Inaugural Parades | Oath of Office | Celebrations

George and Barbara Bush at the 1989 Stars and Stripes inaugural ball at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center

Starting as single affairs, inaugural balls have grown into many distinct festivities. In 1997, Bill Clinton hosted fourteen official balls.

Some balls were selective; others were open to anyone who paid the admission. Some were formal affairs, whereas at James Polk's two-dollar ball for "pure Democrats," a foreign minister's lady reportedly was seen dancing with her gardener. Jimmy Carter thought "ball" sounded too formal and called his celebrations "parties."

While the number of balls has multiplied, there remains an exclusive atmosphere that proclaims that this is a celebration for the newly instated political elite.

Mamie Eisenhower's inaugural gown
Mamie Eisenhower dressed in her favorite color for her husband's first inaugural ball in 1953. Designed by Nettie Rosenstein, the gown is of pink peau de soie with a mauve undertone, and is embroidered with more than 2,000 rhinestones.
The Pension Building sparkled with thousands of electric lights for William McKinley's second inaugural ball in 1901. Photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


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