History of The West Set: The Gentlemen’s Social Club of West Philadelphia
“The President’s Message – In January 1957 a group of young men in Philadelphia with similar interests and ideals, united to form a club. We were mainly interested in the cultural aspects of our society. Through travel and study, we learned that we could foster an appreciation for the arts. This club was to be known as The West Set.
In the community we have tried to be of help, giving aid and support wherever possible. Contributions to charities that have solicited our help, would not have been possible without our many friends. In addition, we have broadened our knowledge through travel and have had the opportunity to spread good will abroad. Through the years we have developed friendships in the islands and Europe.
For thirty years we have tried to maintain a social organization of which we could be proud. The fraternal relationship that exists among our members is intense. We have succeeded in becoming a close knit unit, existing for the good of all members. Our successes we have learned to accept with humility, and our failures with quiet dignity.
We hope this evening for you will be a memorable occasion. From The Gentlemen of the West Set on this their thirtieth anniversary, we extend to all of you our most sincere and cordial welcome.
We have been blessed.”
* Community member Ricardo Bostic provided The Black LGBT Archivists Society with the items presented in History of The West Set: The Gentlemen’s Social Club of West Philadelphia. He was also instrumental in providing information about the group. As you scroll through the exhibit, you will notice the photocopied quality of each image. The originals are believed to have been discarded as “junk.” Still, the information contained within is valuable and adds to Philadelphia’s important history.
The Gentlemen of the West formed in 1957. Marc Stein’s City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972, points out that eight of the 12 members lived in and around West Philadelphia, or frequented the area for its night life. Ricardo Bostic shares: “They would give parties, but they were never gay parties because it was a different time then. But all of the gay people would go to the parties. One event was in 1970, basically during Penn Relay Weekend. They would always do things around Penn Relay Weekend, especially house parties. They would party from Thursday to Monday at a different person’s house. Monday would be the climax. They called it “corner day.” On “corner day” you would bring all the liquor left over from the parties and they would have a little something on that Monday. It was a good time.”
“They also had Cabana Parties at Atlantic City’s Chicken Bone Beach where all the Blacks would gather. If you go to Atlantic City now you would see a plaque on the beach that says Chicken Bone Beach, and that’s where all the Blacks would mingle. They held this event every year in July or August and it would be the whole weekend. They had a mailing list for gay people around the country. Straights too, but mostly all of their attendees were gay.”
“They would have the Miss West Set Competition. Miss West set was a straight woman, and reflected the jet-setting style of these Gentlemen. The first prize winner would receive a trip, maybe to Puerto Rico. That’s how they did things. Joan Myers Brown, founder of The Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO) and The Philadelphia School of Dance Art, was a Miss West Set from 1972 to 1973.”
The West Set Members
The West Set was comprised of 12 members. These men were very active throughout Philadelphia, and add to Philadelphia’s important history.
Gerald J. Lewis showed a concern for the health and well-being for the men in his community. He served a Board of Directors member (and President) for Unity, Inc., one of Philadelphia’s first HIV/AIDS service organizations.
Jerome Gaymon was a noted choreographer with the Philadelphia Cotillion Society and Heritage House. The December 1964 issue of JET shows Gaymon and Patricia Joyner, a former Miss West Set, at the funeral of Dr. Eugene Wayman Jones (founder of the Society).
The West Set Presents: Invitations
As a private club, the Gentleman of The West Set held social events throughout Philadelphia. Their themes reflected a passion for travel, culture, community building and good times. The invitations in this collection are full of history. They list the names of organizational leaders and members, often times the name of the current Miss West Set and the incoming court, and gave formal announcement of premiere social gatherings for professional Black men and their friends. Eight of those invitations are featured below.
The first invitation in this collection celebrates the group’s 5th anniversary (February 18, 1962) with an invitational only cocktail party held at the Heritage House in North Philadelphia. Other events included the Carnivals Capers Extravaganza (in 1965, with music by Benny Fields’ Band), the 1968 Leurs Cabrioles De Carnaval De’Cennales Dinner Dance, the 1970 Una Fiesta En Diciembre, as well as the 1978 Fall Extravaganza.
Items in this collection were provided by Ricardo Bostic.