The Fillies® History
In 1959, under the leadership of Frances Askew Davis (Mrs. William Golden Davis), 17 women formed “The Fillies Club” to support the Kentucky Derby Festival Committee. The charter members of The Fillies selected a gold horseshoe pin for the club’s symbol and made Regret, the first filly to win a Kentucky Derby (1915), its mascot. The rules of membership stated that members must meet three main requirements: they would work on the club’s new signature event, the Fillies Derby Ball; their efforts should further the fame of the Commonwealth of Kentucky; and they should place a two dollar bet on any filly entered in the Kentucky Derby.
The Fillies’ crest, originally designed by Mrs. Davis and still in use today, features a red rose in the left lower corner signifying the Kentucky Derby. A depiction of Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology, represents the Kentucky Derby Festival (KDF) in the right upper corner. A band runs diagonally across the crest from left to right and contains 15 stars honoring Kentucky as the fifteenth state to join the Union, separated by two fleurs-de-lis, representing the City of Louisville. The Fillies’ membership voted in June, 1991 to use the crest as the club’s official pin, replacing the prior horseshoe pin.
The Fillies’ first official duty was to help the Kentucky Derby Festival Committee produce a gala Derby Ball. This ball, intended to celebrate the world-famous Kentucky Derby, would feature the coronation of a Derby Queen currently selected by the spin of a wheel from the five young women chosen to be Derby Princesses. Together with the Derby Princesses, the Derby Queen continues to reign over the KDF events.
Until 1982, only Fillies and members of KDF’s Board of Directors were permitted to propose Derby Princess candidates. Thereafter, universities, colleges and accredited professional schools in Kentucky or the Louisville metropolitan area were allowed to nominate one of their female students for consideration. In 1999 KDF requested a change to the princess selection process, opening applications to all young women from Kentucky or the Louisville metropolitan area who are full-time university, college or professional school students. Each selected princess receives monetary scholarships from both The Fillies and the Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation.
The Fillies Derby Ball also features the recognition of Knights and Dames of the Royal Court. The Knights and Dames of the Court are outstanding Kentuckians who are selected and honored at the Fillies Derby Ball based on their involvement in the community and/or with KDF and The Fillies.
Working proudly in support of KDF, The Fillies have continued to present the Fillies Derby Ball honoring the Derby Queen and Derby Princesses. The Fillies Derby Ball serves as the largest annual fundraiser of the Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation. Since 2002, all proceeds from the Fillies Derby Ball go to the Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation, which was founded in 1998. The funds raised at the Ball provide academic scholarships to the winners of the KDF Spelling Bee, have helped fund more than $500,000.00 in grants to deserving local charities such as Dare to Care and Metro United Way, and promote artistic education through underwriting events such as the Student Art Contest.
Through the years, The Fillies has seen tremendous growth both in membership, in their support of KDF and the greatest two minutes in sports, The Kentucky Derby. By 1970, there were 150 members of The Fillies. The group incorporated in 1971 as a nonprofit 501(c)4 organization and launched publication of The Fillies Official Kentucky Derby Festival Program. In 1984, the group went to press with a new cookbook, Fillies Flavours. In 1986, the organization initiated the undertaking of annually building the float on which the Derby Queen and Derby Princesses are displayed in the Pegasus Parade.
The Children’s Tea with the Derby Queen and Derby Princesses debuted in 2008. This popular event brings together children and families for an afternoon of tea with present and past Derby Princesses.
Today, the Fillies membership (limited to 250 women) is a group of civically minded women that was formed many decades ago. They look forward to broadening their charitable and social footprints, while working alongside and supporting the activities of the two weeks of Kentucky Derby Festival.
P.O. Box 221588 · Louisville, Kentucky, 40252-1588