I felt so terrible for her.

      • Victoria says:

        I like debutantes and cotillions. Black people had their own and it was something to be proud of considering. Ours wasn’t racist or classist.

        Same with Greek. BGLOs are nothing like white Greeks orgs. Black fraternities are steeped undone much more sacred and powerful and some of the best men and women I know have uplifted other African Americans via their Divine networking/status.

        That’s why I say we have to look at things through the lenses of others. From Covid to fraternities to deb balls. It’s something different.

      • Esmom says:

        Victoria, I hear you, I should have specified that white fraternities in particular are the most problematic. Truly, nothing redeeming about them.

      • lucy2 says:

        OMG the Greek system. I went to a huge university that has one of the highest numbers of frats/sororities in the country, and most of them were just awful – privileged rich white kids who only wanted to be around others just like them. The frats all have these gorgeous historic mansions, and they’ve pretty much destroyed them. Several of the frats have been shut down due to hazing and sadly a few deaths, and the forced alcohol consumption is a real problem that extends far beyond the frat houses.

    • MF1 says:

      And sexism. “Let’s trot out our pretty virginal daughters like cattle going to market!”

      • Liz version 700 says:

        I distinctly remember thinking this about my friends going to their debutant balls

      • goofpuff says:

        Agreed. There are ways to have fun dressing up and celebrate women without trotting them out for sale on the marriage market which is what the debutante balls and cotillions are meant for! You don’t see the same for boys should be a big clue about its purpose.

  7. TIFFANY says:

    As a native of St. Louis, I knew. Black folks don’t mess with people involved with this. We know.

    I mean, she literally flew back from Princeton to do this.

    • megs283 says:

      Thank you for your perspective. I have zero experience or knowledge of these types of situations and it’s helpful to hear what people in-the-know know.

    • SaySo says:

      I stayed in St. Louis for about 8 yrs. It’s crazy how things are seen but not spoken. I saw the Delmar divide and crap like this. It’s sad.

  8. Jennifer says:

    I think if you look at any deeply rooted white American family, rich or not, you will find traditions that are steeped in racism. She is likely not the only white 40-something in this country who participated in something racially questionable as a child/teen/young adult without realizing the significance of it. (I’m assuming that last part.) My guess is that it was always presented as a positive tradition for her and she just never questioned it. She has probably realized as an adult how gross this is, which is why she has never talked about it or drawn attention to it. I guess she’ll start talking about it now.

    • Darla says:

      No, I don’t think so. I think this is a way of saying everyone’s guilty, and when everyone’s guilty no one is responsible. I think you are assigning a whole lotta innocence to her that we don’t know exists, or even existed when she was 19. She needs to speak. And it might be interesting to hear the experiences of anyone she’s worked with who isn’t white. We really don’t know what’s here. I am not about to give her a pass, I would need to know a lot more.

      • CidyKitty(CidySmiley) says:

        DARLA –

        preach this “everyone’s guilty no one is responsible.” I’m with you. As a woman of color this excuse is used way too often. “Well everyone was guilty.” Is not good enough.

      • Hannah says:

        Well said, Darla, I completely agree. She knew.

      • Maria says:


      • Jennifer says:

        I apologize for sounding like I was saying that everyone did it so no one is guilty. That wasn’t what I meant, and I don’t believe that. Kaiser just pointed out that old-money white families did this kind of stuff, and I was pointing out that money had nothing to do with it. I should have stopped there.

      • Darla says:

        Oh no Jennifer, I didn’t think you meant that. This is something I have had a bee in my bonnet about since the W years. I just remember a lot of people always saying, oh well everybody does that. And it occurred to me back then that if we agree everyone is guilty then nobody is responsible, and it’s something I’ve kept in mind all this time. It’s a thing that we do sometimes, and I try and keep in mind it’s not always a great idea, that’s all.

      • Kate says:

        Yeah I’m trying hard to think of any traditions in my working class white lineage that are steeped in racism and not coming up with any. Anything my family would have celebrated going back through the generations would have been religious holidays and events like weddings. I don’t think people without extra money have the time or financial motivation to proactively exclude other races. It’s more like the country club set you think of who have always wanted to keep the wealth white. Not saying poor and working class white people aren’t racist b/c of course they are – but I don’t really follow what @Jennifer is saying.

      • Millennial says:

        To be fair in regards to white people being racist everyone white is guilty and everyone white is responsible

  9. lassie says:

    She’s Daisy Buchanan.

  10. Jill says:

    I’m from St. Louis (though I moved away at 19), and while I was dimly aware of the VP Fair, I had no idea of the meaning or origins. I definitely didn’t know there was a cotillion involved. At some point in the early 2000s, I do know the name was changed to Fair St. Louis. I’m just saying, maybe she didn’t know? I didn’t.

    • Yup, Me says:

      Did you participate in the ball? There’s no way she participated in the ball with zero information about the history. Events like this lean on sharing the significance of their history because that’s how they ensure that people come back and bring their kids in future generations. Part of what they are selling is the nostalgia and “tradition”.

      • Jill says:

        I never even knew there was a ball! I only knew it was a bunch of people getting drunk and shooting off fireworks, which is pretty on-par for St. Louis, honestly…

  11. tempest prognosticator says:

    The Veiled Prophet Ball. Geez, the name alone is creepy AF.

    • Marcy says:

      And the veiled prophet is deliberately kept secret. Hence the KKK-like robes. It’s usually someone like an Anheuser-Busch magnate. The whole thing is very, very old money. And gross.

    • Humbugged says:

      It is Masonic in origin

    • Ann says:

      I know! I have heard of lots of these balls and I did go to a couple when I was high school, though they were not debutante balls…..just parties with very fancy dress, basically. No one was “presented.” But I never heard of one with such a sinister sounding name, Jeez.

  12. Victoria says:

    I don’t know why anyone is surprised. People don’t like this truth but I expect all white people to be racist until they prove they aren’t and often times their proof is uh…yeah…

    Even on this site, I see it everyday in many threads, ironically, outside of Meghan and Harry, especially when it centers around topics people have no clue how people of color view things based on history and other people of color can take part in allowing it too. It’s shocking when eve the most progressive of places can be so clueless about how casual the racism is.

    A lot of actors ike Ellie come from elite backgrounds. They try to make you think they were middle class or poor to be relatable but they aren’t. They come from mooooooooney. Blue blood money. Racist money. All your faves. The Rooneys, the Pratts, the Peter Evans, the Afflecks with their slave owning blood money. Just saying.

    If we make an example of her, we need to make an example of ALL.

    • Betsy says:

      Chris Pratt comes from money? That one actually does surprise me.

      • lunchcoma says:

        Chris Pratt has his own set of gross issues, but he doesn’t come from money. He’s from the Iron Range in Minnesota, and his parents were working class.

      • Nic919 says:

        Pratt married into the Kennedy family though. His wife is great granddaughter to Joe Kennedy. Maria Shriver, his mother in law, was niece to JFK.

      • Larisa says:

        That doesn’t mean he “comes from money” or had “elite background”.

    • Tanya says:

      @Victoria. Expecting all white people to be racist until they “prove” otherwise? And then doubting the “proof”? Unfortunately it sounds like you have had some terrible experiences with racism, but approaching every interaction with preconceived negativity is probably not helping your interactions. I’m not sure why you would want to advertise a prejudiced opinion. In all honesty, it seems that maybe you are trolling a bit here and trying to bait people. If not, and you truly harbour these feelings, it’s quite disheartening. I’ve found many people on this site to be kind and really make efforts to convey non-prejudiced perspectives. Do you think people are not genuine?

      • Elizabeth says:

        This is based in critical race theory, the idea that racism is mundane and ingrained in everything by society.

        It is not a personal attack. It is an institutional critique. It is a call for you to examine your environment and life and assumptions more closely. Society tends to instill a racist narrative in everyone’s head, and we need to resist that and work to be anti-racist.

        Now think about what it’s like to be Black in America, about the countless acts of violence and microaggressions experienced throughout life. Of course, this leads to concerns over interactions with white people. It is trauma and an attempt at self-protection. Instead of criticizing people for this response, why not try enacting a non-racist, pro-Black behavior? Or at the very least, listening and trying to understand?

      • Darla says:

        I am presuming she means in her real life interactions, and I don’t know how any specifically black people (not POC, i am specifically talking about black Americans), don’t feel that way. I would. I remember the day after they let Zimmerman off, I was going biking, and I didn’t want to go. I felt so ashamed, and that any black person who saw me, would look at me as someone who doesn’t consider their children human. Really. That’s how I would feel. If I was black I know I would look at white people and think, ” you don’t consider my children human beings”, and that’s how I would feel. Sometimes a black person will hold open a door for me, and you know what I think? I think that I would never do that if I were black. WTF would I hold open a door for someone who may not even consider myself, and importantly here, MY CHILDREN, human?

        So any black person who gives me any benefit of the doubt, I am grateful for that, and also know they are a better person than I because in their position, I would not do it. And for white people who are about to chime in, don’t tell me. I’m white, I know. I have heard all of the “i’m not racist BUT”s. All the other isht. Being racist isn’t just about wearing a hood, or even using slurs. So, stop. I wouldn’t give you the benefit of any doubt, and that is how it is.

      • Market Street Minifig says:

        Yikes @Tanya if you’re trying to change @Victoria’s mind, what you said above is not exactly the way to do it. Especially not this, “but approaching every interaction with preconceived negativity is probably not helping your interactions.”

      • Tanya says:

        I stand by what I said and while many of you may not like it, I was not unkind or unsympathetic. If it’s working for Victoria to be untrusting of every white person she meets then that is her prerogative…but I’m guessing that it probably isn’t getting her anywhere positive with her relationships. Also, it is prejudiced. That is a fact. We all need to be responsible for what we say and the energy we put out.

      • deering24 says:

        Tanya–you are speaking from breathtakingly-arrogant privilege and ignorance. You have _no_ idea what it is like to deal with some white people fairly; believe they will do the same to you–and then get jokes from them about how “great” you clean the office. Or listen to them wonder why black folks just don’t “act right” so the police won’t kill them. Or get all the work of the office dumped on you–but no raise or promotion. For POC, it’s a matter of survival that we be skeptical until people prove they can be trusted because we’ve learned from hard experience that if you scratch the polite social surface long enough–or look like you are doing “better” than folks think you should be–the knives come out.

      • Tanya says:

        @Deering24. Assuming every person of one race has a specific characteristic until they provide otherwise is prejudiced. It’s shocking that you are trying to argue it’s ok because of “reasons”. Leaving that aside, I understand that people can have several bad experiences but does it really serve is well to think the worst of people? Does that actually help in the short or long term?

      • Market Street Minifig says:

        @Tanya, if your life experiences have led to you feeling that fair is equal, then either your path has been a bit less unencumbered than you realize—or maybe just maybe there are some things that you haven’t examined all that closely.

        Instead of choosing to be personally offended by @Victoria’s remarks, please consider that there is a certain privilege in being able to NOT “approach every interaction with preconceived negativity.” Not everyone has had the kind of life experiences that engender that kind of openness. For far too many BIPOC, that kind of unguardedness could be a fatal mistake.

        So rather than prove @Victoria right, how about showing her a little kindness? How about telling her that you will not be in such a rush to judge the next person you perceive as having an attitude?

        And by the way, there’s a reason I highlighted this particular bit from your OP, “but approaching every interaction with preconceived negativity is probably not helping your interactions.” That’s because it’s from How to Gaslight BIPOC 101. A good ol’ classic from the pre- T r u m p days, when society was still pretending racism was in the distant past and that any unfairness BIPOC perceived was simply due to them not “acting right.”

      • Market Street Minifig says:

        ^^ Arghh typo. Meant to say “a bit less encumbered” in second response to @Tanya.

      • Tanya says:

        @Market. You are mistaken. I did not take Victoria’s comment personally. It would be absurd to be personally offended by a general comment that someone made on the internet that wasn’t even directed at me. I’m not even offended by your condescension that actually IS being directed at me. Lol. Life is to short.

        And you have completely missed the point. Of course I understand why negative interactions with white people could impact future perceptions of the next white person. But that’s not what Victoria said. If you recall, she said she assumes all white people are racist until they prove otherwise and even then she is doubtful. Well, I simply disagree with normalizing that it’s acceptable to say all white people are racist. It renders the word meaningless. We all have biases but the implication that all or most white people are racist accomplishes nothing.

        All I am advocating here is that people show kindness to others but it seems that is a wild idea. I’ve experienced a ton of disrespect and abuse in my several decades on earth but I choose to not assume every man is a liar, cheater or a rapist… or every female colleague is out to sabotage me. It’s called maturity and personal responsibility.

        I simply do not have the time or inclination to explain basic kindness that was taught to most of us as children. Maybe that is something that you haven’t examined very closely.

    • HeatherC says:

      That makes no sense. Example Afflecks. Had a history of slave owning. Any blood money from that is long gone, and their father, Affleck sr was homeless for a time because of his addictions. How long does a person get punished for the horrific decisions of their ancestors? Ben has a lot of issues and Casey is a unrepentant unindicted sex offender (I don’t believe stopped with harassment) but slave owning ancestors wasn’t it.

      • Maria says:

        It absolutely doesn’t make sense to punish people for their ancestors being slave owners but a huge reason there is such a large gap between inherited and community wealth of white people vs Black people is because of those slave owners and how they inhibited the ability of Black people to build their own generational wealth.
        Accumulated inequality is the result of these systems even nearly 200 years later, although things like the Jim Crow era, sharecropping on former plantations, etc certainly didn’t help.
        Affleck trying to obscure his slave owning relatives is understandable but the wrong tactic. He should have acknowledged it and after consulting with historians and sociologists to address how he may have benefited from those systems (his father may have had addiction issues but even those are treated drastically differently in white people and he is not homeless now) and make people aware that this is how you can help reverse some of that damage: participating in repairing this wealth gap, perhaps through offering scholarships or the like. Even on a small scale we can do this: donating to local funds etc.

  13. Smalltowngirl says:

    It was 22 years ago. I am more interested in how she responds now and whether she goes “yeah this is a really gross thing and I am sorry to have been part of it”. I care more if she has learned from it and what she will do with her privilege now than judging her actions then.

    • Darla says:

      I do want to hear from her, but I will be keeping in mind that her words will have been crafted by a PR agency, likely one that specializes in crisis PR. And that words are cheap. Very interested to hear from again, people of color she has had any power over, or even just been her coworkers.

      • Smalltowngirl says:

        Darla, good point, I would like to hear from people of color who have worked with her. That is the best indicator, more than a PR statement.

      • Betsy says:

        I wondered the same thing. Like how did Tituss Burgess feel about her, really? Not that I would expect him to speak honestly; I don’t think we can ask of Black actors that hack their careers off at the knee if they really didn’t feel safe with someone.

      • Darla says:

        Betsy, you are so right. In light of Ray Fischer and what happened to him when he spoke out, I should have thought about that. Who knows how much anyone can even speak out.

      • KatianaD says:

        Mindy Kalinin worked with her on the office and subsequently hired her as a guest star in the mindy project . I can’t remember what else Ellie has done but Titus burgess would be the one to hear from I think . I highly doubt anything about her work attitude will come out honestly. Doing something tone deaf when your parents ask you to does not correlate with actively being a mean person at work

      • Maria says:

        No, but doing this and leaving it out of your published memoir kinda indicates that person might have some issue with recognizing microaggressions etc.
        Mindy likes a lot of problematic people, that’s her business and prerogative and I still like her a lot, but it is the truth.
        And the Mindy Project had a lot of iffy jokes on it tbh.

  14. ab says:

    I was in a debutante cotillion around the same time as Ellie (I’m 40), granted I’m black so it wasn’t a racist one, but it was definitely an old school traditional pageant situation that my parents made me do. My cousin was my escort, we had to learn a dance and it was all very stiff and formal and none of the teens involved actually wanted to be there.

    My point is I’m not surprised someone who grew up old money participated in a cotillion, it was likely tradition and expected of her. I do think she should make a comment about it, because there’s no history (that I know of) of her being or doing racist things as an adult in the public eye. I haven’t followed her career so I might have missed something? If she comes out like yeah it was awesome long live the kkk then I’m all for cancelation.

    • K. Tate says:

      Same @AB. I’m from a small (peachy;) town in SC and every girl and even the boys were expected to do the cotillions and beautillions. Lots of practice and long nights for one sweaty night of waltzing and dry chicken. What I do not understand here is what is the expectation from this actress now? I ask this question because I struggle with my towns racist past (and present) and how the racist classmates and teachers still behave mostly the same way but think it’s normal. IN THIS DAY AND AGE. Do they apologize and become allies? Do they denounce what they did end keep living their life? I truly do not know what would make me feel better about anything that the white racist people from my hometown did, and there was PLENTY. Also, I am black.

      • ab says:

        Yeah, I have the same question about expectations. I mean, I think people should be held accountable for things they’ve done in the past, but I also feel like there should be room for learning and growth, otherwise what’s the point? It’s depressing to think that people can never change, especially between the ages of 19 and 40. Obviously Ellie Kemper was born into a certain family and was raised a certain way but I would hope that her having tried to bury this part of her past is due to embarrassment rather than her being secretly proud of it.

  15. Sofia in TX says:

    Debutantes are still very much a thing in the wealthy enclaves of Houston, but the parties tend to be for one person or a group of friends rather than hosted by organizations like this one. The parties are nicer than most weddings. One young lady had Drake perform at her event!

    • sassafras says:

      I knew several Texas women who went back home freshman year to do a debutante thing. This was back in the 90’s and it was weird then, but also no one was really questioning it? It was something their mom and grandma did and they did it too. I’m truly not making excuses but judging 1996 through a 2021 lens isn’t that helpful. No one has a time machine. People can only apologize and commit to doing better.

      • Haylie says:

        That sounds like an excuse.

        If your deb ball has people wearing KKK regalia, by 1999 at age 19, one knows what was up. And since when did 1999 become 1860? People knew the KKK was bad, or at least knew enough to pretend it was bad in the 90s. I promise this is true. I was 20 in 1999. There was no grey area there.

  16. Hyrule Castle says:

    The VP guy hand selects the “queen”, based on his idea of what “love and beauty” is.

    Just so f-ing disgusting.

    It’s supposed to be an honour, she most likely thought it was a honour to be “chose”.

    She desperately needs to speak up about this, with haste.

    The whole thing is so horrible.

    • Liz version 700 says:

      It is pretty gross

    • deering24 says:

      Ugh. There are so many disgusting overtones to this–older man selecting “perfect” representation of young beauty. Yeesh.

  17. Jane Doe says:

    It’s well past time for people to stop making excuses for racism. This ball was clearly racist, it’s inexcusable.

  18. Sunny says:

    From StL.

    They have rehearsals!

    She attended as a maiden as far young as 9.

    You don’t think that a Princeton student can figure out that wealthy white men (friends of her parents at the exclusive private country club) wearing white hoods is suspect??????

    And that earlier images of these men in hooded white gear carrying guns and knives are scary?

    This is sundown Missouri—she knows about the race riots and the segregation at her exclusive white schools.

    • Liz version 700 says:

      The hoods should have been a clue for sure!

      • Darla says:

        Yeah, it’s like, spoiler, the veil was a hood. Seems like a pretty huge red flag to overlook, at any age. I mean, she wasn’t 2.

    • Becks1 says:

      Yeah this is what I am coming back to in reading all these comments. They still wear the hoods, right? Or were wearing them when she was a debutante? That’s pretty hard to overlook. This isn’t Spain where you can reasonably say “this is part of the culture” (they wear similar outfits as the KKK during Holy Week as part of processionals to honor saints – obviously established well before the KKK.) Regardless of the origins of the ball/organization (since some are saying it was pre-civil war), in 1999 America, we all knew what those hoods meant.

  19. Liz version 700 says:

    God this brings back soooooo many bad memories of the ridiculous crap that southern teen girls were “expected to do.” My town had a festival every year for a flower with a parade and fair etc… BUT there was also some insane thing where girls dresses up as Bells and gave garden tours. I found it offensive, that costume was from a time when half the people in our city were enslaved and women were without voting rights. I took so much flack for refusing to do it. Thankfully my parents thought it was just completely stupid as well. Just last year the town decided to stop dressing teenaged girls up as southern bells and having them trot around gardens as they realized it may be offensive. No kidding

    • Ann says:

      When I moved to Houston (to work as a lawyer in the same city as my husband) I was being encouraged left and right to join the Junior League. I don’t know if the Junior League has any racist subtext, it probably does, but I wasn’t going to do it because the new members have to wear little aprons/uniforms and serve the older members at luncheons and stuff. No way was I going to do that. I know they do some “good works” as I was always told but ugh, the whole vibe was just stupid.

      • Liz version 700 says:

        Aprons and serve lunch? Oh no thank you!

      • It’sJustBlanche says:

        Jr. League is not necessarily racist these days. They seem outdated, but a lot of women who work outside the home use them for networking. I have two women working for me who belong to a large southern city jr league and one is African american.

      • TigerMcQueen says:

        I did Jr League for a while in the early 2000s, and we didn’t have to war aprons or serve older members or anything like that. But I did leave after a few years because, even though the service aspect was wonderful (the league did some amazing projects), I just couldn’t handle the rich white women politics. And its leadership was filled with older white women who either came from old money or whose husbands made enough that they were accepted. They were all way too thin and blonde (mostly not natural). I went out to a few dinners with some of the women I was doing a project with and, damn, they all literally ordered a side salad and a little appetizer and then picked at everything and didn’t eat and stared at me when I finished my entree. The back stabbing politely and jockeying for position was worse, so I noped out .

      • Rose says:

        I’m in the Tulsa JL and absolutely none of that happens here. It’s very dependent on the club and their leadership.

        Meanwhile, I’m very glad I’m not famous so I don’t get dragged for things I did decades previously as a 19 year old🙄 What’s the point of even trying to learn, grow and change if you’re just going to keep getting crucified for it?

  20. Cat C says:

    I find it interesting there hasn’t been an issued response as of yet. Also, if this is something her family participated in, she had to know the history of it. I imagine it was introduced like any other family tradition and done so at a young age. It has been several years, who knows how she aligns.

  21. Sunny says:

    And the position that the Veiled Prophet is not racist bc it “allowed” a few wealthy AA men to join in the 1980s;

    Is akin to the argument that Qanon GOP is not racist bc they have AA members in their membership!

    The veiled prophet is still racist AF and has KKK leanings.

  22. LW says:

    Wow, I’m from the STL area and am vaguely aware of the “VP Fair and parade”….now known as Fair St Louis, but I had no idea there was a debutante ball associated with it or that Ellie Kemper was queen. I knew she was from STL (so is Jenna Fischer!), but I didn’t really know much about her. That’s my privilege talking that I didn’t know the historical details of what the VP Fair and associated celebrations were all about.

    • Jill says:

      Same. I grew up in the very white suburbs (though my school district was part of the voluntary desegregation program), and I only knew it was a big party. I didn’t even know what VP stood for, much less the history and significance. It sounds like Ellie Kemper grew up with a family that participated in the tradition, however, so she most likely knew all about it.

      However, I’m the same age as her, and reading about the history now, I know there’s no way I would have participated in that at 19. I was always very uncomfortable with how segregated the city vs county was, participated in “exchange” programs with inner-city schools that educated even more about the problems, and generally had many opportunities to observe the disparities. I have come a long way with acknowledging my privilege and educating myself on antiracism, but even as a young kid, I knew that St. Louis was really f-ed up.

  23. Mina_Esq says:

    I’m surprised that people are surprised that one of Missouri’s richest families has had a problematic relationship to matters of class and race.

    • Betsy says:

      I didn’t know she came from money. That’s my surprise.

    • Snuffles says:

      I literally did not know jack shit about her before this. Only that she was part of The Office cast and the lead in that Kimmy show on Netflix. Never gave her a thought. And I didn’t really know her name either. I recognized her face because of The Office. Never heard of that organization either before yesterday. So me saying I don’t know what to say is not because I’m trying to give her a pass, it’s me saying I literally knew next to nothing about all parties involved and therefore can’t really comment on it.

  24. Chaine says:

    Being from the south I thought this was going to be about Kappa Alpha order. So TBH ever so slightly less bad as I imagined before reading the article.

  25. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Omg. I did NOT want to attend our cotillion way back when. I still remember the arguments lol. Plus I hated the white eyelet dress mom picked out. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be because of the venue (nicest hotel within a 30 mile radius). I danced with my dad and then my Hispanic date took over (he was so hawt lol). And we thoroughly enjoyed being talked about. We took pictures, bowed and curtsied, and ran out into the night to be bad in fancy clothes.

  26. EM says:

    “Veiled Prophet” is one hell of a name. I’m going with “she knew” on this one.

  27. Marigold says:

    We had Deb balls and they had people from many different races and cultures.

    • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

      Ours too. Whites were a minority where I’m from, and if some of those particular whites were racist, they looked completely ridiculous. And we exaggerated their behavior making fun of the audacity of superior thinking. Some of my mother’s friends were downright vomit-inducing as were their spawn. Maybe my overt distaste for their behavior led mom to believe I needed prayer circles lol. I just don’t have the capacity or time to play, “I’m better than you.”

    • WTF says:

      Yes. Minorities often adopt the cultural artifacts of white supremacy. That isn’t new. It doesn’t change the fact that this group was aligned with the KKK, and is a celebration of white supremacy.

  28. anniefannie says:

    I’m from St Louis too and this ball was very much a rite of passage for most wealthy families in that city. When my Mom floated the idea my Dad put his foot down with a “ Not my children!” mostly because the classism involved. I’m fairly certain the racist element wasn’t widely known.

    • WTF says:

      I’m not trying to take a dig at you, but I think it would be more accurate to say that the racist element wasn’t widely known among white people. I’m sure the people that were being diligently excluded, were aware.

  29. Erika says:

    I think these debutante/cotillion balls are gross in general, so for me this is an even bigger and better reason to start having them fade away. But I say that as someone who initially learned about them through the coverage on purity balls. I agree with the posters saying that she had to have known; even if it wasn’t something that she actively considered at the time, with age and maturity comes introspection and self awareness. I think it could have been a really great opportunity for someone with a lot of privilege to speak up about the situation and even maybe explain her journey to understanding her privilege. While she can’t take her participation back, she can acknowledge it and use it as a learning opportunity for others, especially with her platform.

  30. KS says:

    Def cringeworthy but it’s been over 20 years and I bet it’s not part of a history she wants known. Not because she still agrees with it BUT because she doesn’t agree with it. I feel like enough has changed from her childhood to now to know her family was wrong in some ways. I grew up in KC (just a few hours north of STL) in the 90s and I can tell you, she would not have been nearly as “woke” at 19 as she is now. None of us were. I never saw a non-white person until I was an adult and my family abhorred racism.

    • Snuffles says:

      I’m black. Where I grew up in the 80s or 90s you were either black or white. I knew ONE Asian family. I never met a Jewish person before college. I literally asked someone why I saw so many guys wearing “beanies” on their heads because I didn’t know what a yarmulke was. Never met any Latinos before college either. I think it was safe to say I was fairly ignorant about a hell of a lot of stuff.

    • lucy2 says:

      Some of my college classmates were from very rural areas, pretty much all white areas. A friend of mine told me a high school classmate of hers had never even met a black person until they traveled outside of their town for college. As someone who grew up in a pretty diverse area, that was kind of shocking to me, but there are many people who grew up like that.

      As for Ellie, it’s quite disappointing. I can see how as the daughter of a wealthy old money family she was expected to participate in such things and was probably always taught it was an honor, but it’s a shame she didn’t decline based on the gross history of the organization, and if she didn’t know it, it’s a shame she didn’t. I hope she is far more aware now, and regrets her part in it.

    • cassandra says:

      This is why I have some empathy for the situation. It’s not like it came out that she’s making her children attend an event like this in 2021.

      I too grew up in the south with little interaction with people different from myself. Even with liberal parents and the best intentions, I still had a lot to learn in my twenties.

      • Maria says:

        Eh, there’s a rather significant difference in my mind to not being familiar with other communities or cultures, and wilfully flying back from Princeton (obviously a racist place but don’t they at least teach you some form of researching skills that she maybe could have applied? maybe not) to participate at age 19 in an invite-only ball with roots in the KKK and labor terrorism.

    • Seraphina says:

      Thank you to all who shared the same sentiment. I grew up in 80’s/90’s and had a mix of friends but no way was I am woke as I am now. Hell, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted and who I was at 19 much less get the bigger picture of everything. I think there is a reason for the saying Live and Learn.

  31. Watson says:

    The only debutant and cotillion balls i know of were not conducted or held by white people. This has been an interesting read for me. But overall it makes sense for the origins of all of them (white or ethnic): girl is of marriageable age, giant party is held to find suitors who are of a certain class and wealth. Class and Wealth is maintained through those marriages. Now they are just fun parties.

    • Sunny says:

      The Veiled Prophet is NOT about marrying off rich white girls to suitable rich white boys.

      It was a showcase to intimidate and squash working class people from organizing labor unions and to also promote segregation and Jim Crow laws.

      Hence the hoods covering up their identities and boldly wearing pistols on their hips.

      And you have to be INVITED to participate in the Veiled Prophet. That’s a fact.

    • Haylie says:

      Nah. Deb balls are still classist, sexist and racist. There’s still an emphasis on g women of a certain station being put on the market to find the “right” suitor.

      And don’t believe the people who tell you that black deb balls are different. They are very much the same elitist, sexist events with a history of colorism (paper bag tests, fine tooth comb tests, and all the rest).

  32. nicegirl says:

    Wow. I had no idea.

  33. lunchcoma says:

    She’s been famous for ages, wrote a memoir a few years ago, tells stories about her youth enough that even I remember that Jon Hamm used to be her teacher…and she’s apparently never addressed this at all?

    People make mistakes and can change and grow, but I give a lot less leeway to people who’ve been talking about themselves freely and omitting the ugly parts, hoping no one ever finds out. Changing and growing usually involves some sort of work to fix any harm you’ve caused.

    • Snuffles says:

      Ok, if she wrote a memoir and left it out, then that IS a problem.

    • lucy2 says:

      I agree, a memoir would have been the perfect place to get introspective about something like that, talk about why she participated, and how much she’s learned and changed since then.

      • lunchcoma says:

        Her memoir was on the funny side, but I am pretty sure that there’s plenty to mock about this particular event, and it’s possible to use some humor while also conveying that this isn’t something you would participate in knowing what you do now.

  34. Eenie Googles says:

    If she left it out of her book, she knew.

  35. Susan says:

    can we please stop acting like the 1990s/2000s were a hundred years ago?

  36. Lisa says:

    I am confused. Looking it up, it appears at least three of the “Ladies of Honor” for the 2019 ball last December are definitely not white.

  37. Athyrmose says:

    There are similar balls, with similar roots, all over the South. I’m glad that people are talking about this.

  38. Kathryn says:

    Ellie is a descendant of the billionaire Kemper family who is well known in Missouri but especially in Kansas City, MO where I used to live. Kemper Foundation, Kemper Stadium where the Royals play, Kemper Arena, Kemper botanical gardens etc. you name it they either own it or developed it in Kansas City. Not surprising, many of the most notable billionaire families there have historic racist ties. Famous in Kansas City is “the white line” intentionally developed to segregate the city which to the days has a very clear “end of the white side of the city, beginning of the Black side.” Despicable.

    • Renee says:

      I’m from KC area too and knew the Kemper family by name only.

    • Ann says:

      Holy Cow, her family owns the town!

    • Fleur says:

      Wow, I literally had no idea. I never followed her or watched her tv show . Always assumed she was a rando like the rest of us peasants hahah.

      I could have gone to a “historical” cotillion in my teen years—not one with a background this yikes, or a name this creepy— but the idea made me uncomfortable so I gave it a hard pass. I wasn’t a pretty teen, wouldn’t have gotten a date, and did feel like going to something where I had to prance around and pretend I was rich. I’m hopeful I would have give this a side eye and a nope too, in Ms. Kemper’s shoes, even in 1999 at 19. Anything with a majorly exclusionary history (like the masons or a country club ), was something I knew better than to be a part of , even in the 90s.

  39. Smalltowngirl says:

    “Changes were also made to the name, with organizers doing away with the Veiled Prophet Ball in 1992, choosing the less mystifying Fair Saint Louis.” So it wasn’t the VO ball by the time she won? So it still had a bad history but had done away with the name and changed some of the traditions?

    • Sunny says:

      Only the name changed.

      The uber-wealthy privileged white men still participate “in costume.”

      And yes, there’s still the white hooded capes worn.

      And the female participants are overwhelmingly 99 percent white, come from uber-wealthy families who must be INVITED to belong (you have to be in that elite circle).

      You can’t just say I have money and I want to belong. Lol nope.

      You have to go to the “right” schools and your father has to be in a certain industry and know the right people.

    • Lizzie says:

      St Louis rich also drove the CEO of Southwestern Bell, the corporate hq and 500 jobs out of St. Louis to San Antonio. All because the blocked him from joining the most prestigious (I guess) country club. To say they are quite insular is an understatement.

  40. Haylie says:

    I’m starting to think that movie, Ready or Not, was a documentary, not a thriller/horror movie.

  41. Gippy says:

    We don’t have balls or debutantes where I live, by Lake MI. I’ve never really given them much thought and hadn’t realized they’re racists, which admittedly shows my privilege not giving them any thought. But “veiled prophet” is a hell of a giveaway and shady AF. I did stupid things as a teen and young adult that I’m embarrassed about now, even if you don’t like you did it you still have to own it. She should make a statement but probably is worried about pissing off people in her moneyed STL circles.

  42. Mel says:

    How many of you would like every stupid thing you did as a 19yr old held against you now? I don’t know about you , but when I was a 19yr old student under the thumb of my parentals I pretty much did what I was told to do when it came to “family traditions” and other stuff I might have thought of as frumpy, useless of dumb because it saved me a lot of stress and headaches. This kind of righteous, aggressive persecution of things people did years ago is STUPID. Get back to me when you know she did something racist NOW. Oh and now we’re going to try to destroy careers because of the family you were born into? Please, there’s plenty of racial crap happening now to focus your indignation on now ! TEXAS *cough*.

    • Sunny says:

      Chris Harrison, formerly of The Bachelor, is that you?

    • Haylie says:

      People can focus on multiple facets of racism at one time. It’s not one thing or another. How many careers /lives do you suppose the wealthy, elite, union-busting klansmen of St. Louis destroyed over the years? You shedding any tears for them? Or just this grown ass KKK Kween, who of free will and volition, participated in this ugly ritual?

      I always knew people who claimed that the KKK was the red line never to crossed were not truly going to acknowledge racism. When presented with literal KKK activity, the goalpost moves again.

      Betting they don’t really care about voter suppression in Texas either.

      • sassafras says:

        Please don’t. People care very much about voter suppression in Texas. Some of us worked our asses off to get Beto and Biden as close as they got and we’re still fighting – for our rights to abortion, for gun control, against blatant voter suppression. We have a mountain of shit to deal with and honestly, we don’t need smug anonymous internet people to discount the work that is being done.

      • Ann says:

        Like sassafras, yes they do. A lot. Just not the ones who hold the reins right now, but they won’t be in power forever. We are working hard to make sure of it.

    • IMARA219 says:

      This ball has always had ties to the KKK though and since she has generational wealth dating back to slavery and comes from a prominent family all of this would be well known to her. She was not a child at 19 and this is not a normal foolish mistake. I’m from the South and I know about these types of cotillions. Being Black, I was mainly aware of the Black type of balls but I wasn’t interested in doing it and I wasn’t invited. We need to stop giving these people a pass. Trayon Martin at 17 was considered a thug who deserved to die but Kemper at 19 is perceived as making foolish mistake. 🙄

    • Lizzie says:

      19 is an adult period and what you do can be held against you. Princeton student is not a ‘kid’.
      A dumb thing is usually a bad decision but Ellie participated in this for years.

  43. Sunny says:

    Remember Emily Murphy?

    The administrator attorney under Trump who refused to sign off so that Biden could officially take over the administration?

    Yeah, this Villa Duchesne private high school grad and old StL money participated in the Veiled Prophet too.

    It’s all about protecting and promoting white supremacy in StL, you know where Ferguson happened.

  44. Lurkers says:

    Cancel her

  45. OliviaJoy1995 says:

    I thought it was well known she came from money, I remember reading about her when she joined The Office years ago. I never heard about her involvement in anything else though.

    I live in Colorado Springs and they still have debutante balls here every year. I’m surprised they do honestly. I thought they ceased to exist in the 80’s. Guess not.

  46. WTF says:

    You may not realize it, but your using these ‘facts’ to distance this organization from racism, is actually the most dangerous part of racism. It doesn’t matter if they chronologically pre-dated the KKK. At all. Like, NOT AT ALL. It was an organization that sought to promote white supremacy. Trying to maintain wealth and access for exclusively white people, is racist.
    When non-racist people participate in hair-splitting or ‘explaining’ racists and their conduct, it does more damage than the actual racists, because it normalizes their behavior by an alleged ally.
    Please stop.

  47. EllenOlenska says:

    There are MULTIPLE a books on the history of debutante balls including black debutante balls. They are still around and many are adapting but not as fast as you might think.
    Keep in mind that the 1990’s where when many exclusive country clubs only began accepting black members. Augusta national ( home of the Masters golf tournament) got their first black member in 1990…and that was under duress.

    I was in college in the south during the early eighties and half the females in my dorm went home freshman year Christmas to make their debuts. And this is a very well known, top 20 university. Those of us who were not debs thought it was hilarious and stupid. Those who were were clear that it was a requirement if daddy was going to keep paying their tuition.

    From Jane Austen’s day to Placage to now…it’s all crap.

  48. L4frimaire says:

    There’s an interesting article on this Veiled Prophet organization in the Atlantic. Definitely has white supremacist and also, very anti-labor/ working class solidarity roots. Visually it just looks so hokey and lame, with their tacky costumes, but the intent behind it is so elitist, classist and upholds the preservation of white supremacy. I bet Kemper never gave this a second thought or what it meant- the luxury and ignorance of privilege.

  49. Chris says:

    I haven’t read all the comments but racism aside, but there is a purely economical side to these balls. In England, at the time, women of a certain class were prohibited from having a job OR owning property, much less “date”. Women couldn’t even go out without a chaperone. These balls were the only way for a woman to be matched with a future spouse, which is how she would survive after leaving her father’s home. So yes, they are clearly foolish, tacky, outdated and unnecessary, but I don’t know that they were initially of evil, exclusionary intent.

    • goofpuff says:

      The balls themselves were exclusionary. You had to be specifically invited to the ones where the “rich of the rich” moved about. They were extremely classist and strove to keep the “unwanted nouve riche masses” out unless of course they were so rich that it was enough to keep their spendthrift wastrel noble families flush with cash.

      In England, they didn’t have to be racist because by nature they were. Only white noble rich English folks circulating in their classist social circles were invited.

  50. Agreatreckoning says:

    It will be interesting to see if she responds at all. Never heard of the Veiled Prophet before. Coincidentally,
    I received a book review/interview today-Lyndsey Ellis -Bone Broth-and the ball is mentioned.
    The trauma of history
    Ellis started with the idea of a woman like Justine, a Black widow with a hidden history. She calls Justine “an amalgamation” of the female energy she grew up with, the mothers and the grandmothers. Ellis also draws on St. Louis history, including the controversial demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects in the 1970s, and an activist’s disruption of the annual Veiled Prophet debutante ball.

  51. Grace says:

    Debutante balls are alive and well for a certain class of folks here in NC. As a 60-year-old woman, I find them appalling and so outdated. But, as a l9 year old from a small town without a lot of exposure to the “outside” world at that point, I was thrilled to be invited to “make my debut” (gag). They entailed an entire summer season and required tons of new clothes. All of the girls seemed completely ignorant of racism at the time. There was no real understanding of the concept. It was a long-standing tradition for the “ruling class” to participate. It was sort of a combination of a “being presented to society for marriage” thing and an excuse for lavish parties. I ended up opting out for a million different reasons, but this tradition continues to this day for the “old money or old family” class. It’s more than ridiculous. Thankfully, some of the participants, now, four decades later, are some of the most actively involved people I know in voter rights drives, BLM, anti-gerrymandering initiatives, etc. They have changed,
    grown, and evolved, maybe making an effort to correct the mistakes of the past.

    • Sunny says:

      Ellie won’t acknowledge much less apologize bc she benefits from her extreme privilege.

      Her parents’ social lives revolve around other veiled prophet members, they play golf together at the same exclusive club, send their kids to the same outrageously pricey private schools, and are on the same hospital boards.

      To speak up against the institutional racism and overt white supremacy of the VP would be too costly for all members of the Kemper clan.

  52. Lunasf17 says:

    Well Missouri is part of the south (I grew up in Kansas near the border of MO and while KS has its issues, MO has a heightened racial tension IMO). As a sheltered, wealthy 19 year old I’m not sure she was aware of how racist this is (not trying to excuse her but weren’t we all dumb teens at some point). My husband grew up in TX and was a registered pro life republican who voted for W for governor and thought abortion was wrong. Luckily he grew up and deprogrammed from those beliefs so I don’t think it’s fair to judge people 20 years later for shit they did as teens. We should all be learning and doing better each day. None us were as woke as we thought we were in our teens. Yes, it’s crappy but I’m sure I said and did embarrassing stuff that I would hate to brought up now.

    • Haylie says:

      Plenty people knew it was wrong to be affiliated with the KKK, even 20 years ago.

      I don’t think it’s fair that yet again, black people get to see racism downplayed and excused, being sacrificed at the altar of white women’s alleged innocence and infantilization.

      It’s disgusting and yet another sign that we have not advanced the way people say we have.

  53. Haylie says:

    I’m seeing the same comments from her defenders on other sites:

    “I did dumb things when I was 19 too!”

    “Let’s worry about real racism, like what’s going on in Texas!”

    “She didn’t know the pageant had racist roots.”

    So I’m gonna guess that instead of addressing this, her PR people paid a bot farm to tamp down the story.

    • Eenie Googles says:

      Pretty sure it’s just white people excusing racism from a person they like. You don’t need a bot factory to make that happen.

  54. Legalese says:

    No one is excusing racism. Did anyone here say that what she did was OK? But people have a problem with cancelling someone for something they did more than 20 years ago, when there is zero indication at this time that she holds the same views today or that she has been problematic since. Like unless that isn’t true, what does cancelling her accomplish??

    • sunny says:

      I think it more of a problem that she buried or ignored this part of her history in her memoir. That suggests she knows that it was wrong. That seems very suspect. And the way we constantly excuse white people’s racism or participation in racist systems as part of not knowing better is a lot.

    • Haylie says:

      Criticizing someone for taking part in a racist pageant as a legal adult is not cancelling them, but thanks for providing more excuses.

      Criticizing racist actions: bad.

      Participating in KKK ball: justifiable

  55. Sarcasm101 says:

    I have no idea who this girl is. This is just….WOW.

  56. Jane Doe says:

    How are people arguing about this? None of the optics of this are normal . It’s racist. She participated. Veiled prophet???
    This person on Twitter offers this: “ The Veiled Prophet Society is a direct derivative of the Missouri Ku Klux Klan. FBI even once believed they were involved in the MLK assassination.” https://twitter.com/tefpoe/status/1399739782364807168?s=21

  57. kif says:

    She supports and donated money to BLM as recently as last year (that is known publicly, she might have just donated again yesterday). What she participated in 22 years ago VS the ongoing blackfishing of the Kardashians. There has never been any news so far about Kemper being problematic in all the years she has been a celebrity. On the other hand, from the beginning until the present, the Kardashians have been race baiting, culturally appropriating yet commenters still go on this site saying they are harmless.