January 6: The Inaugural Ball That Didn’t Happen


Long known as “the Land of Steady Habits,” Connecticut is home to scores of political and cultural traditions that span generations, including many that stretch back into the colonial era. One such tradition has been the Inaugural Ball, a ceremony filled with plenty of pomp and circumstance thrown for newly elected governors by the Governor’s Foot Guard ever since the prestigious state military group was first created in 1771.

Despite the occasionally lavish nature of the Inaugural Ball festivities, the tradition was upheld through some of the nation’s most turbulent times, surviving the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and even the early years of the Great Depression. However, the domestic pressures and economic stresses of World War II proved to be too powerful for this particular tradition to overcome.

This engraving depicts some of the elaborate festivities of 1873, during the inauguration of Governor Charles Ingersoll. (Connecticut Historical Society)

In 1943, wartime conditions forced the state to hit the “pause” button on the 170-year-old tradition of the Governor’s Inaugural Ball. Incoming governor Raymond Baldwin, a former Navy seaman, lawyer, and Republican politician who had campaigned on a platform of wartime austerity and a strictly balanced state budget, realized that the usual display of extravagance that accompanied an Inaugural Ball would clash horribly with both his political positions and wartime sacrifices being made by hundreds of thousands of Connecticans. So, on January 6, 1943, for the first time in its long history, the Governors Foot Guard did not host an Inaugural Ball for an incoming governor; instead, they stood guard by Governor Baldwin’s side during a truncated afternoon reception at the State Armory in Hartford. Aside from the National Anthem, there was little music to be heard; after Governor Baldwin was formally sworn into office, he (and a few other state dignitaries) made some brief remarks before spending the rest of the afternoon in a receiving line, shaking hands of hundreds of politicians and constituents.

The Hartford Courant, in its coverage of the decidedly unglamorous event, noted “the contrast between the trappings of an old tradition and the businesslike drabness of a state at war,” comparing the elaborate, 18th-century-style dress uniforms of the Foot Guard to the “men in workstained clothes and women in slacks who had come directly from benches in the war plants of the city” to shake the new governor’s hand. The tradition of throwing a festive Inaugural Ball for incoming governors would resume after war’s end, but in 1943, under the long shadow cast by World War II, there was plenty of circumstance, but little pomp, to welcome the new governor into office — today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Our History,” First Company Governor’s Foot Guard