There are instances of crossdressing balls in many countries. One that has been documented was known through a police raid of a ball celebrated in the Temperance Hall in the Hulme area of Manchester.
On 24 September 1880, the Chief Constable of Manchester received anonymous information about an event “of an immoral character” that was about to take place in the Temperance Hall of Hulme.
The detective Jerome Caminada was despatched with police constables to observe the ball and make any necessary arrests. Of the 47 men that congregated, all wore fancy dress costumes, 22 as women; a pair was dressed as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and another as Romeo and Juliet.
The windows of the Temperance Hall had mostly been blacked out and so Detective Caminada and his constables had to observe the ball from a neighbouring rooftop. Caminada reported that the ball had begun at 9.00pm, that dancing had commenced at around 10.00pm and that every now and then, a couple disappeared into a side room. Just after 1.00am, mindful that some guests had started to leave, Caminada gained entry to the ball by giving the password “sister” in an effeminate manner to a doorman dressed as a nun. After the door was opened, the police raided the building, and detained all participants.
The trial showed that some of the revellers were not from Manchester and were regulars of similar balls that were organised in several cities such as Leeds or Nottingham. The men were bound over to keep the peace on two sureties of £25.00 each, a significant sum. Some were unable to pay it and ended up in prison as a result. All the arrested men had their names, addresses and professions published widely.
The picture above shows the front page of the tabloid The Illustrated Police News on the week of the raid at Temperance Hall in Hulme, Manchester.
Balls for lesbians were also quite common, though not as much as male ones. Not only were they less in number, but there is less information about them, a problem common to all lesbian herstory. On the other hand, in Western societies, two women dancing together publicly is still acceptable nowadays, and can be done without any suspicions of lesbianism.
However, in Mexico, on 4 December 1901, there was a police raid of a lesbian ball in Santa Maria.
This year a new social evening for women was planned in Chorlton, South Manchester urging women to dress in your finest for “The Days of Duke”. I’ve not been able to find out any more information about this other than the poster below.