History of Les Passees
In 1910, Mrs. W. Wright Mitchell organized The German Club, the forerunner of Les Passees. Soon afterward World War I broke out, and the founders began to operate as “The Dinner Club.” Members supported U.S. service men by making bandages and knitting socks.
In 1919, Mrs. Mitchell organized another group for the Dinner Club’s married members. This new club’s primary purpose was to do charity work in the community. Mrs. Percy Wood suggested the name “Les Passees” for these married women, a French phrase that means “no longer fashionable.” The name stuck.
Over the next few years, the women of Les Passees undertook many charitable endeavors, supporting the Brooks Memorial Art Gallery, the Crippled Children’s Hospital, the Shelby County Tuberculosis Society, the Red Cross, the Girl Scouts, and the Maternal Welfare League, among others. They also converted a barn into a school and used it as a summer camp for physically challenged children.
In 1927, Les Passees presented the first “Living Ads”; it was the beginning of the tradition that remains today. Members represented corporate sponsors with elaborate costumes. In 1928, the annual ball came to be known as Cabaret, an annual social event and fundraiser. In 1932, Les Passees was officially incorporated.
The group continued to do good work in support of the USO, bond sales, War and Welfare Fund, Easter Seals, and the Shelby County Chapter of Society for Crippled Children and Adults.
In 1950, The Les Passees Treatment Center for Cerebral Palsied Children opened. Over the next three decades, this center expanded its scope significantly, adding developmental screening, early education, parent education, an eye clinic, a physical therapy school, and a children’s daily activities program that was the first of its kind in the state. This center received nationwide publicity in Dr. Rex Morgan’s comic strip, and was selected by Paramount Pictures as recipient of auction proceeds from the movie, The Firm.
In 1987, the club launched the Stock Exchange, a six-week-long public consignment shop that has since become a Memphis tradition. In 2016, Les Passees celebrates its 30th year of Stock Exchange.
In 1979, members printed the first Well Seasoned cookbook; to date nearly 100,000 copies of the cookbook book have been sold.
In 1991 Les Passees adopted an educational puppet troupe for children called Kids On The Block. Today the Les Passees Kids on the Block visit over 25,000 local school children each year.
Later in the 1990’s, the club transferred its children’s services to Methodist/Lebonheur. A new era began in 2001 with the opening of Les Passees Center for Children and Families. The center closed, and in 2009, Les Passees began to support the Harwood Center preschool for children with developmental delays. Today that support continues.