Weather for the Following Location: Chattanooga on Map

Local History: How Chattanooga (Cotton) Ball got its start

Historic cotton ball factory.

Local History: How Chattanooga (Cotton) Ball got its start

Chattanooga’s Grand Ball

Chattanooga, a city known for its vibrant social life, is the birthplace of a remarkable event in the local history – the Chattanooga Cotton Ball. This spectacular gala, which is now known as the Chattanooga Ball, was initiated by Zella Armstrong, a Confederate officer’s daughter, back in 1933.

As the publisher of The Lookout newspaper, Zella Armstrong was a prominent figure in Chattanooga society from the 1930s through the 1960s. She frequently reported on the happenings of the social set in not only Chattanooga but also in Knoxville, Nashville, Atlanta, and other cities in the South.

The Chattanooga Cotton Ball, born on September 1, 1933, stemmed from Armstrong’s desire to entertain, engage, and connect with the young generation while supporting local charities. This event, organized as a Fall Fashion Show and Floor Show, took place in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium with proceeds benefiting the Children’s Hospital Free Ward Fund and the Chattanooga Museum Association.

The Beginning of a Tradition

An atmosphere of anticipation and mystery was prevalent leading up to the announcement of the King and Queen of the Chattanooga Cotton Ball. With suspense contributing to the charm of the event, The Lookout reported, “The identity of the King and Queen… is known only to the Queen and her immediate family, the secret of her identity has been as closely guarded as that of the King’s”.

The structure of the entertainment for the evening was also established during this inaugural event, setting a precedent for the years to come. Featuring a program of children’s performances, a fashion show, and a procession of debutantes alongside their escorts, the Cotton Ball evolved into a cherished city tradition over four decades.

A Shift in Celebrations

As times changed, the concept of the Cotton Ball slowly transformed as well. The draw of public extravaganzas began to wane with the advent of television and home entertainment options. Consequently, the operations of the Cotton Ball shifted towards more intimate celebrations and its philanthropic goals. The event was consequently renamed as The Chattanooga Ball


According to the official Chattanooga Ball website, “Following the 1976 Bicentennial Ball, the board of directors voted to reduce the size of the event from a spectacular pageant to a dinner-dance that would more closely involve family participation during such an important night in the Belles’ lives.”

Today, the proceeds from the Chattanooga Ball are funneled towards charitable agencies that support women and children in the local area. Zella Armstrong’s legacy continues to enhance the city’s community, all while highlighting the past, present, and future of Chattanooga’s societal landscape.

Contributions to the City

Zella Armstrong’s contributions extended beyond the creation of the Cotton Ball. Armstrong passed away in 1965, but her love for the arts led to the establishment of the Zella Armstrong Fellowship for Advanced Music Study which benefits talented individuals in any field of arts.

Even today, as Chattanooga thrives, the Chattanooga Ball stands as a testament to its enriching past, its vibrant present, and the promising future it holds. Thanks to the vision of Zella Armstrong, the Chattanooga Cotton Ball continues to be a cherished tradition, forever etched in the heart of Chattanooga.

Source: HERE News Network

Leave a Reply

Sign up for our Newsletter