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The Washington Rhinestone Club: Promoting Young African American Women for Over 60 Years

The 2017 Washington Rhinestone Club Debutante Court.

Debutante balls are held throughout the world, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Latin America, and in the Philippines. Though activities may vary, all have a similar theme of working with young women who have reached maturity and, as a new adult, are presented to society at a formal “debut.”

The Washington Rhinestone Club, Inc. (WRC) is a nonprofit organization created to promote and lift the cultural and educational standards of young African American women. Since 1952, the WRC has accomplished this through providing academic educational workshops, awarding college scholarships, and by presenting young women as debutantes in Seattle, King County.

WRC Members 2017_updated

WRC Members (back row, left to right) Claudette Yearby, Barbara Banon, Shani Yearby, Carol Bell Daniel, Malver Haynes, Karen Winston; (front row, left to right) Colleen Walls, Dolores Booker, Juanita Taylor, Frances Stephens. Photo Credit: Flyright Productions.

Establishing an organization to encourage young women of color to pursue a college education, by involving them in social activities and “presenting them to society” as debutantes, was an idea first conceived by Naomi Murray and Evelyn Smith Robinson. Together, they recruited other women who shared the same interest, including Laura Taylor, Mertildia Lee, and Frances Stephens, who is still an active member.

At their first meeting, held in 1952, they agreed to name the group “The Rhinestone Club,” because Mrs. Murray felt that “rhinestone” appropriately described a glittering formal ball, where “radiantly” beautiful young women could be recognized for their achievements and goals, as debutantes. The first Debutante Ball was held in 1953.

Frances Stephens—one of the co-founders, who is still active in the club. Photo Credit: Flyright Productions.

Many organizations and community members partner with the Rhinestone Club (now called the Washington Rhinestone Club) by awarding scholarships of various amounts. All of the debutantes receive scholarships at the annual ball; however, the young women with the highest grade point average is presented as the debutante “Queen” and receives the highest award. In addition, each young lady is individually recognized and honored for their high school accomplishments, as well as their church and volunteer community activities.

This year, the club will celebrate its 65th annual Debutante Ball! The club is proud to have presented outstanding young women who have made positive contributions in communities throughout the country. They’ve gone on to become educators, healthcare professionals (including doctors and nurses), lawyers, social workers, engineers, business professionals, and various other careers. “The vision of Naomi Murray and Evelyn Robinson remains alive today, through the efforts of the current WRC members and community support,” said Frances Stephens.

Contributor Karen M. Winston is a planner for Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County and has been an active member of the Washington Rhinestone Club for two years.

Top Photo Credit: Karen M. Winston