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Rubenstein Center Scholarship

Prom Night at the White House

Susan Ford dances in the East Room

Courtesy of Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

Senior prom is a night to remember — especially if your venue is the White House! On May 31, 1975, First Daughter Susan Ford hosted the Holton-Arms School senior class for prom at the Executive Mansion, marking the first and only celebration of its kind to take place there.

The class of ‘75 at the Holton-Arms School, located in Bethesda, Maryland, had saved for the event since seventh grade, holding “bake sales, an easter egg party, a dance, a school fair, [and] a raffle” to raise $1,300 for their planning budget.1 By using the White House, they saved on rental space, though they still paid for food, flowers, event staff, and musical entertainment.2 Attendees also paid $14 for tickets.3 Susan Ford assisted the senior class’s prom committee with the arrangements.

Unfortunately, one of their dreams for the evening did not come true. While Susan and the committee initially hoped that the Beach Boys could perform that night, the committee couldn’t afford the band with their modest budget.4 Unfortunately, “Good Vibrations” come at a price. Instead, the prom committee hired two reasonably priced bands: Sandcastle and The Outerspace.

When the much-anticipated prom night finally arrived, President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford were in Europe for a NATO summit meeting.5 Susan’s aunt, Janet Ford, and the Holton-Arms staff, served as chaperones. To begin the evening’s festivities, Susan, her date Billy Pifer, and her close friends had dinner aboard the presidential yacht, Sequoia.6 Afterward, they made their way to the White House, where guests and their dates entered through the Diplomatic Reception Room for the black-tie event. Susan arrived in a salmon-colored halter gown and a corsage. She and her mother had shopped for her prom dress several months earlier while visiting designer Albert Capraro’s studio in New York City.7 The gown was a gift from the first lady.8

Prom chaperones in the Red Room

Courtesy of Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

Dancing took place in the East Room, where teenagers swayed to the sounds of Sandcastle and The Outerspace, while White House staff served food and drinks in the State Dining Room. The food and décor were a considerable contrast compared to typical White House events. Tablecloths made of sheets and homemade flower arrangements served as decorations, and hors d’oeuvres included pigs-in-a-blanket, mini quiches, Swedish meatballs, and sweet and sour chicken.9 Guests also sipped on non-alcoholic fruit punch and mingled throughout the rooms on the State Floor.

Holton-Arms students hanging out in the Blue Room.

Courtesy of Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

Susan dances with The Outerspace.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

Although this special event was limited to the senior class and their dates, the White House allowed the press twenty minutes to speak to guests that evening; below, Susan Ford and her date Billy answer questions from the press in the Blue Room.10

Press questions in the Blue Room

White House Historical Association

Couples enjoyed refreshments, mingled, and danced the night away until the event ended at 1 a.m. After changing into more comfortable attire, Susan relocated to a friend’s house, where she enjoyed a post-prom pool party.11

Six days later, the senior class came together for a final celebration: their graduation. President Gerald Ford spoke at the commencement ceremony on June 5, shedding a tear on the special afternoon as he wished the graduating class of 1975 all the best.12

President Ford speaks at graduation.

National Archives and Records Administration