Founded in 1959 by Frances Askew Davis, the 17-member Fillies Club began their history of volunteer service to the Kentucky Derby Festival. From crowning the first Derby Queen at the Official Derby Ball, the group has grown to an active membership of 250 and was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1971.
Today, the Fillies, Inc., publishes the Festival’s Official Program, coordinates the Derby Festival Princess Program, creates the Queen’s float for the Pegasus Parade and still produces the Fillies Derby Ball.
The Coronation Ball had been held for two years before the current producing body took its reigns. The Fillies, Inc., was first organized as a club in 1959 to give Kentucky a lavish ball as the backdrop for the coronation of the Kentucky Derby Queen and her court. Then 17 women led by Mrs. Davis planned an elaborate setting of oversized red tarleton roses and jeweled crowns for their first ball. The only rules of membership at the time were for all ladies to work on the ball, further the fame of Kentucky and place a $2 bet on any filly entered in the Derby.
A spin-of-the-wheel, which is still practiced today, sent one girl to the throne to rule, with her court of four, over the Derby week festivities. Now for more than two weeks, the Derby Festival Queen and Court reign over more than 70 events and serve as ambassadors for the Festival, the Kentucky Derby and the Greater Louisville area at its most exciting time.
Also begun at the first Fillies’ Derby Ball was the induction of Knights and Dames to the Royal Court of Pegasus. Outstanding Kentuckians were chosen for their service to the community to be “knighted” by the incoming Queen. This practice now includes the induction of the outgoing Fillies President and the outgoing Derby Festival Chair, with one member of the community at large selected by the Fillies membership.
The Fillies crest was designed by Mrs. Davis and still serves as the logo for the organization. It consists of 15 stars (representing Kentucky as the 15th state in the union), two fleur-de-lis (representing the City of Louisville), a red rose for the Kentucky Derby and a Pegasus, the swift horse from Greek mythology that serves as a symbol of the Derby Festival. The crest is the centerpiece of the Queen’s royal robe, on display at the Kentucky Derby Museum when not being worn by the reigning Queen.