Let’s take a trip back in time. 97 years ago, the United States opened it’s doors to a brand new pageant, as the quest to find Miss America began. While to some this may just seem like a fancy label, the meaning of this title has risen in importance over the years. Times have changed, and so has this competition!
What was once a mere beauty contest, has evolved into something girls everywhere can (and should) aspire to. To be Miss America in this day and age you have to be so much more than just a pretty face! Popular Everything explores how over time, this contest has paved a new way for female empowerment, tolerance, and inclusion. Get it, girls!
Let’s start at the very beginning. The grand opening of Miss America, or known then as the Inter-City Beauty contest took place over two days in New Jersey’s Atlantic City. Did you know the first-ever pageant started as a means of welcoming tourists over to the area after Labor Day Weekend? You learn something new every day!
During this contest, women across the nation lined up to be judged on their beauty, personality, and ability to interact with crowds. It was paramount for these women to represent the image at the time of a “well-kept” woman, who exercised and ate right. Several permed haircuts and curled eyelashes later, and a winner was announced!
A Whole New Contest
So, were the Inter-City Beauty contests popular? You could say that. The beauty pageant raked in so many U.S. participants that a decision was quickly made to extend the competition a little. Young women who had won over the crowds with their beauty and personality were to now enter into the Bather’s Revue. Let round 2 commence!
Bather’s Revue was, effectively, a means for these girls to get judged on how good they looked in a bathing suit. Over the years, the booming popularity of this bathing suit category meant it would be incorporated into the whole contest, quickly becoming the most popular aspect of the whole thing.
Kicking It Off
So, who was the lucky lady? High school junior, Margaret Gorman from Washington D.C was the first woman to wear the crown titling her as the first Inter-City Beauty, and the trophy winner for Bather’s Revue. If there was any woman who could represent the desired female image at the time, it was the gorgeous Marge.
The following year came around and with it a second pageant, extending to three days. Lo and behold, a new winner was announced; congratulations Mary Katherine Campbell! Margaret had chosen not to stick around and defend her title. By now, the pageant had a new name. The Miss America contest became a hugely pivotal moment in U.S. history.
1923 came around even quicker than you can say the word “pageant.” Over three hundred thousand people gathered to witness the stunning Campbell win the title for the second year in a row. Despite this seeming like a pleasant event that was raking in huge crowds, beneath the surface, a sudden realization began creeping in.
One of the leading contenders for this year’s contest was a married woman. To some, this challenged the “young and pure” image these contestants were supposed to uphold at the time. As a result, several groups, both religious and for women, decided to vocalize their views on the contest to the public.
Making Things Official
Despite the Newspaper Publisher Association’s attempt to keep papers from mentioning the Miss America pageants, no one seemed to listen! Articles about the most popular pageant in the country continued to ensue, with the contest itself extending to a total of five days. It was the 1924 competition that began setting new rules in place.
A hasty decision that year placed the married Miss. Boston contestant into the provisional division. As soon as this entered public knowledge, new rules were quickly set in place. What was the new order? For no more wives to enter the competition! Moving swiftly on, and Philadelphia’s Ruth Malcomson went on to win the crown.
News of the Miss America contest spread quickly throughout the country; some aspects more than others. The Bather’s Revue category, in particular, started making headlines in the press. The news was heavily influenced by the opinions of women’s and religious groups.
By 1928, the reputation of the contest had changed so much, that officials were faced with no other choice but to shut down not only the bathing suit category but the entire Atlantic City contest. Despite trying to put forward a newer, more wholesome image for these women to uphold, by this point officials were simply fighting an uphill battle.
A Miraculous Recovery
You might say, America getting hit by the Great Depression was the booster needed to get the ball rolling once again. After the traumatic Wall Street Crash, businessmen in the Atlantic City area became convinced that the Miss America pageant was exactly what the country needed to boost revenue, and ultimately get the States out of their financial rut.
So, did they succeed? You bet they did. With a little hard work and a lot of monetary backing over the next two years, 1935 was the year of revival; the contest was back! In an attempt to regain a positive image of this headline-making pageant, certain changes were needed to be made, and they needed to be made quickly.
Making Big Changes
Firstly, a whole new section was added to the competition in replacement to Bather’s Revue; introducing to you all, the talent segment! Not only this, but a new committee was added, comprising only of women. Now, these are some female-empowering moves we like to see, and we’ll tell you exactly why that is.
The overall shift in focus from physical appearance to expertise allowed for a transformation in national attention. Suddenly, the whole of America was beginning to pave a new way for gender equality. These women clearly had more to offer than merely their looks and needed to be taken seriously for their academic abilities too, just like men.
Bigger Things to Come
As the decade advanced, so did the contest! Publications through the means of newspapers, newsreels and journals were rapidly increasing their recognition of the event. Through this boost in public awareness, the Miss America winners were turning into national figures. If you were awarded a crown, you perfectly epitomized the ideal American woman.
Did you know, Miss America winners sold more war bonds than anyone else in the public eye? Due to this, these women were responsible for boosting the morale of the American troops in World War II, now that’s quite something! This came as a hasty decision by officials, after facing threats that the pageant could get shut down again.
Another Special Feature
We’ve shown you the brand new talent segment, but it didn’t end there! Come the 1940s, and America had opened its doors to a new scholarship program. While the rest of the country had other preoccupations, the Miss America pageants were quickly becoming a means to improve the lives of women at this time.
Let’s expand a little on this. By 1945, only 76,000 women had graduated from college. It was the influential work of pageant director Lenora S. Slaughter that really transformed these figures. Scholarships were added to the contest to give these women a better education, and provide them with less limited opportunities in life. Go, Lenora!
Flashy New Improvements
The 1950s was here, and with it, a technological revolution! It wasn’t long before residents started fitting television sets into their home, in order to evolve with the developments of the time. We wonder, what was the first thing these people wanted to binge-watch on their screens?
You guessed it, the Miss America pageants! The mid-twentieth century was influential for this major reason: it opened it’s doors to the first-ever television broadcast. Finally, the contest had become a source of entertainment for people across the entire country.
Let’s talk numbers. Ever since the first broadcast, the US pageant was breaking records. A whopping twenty-seven million viewers tuned in to watch one of the biggest competitions of the year play out. It’s safe to say, this pageant had quickly become the biggest leading entertainment show, not too surprising!
How far this pageant had come! Just take a look at where it had begun, holding only eight finalists to the entire country tuning in to get in on the action; it’s really quite remarkable. What makes things even more impressive, is how the new, talented and intelligent image of Miss America was becoming a role model for younger viewers.
The Progress Continued
Just when you thought things regarding the Miss America pageant couldn’t get any better, they did, and this time they were in color! That’s right, 1966 was the year the first colorized broadcast arrived on the television screens for these American viewers. Ratings, unsurprisingly, went through the roof!
Despite these clear advances the pageant had gone through, the country of America still wanted more. After the sudden political upheaval caused by a growth in concerns with the Vietnam War, the pageant was under extreme pressure to continue it’s backing for the US armed forces. In other words, they needed more patriotism!
Forces to Battle
Over the course of their existence, the famous Miss America pageants have been encouraged to follow suit with the constantly changing ways of society. The Vietnam War may have been a slight wake-up call, but the pressures didn’t quite end there.
1968 flew in, and with it a whole new ideology for the treatment of the female gender! A feminist group stormed through Atlantic City boardwalk, campaigning for women’s equal rights. Clearly, these women made quite the impact, because the Miss America Organization soon decided to make a huge change for their benefit.
How Things Unfolded
Second-wave feminism had officially begun! One year after the first protest, both feminist and civil right’s movements proved their unwillingness to back down. During a telecast in 1969 that crowned ballerina, Pamela Eldred the next Miss America, the group threatened to shut down the event through their ongoing campaigns.
How did the Miss America Organizations tackle what was going on? By raising the award for scholarships to $10,000. It was important for the officials to show these women’s groups that the pageants had matured from their early days and that they now prioritized a women’s education over her looks. That’s what we like to hear!
Becoming a Professional Pursuit
Once again, television ratings reached a whole new high for the Miss America competition. Why? The seventies were here, and that meant one thing…the contest’s Golden anniversary! By the time this milestone came around, people spent time reflecting just how far much the competition had blossomed in 50 years.
As crowds watched a law student in 1974 crown the new Miss America, a doctorate student, the new face of Miss America was set. With their increased scholarship money, these women were moving on to better their careers; the feminists couldn’t be more impressed! In other words, motivation for a Miss America crown was to reach professional goals.
Things Got Better
It would seem that over the years, the scholarships just rose and rose! By the time 1979 came around, these grants were totaling a groundbreaking $2 million dollars every year. Talk about allowing these woman to achieve success!
These changes came amid a huge crisis, where audiences questioned the relevance of keeping a Miss America pageant. It is because of this doubt that the decision was made to raise scholarships. Entering a Miss America contest now couldn’t be more relevant; it improved women’s career opportunities and kept in line with the second wave of feminism.
Out with the Old
Speaking of relevance, the pageant decided to update the host, too. Since 1955, actor Bert Parks got the crowds pumped up for the Miss America contests every year with his undeniable stage presence. Despite his success, producers soon felt a change was needed to appeal to the younger audiences of the show.
Parks was replaced by a fresh face, who would better fit the image of the competition. It may have been sad, but Parks ended his time on the show on a high, getting to celebrate 25 spectacular years as the host! To this day, Parks remains a legend and his statue sits right where the Miss America action began, in Atlantic City.
An Iconic Change
We’re hopping over to the eighties now! This certainly was a decade to remember, for one reason in particular. In 1984, the African-American musician, Vanessa Williams got crowned the new Miss America, and the world was in awe! Why? Before 1970, African-American women were prohibited from entering the competition.
Williams had certainly paved a new way for the future of the competition, but things didn’t seem to continue running so smoothly for the star. A series of scandals surrounding her name stripped her of the title, getting replaced by runner-up Suzette Charles; the second African-American to win the crown!
A Completely New Contest
By the time 1990 had arrived, people began seeing the Miss America contests in a whole new light. Not only were women entering the competition to better their professional careers, but to take a dive into the world of humanitarian causes and good deeds, too!
There seemed to be a common trend with the recent winners of the Miss America pageants. They all became spokeswomen for important social causes, from education to helping the less fortunate. It soon became a rule that every Miss America needed to pick their own cause, and in turn, use their status to raise awareness for it. Talk about making the world a better place!
All for Her Benefit
If there’s ever a change in the way these pageants are run, you should know that it was to improve its public image! By the nineties, the crowned winners were keen to better their careers and give back to society, while keeping a humble and approachable manner. In other words, despite their honorable deeds they were still real women!
The nineties were all about appearances. No, not the appearance that dominated the first few contests which focused on these women’s looks, but the visiting type! As faithful humanitarians, these women were expected to take trips such as visiting local charities, schools or even addressing Congress.
The Only Way is Up
We’ve officially broken through into the new millennium! With the new century, came a broadened acceptance of the Miss America competitions. Now more than ever, people were beginning to recognize the countless efforts each Miss America winner was making, to make the world a better place.
In celebration of the contest’s 80th anniversary, a new standard was set in the name of Heather Renee French. The Miss America 2000 champion not only won the crown but the new “Woman of Achievement” award, all for her selfless work towards helping out homeless veterans. What a legend! If there’s one woman we want to define Miss America, it’s Miss. French.
By the time the year 2004 had crept around, people were surprised to learn it had already been 50 years since the first Miss America pageant had been televised; where had the time gone?! American game show host Chris Harrison presented the event which crowned medical doctor-to-be, Deirdre Downs as the winner.
As the contest continued to run, it opened it’s doors to more women hoping to make a difference in society. Just one year after this anniversary, a sister company was created! Miss America’s Outstanding Teen commended youth on their scholastic achievement and contributions to their community. This takes “starting them young” to a whole new, more inspirational level.
Our Current Winner
We’ve covered a great deal history from the Miss America pageant competitions, so now here comes the time to focus on the most recent winner; there’s no time like the present, after all. Introducing you all to Nia Franklin, Miss America 2019 and the third African-American winner in a consecutive row!
As a lover for all things music, this American composer has enjoyed a position as a teacher and even music composer, spreading her rhythmic pearls of wisdom to others. She’s also an active member of AmeriCorps, a charity that brings music artists to public schools and community centers. We’re 100% certain this woman will continue to do great things!