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The Tartan Ball had its roots as an informal gathering of St. Andrew’s Society members who enjoyed Scottish country dancing. In 1938, Dr. William Crawford, Norman Campbell and William E. James decided to organize their first supper and dance in the Odd Fellows Hall at Bowie, Maryland. They deemed the event a huge success because Dr. Crawford brought “dozens of Scottish people from the farms within hundreds of miles of Bowie.”

The bombing of Pearl Harbor sent many members off to war. Mr. James relates that “As soon as I returned, a meeting was held in my home… to discuss future dancing and a ball…” He noted that “The Saturday night get-togethers became so popular and the hours became so small that a meeting was held at my home in Arlington Forest, Virginia and it was decided the St. Andrew's dancing had grown so fast and become so popular that we just had to hire a hall, so it was decided to hire the hall at St. Alban's Church at the Washington Cathedral. And that, my friends, was the start of the Tartan Ball.”

Since that first more formal event in 1950, the Tartan Ball has grown in size and reputation. From “dozens” of dancers in the late 1940’s, the event has attracted 451 people in 1956 and the $3.50 ticket generated a profit of $352. In the 1960‘s, the event attracted upwards of 500 guests and was deemed one of the social highlights of the season.

Scottish country dancing continued to be a focal point for the event. Each guest received a dance card and took careful note of the partners promised for each reel – and later for each foxtrot, polka, waltz and rhumba. By the late 1980’s, so few guests knew the dances that Scottish country dancing became more of a spectator event than participatory. In the late 1990’s, Scottish country dancing was phased out entirely.

Even though the Scottish country dancing gave way to ballroom dancing, the Ball has become even more important to Scottish culture. A Silent Auction was added in the 1980’s to benefit the Washington Scots Charity and Education Fund. The Silent Auction now the generates between $14,000 and $20,000 in funds for scholarships and cultural support.

The event has been covered by the old Washington Evening Star, Northern Virginia Sun and the Washington Post. The Ball has grown out of the hall at St. Alban’s Church at the National Cathedral and has graced some of the finest hotel ballrooms in the area: the Shoreham Hotel, Mayflower Hotel, Sheraton-Park Hotel, Washington Hilton Hotel, Ritz-Carleton Tysons-Corner, Washington Ritz-Carleton – and has found its more recent home back the elegant Mayflower Hotel.