Debutant

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Life in 1939 as imagined by Grace …”My scrapbook research made me familiar with the concept of a coming out party, enabling me to incorporate this as another symbolic representation of the Fair. It also immersed me in the culture of upper-class society and how they would have encountered the Fair, including the popularity of television and exquisite exhibits.” The assignment definitely enhanced my understanding of the Fair and its surrounding culture, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time reading archived Life and Vogue magazines- overall, it was an assignment I’d happily do in my free time!”

-meaning of the fair, argument by Sam

The World of the 20th Century was very different from the World of the modern era. Changes in government, industry, and social customs have altered the landscape from the more classical world of the early 20th Century, to the distinctly modern world of the late 20th Century. One of the social custom which has been, in large part, lost to history was the presentation of debutantes. The presentation of debutantes was a ceremony in which the newly adult women of England would be brought before the royal court to be presented to society as a whole. It was a rite of passage for any woman who hoped to be a part of English high society.

Much like the debutantes, the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens was an opportunity for the United States to “come out” to the World and show the potential it had to be a leader in the international community. However, instead of English high society, the fair presented an opportunity for the United States to present itself to the traditional rulers of the world, the European powers. More importantly, it was an opportunity for the leadership of the United States to lay out its vision for what the future of the World should look like.

For the last 10 years, the United States had been in a process of constant change, due in large part to the Great Depression. The country had already been in the midst of a movement of industrialization and urbanization, which had ultimately led to the World of the 1920’s. The crash of the stock market led to an era of government intervention in the economy bringing about a country in which the federal government was, for one of the first times, plainly visible in the lives of the average American. The Great Depression changed the United States, putting it in a place where it was willing to accept an active government working with the industrial sector for the betterment of society as a whole.

What followed this transformation was a realization that the United States as a country had limitless untapped potential. Out of that realization came the World’s Fair. Perhaps more importantly, the realization could be seen in almost all aspects of the fair, from the founding ideals to the types of exhibits that were presented. Even the tagline of the fair, “Building the World of Tomorrow,” projected a forward thinking optimism that the United States could lead the world out of its current depression and into a new era of prosperity.

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