Little Bits of History

There She Is, Miss America

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 11, 2010

Lee Ann Meriwether as Miss America

September 11, 1954: Miss America, the oldest beauty pageant in the US, is first televised with Grace Kelly as one of the judges and Bess Myerson reporting backstage. Lee Ann Meriwether was crowned the winner in front of 27 million viewers.

The pageant originated in Atlantic City in 1921 and was renamed as Miss America in 1922 with Margaret Gorman, 16, winning. It was originally a beauty competition with the women wearing bathing suits as the main event. The talent competition was added in 1935. Starting in 1950, the title reflected the following year, so there is no Miss America of 1950, but instead it skipped from 1949 to 1951.

Interest in the competition peaked in the 1960s with Miss America being regarded at the time as the female equivelent of the President. With the rise of feminism and civil rights, audience ratings fell each year. African-Americans and professional women were included in the competition in the 1970s while Bert Parks, the emcee from 1955-79, was dismissed in the hopes that a younger host would improve ratings.

Today’s pageant has four competitions: interview, talent, swimsuit, and evening gown. Originally, all contestants wore identical swimsuits; today they are given more leeway to choose the type of suit to wear, but standards are set by the organization. Mississippi is the only state to have two winners in a row. California and Ohio tie for the most winners with six from each state. Twenty-one states have never had a winner.

“There are women who are not beautiful but only look that way.” – Karl Kraus

“It has been said that a pretty face is a passport. But it’s not, it’s a visa, and it runs out fast.” – Julie Burchill

“Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless, peacocks and lilies for instance.” – John Ruskin

“As much as I like the Miss America tradition, it too is part of a bygone era. Reality TV shows have taken over, and Miss America is so old-fashioned.” – David Phillips

Also on this day, in 1903 the first race was held at the Milwaukee Mile.

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