Chickens’ Ball History

A Brief History of the Chickens’ Ball

This year’s Chickens’ Ball continues the tradition of community fundraising for local public schools by supporting the visual and performing arts needs of the San Carlos Elementary School District in San Carlos, California.

The original Chickens’ Ball began prior to 1900 on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. Staged annually in various saloons by women of ill repute, pokes of gold were awarded to the winning acts to be donated to local charities. What’s a Chickens’ Ball? The name came about because in the Gay ‘90s, the lovely ladies who performed in Barbary Coast saloons wore glittery costumes of feathers and sequins. When the saloons held a competition to determine which one had put on the best show, the gentlemen watching the dancing ladies called it a “chickens’ ball” because of those fancy, feathery costumes. Today, local clubs, individuals, and PTA groups revisit the years from 1890-1918 on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, presenting a rousing biennial show in the Central Middle School Auditorium. All proceeds benefit the San Carlos public schools.

In 1939, Central School (the only school in San Carlos at the time) was facing the problem of all organizations—“How can we raise funds painlessly and successfully?” Teacher Howard J. Demke, a member of the PTA Board, recalled his fascination with the old Gay ‘90s’ tradition of San Francisco and designed the concept of the Chickens’ Ball to meet new needs: money for the school milk fund. In 1940 the turn-of-the-century Barbary Coast Chickens’ Ball was reborn in San Carlos in a one-night, sold out show.

All materials for the first Ball were donated, borrowed, or hand-made. The Masonic Club was the first-prize winner. The Junior Matrons group was an original participant and is still performing today. The tradition continues each year as the Ball is kicked off with a tradition of a dinner dance for all participants. From that modest beginning, Chickens’ Ball has grown into a San Carlos tradition held every two years. It now raises upwards of $50,000 to finance such worthwhile school projects as purchasing library books, Art-in-Actions and the music program.

The Chickens’ Ball goals are to raise money for the public schools of San Carlos and to build friendship and cooperation within the community.

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