20 Fascinating Things You Didn't Know About the History Of The Miss America Pageant
20 Fascinating Things You Didn’t Know About the History Of The Miss America Pageant

20 Fascinating Things You Didn’t Know About the History Of The Miss America Pageant

Shannon Quinn - November 12, 2018

20 Fascinating Things You Didn’t Know About the History Of The Miss America Pageant
WWII War Bond featuring “Miss Liberty”. Credit: AllThatIsInteresting.com

6. Miss America During WWII

As mentioned earlier, an artist named Howard Chandler Christy was a judge in the Miss America Pageant for several years, because he was an artist who used models in his paintings. He specialized in war bond advertising, and became famous for the picture of a young woman in a sailor suit. The tradition of associating Miss America with attracting people into buying war bonds with the face of the “Girl Next Door” became popular, and it continued on for decades.

Venus Ramey won Miss America in 1944, and she spent her year of touring the country to ask citizens to buy war bonds to help the soldiers overseas. She personally raised millions of dollars, which was more than any other celebrity endorsement or advertisement in the movie theater.

20 Fascinating Things You Didn’t Know About the History Of The Miss America Pageant
Miss America winner Venus Ramey’s likeness was painted on the side of a bomber. Credit: Pinterest

During the war, a lot of airplane pilots would paint pin up girls on the sides of their airplanes. At least one of them featured a woman who looked like the spitting image Venus Ramey riding a bomb. Even after the war was over, and Venus returned to live at her family farm in Kentucky, she ended up in the newspapers again, after using a shotgun to blow out the tires of men who were trying to rob her.

It was no secret that people loved Miss America, and she became a symbol of patriotism. Pictures like the one seen above became the new idea of what an American girl should be, and it was just a beginning of style changes and so much more to come in the future.

20 Fascinating Things You Didn’t Know About the History Of The Miss America Pageant
In 1954-1955, Miss America Lee Meriwether was on TV for the first time. Credit: IMDB

5. Miss America Was On TV For The First Time In 1954

After decades of being broadcast on the radio and in newspapers, the Miss America Pageant finally came on TV for the first time in 1954. The contest had already been popular with radio and newspaper alone, but airing the competition on TV changed everything. The contest was earning ad revenue from commercials, and more people wanted to buy tickets to see it in person. The contest was no longer just seen by adults who lived close enough to travel to Atlantic City.

Little girls all over the country were watching pageants for the first time on television, and this became a snowball effect. Along with Barbie Dolls, girls were reevaluating the definition of beauty, based on Miss America.

20 Fascinating Things You Didn’t Know About the History Of The Miss America Pageant
Feminists protesting Miss America in 1968. Credit: Smithsonian

4. In 1968, Feminists Protested Against The Pageant

In 1968, a radical feminist named Carol Hanisch was outraged at how Miss America was perpetuating an unrealistic image of the “ideal woman”. Even for women who were not competing in the beauty pageant, these expectations of beauty were beginning to change the standards for women in every day life. Miss America is not the only thing to blame, of course, but Carol Hanisch was angry enough to claim that they were part of the patriarchy that needed to go away.

Since the original pageant was created as a marketing scheme to sell more newspapers, and event organizers continue to profit off of the contest to this day, feminists see Miss America as a tool for men to use women’s bodies for their own benefit.

20 Fascinating Things You Didn’t Know About the History Of The Miss America Pageant
Contestants in the Miss Black America pageant. Credit: USA Today

3. Miss Black America 1967-1977

There had been black beauty pageants before, and Miss America had begun to allow black girls to audition since the 1950’s, but the inequality in who was chosen as the winner was clear to everyone, and there was an overwhelming bias to accepting white girl candidates and winners. The founder, J. Morris Anderson, felt his heart breaking when he saw his young daughters saying that they wanted to become Miss America some day, but he knew they would never be able to.

Anderson started the Miss Black America pageant and held it directly across the street from the original Miss America. This way, people could see the signs and went to visit both events. It also was a very public statement that the separate competition was necessary, since girls never stood a chance in the original Miss America.In 1971, Oprah Winfrey competed in the competition as “Miss Tennessee”, and she is one of the most famous contestants in history. As time went on, the original Miss American contest became more inclusive with racial diversity, and the Miss Black America contest stopped in 1977.

20 Fascinating Things You Didn’t Know About the History Of The Miss America Pageant
Vanessa Williams after winning Miss America. Credit: Essence

2. Scandals, And The Pageant Downfalls

Vanessa Lynn Williams was the first black woman to win the Miss America pageant in 1984. As a teenager, she was an aspiring model, and she was manipulated by a photographer to agree to do a racy photo shoot. After she became famous, the photographer tried to sell her nudes to Playboy, who refused to do so without her permission. He tried again with Penthouse Magazine, who seemed to have no issue secretly posting those old photos behind her back. Vanessa Williams was humiliated, and had to apologize to her entire family for her past mistakes and relinquish her title as Miss America. She attempted to sue Penthouse magazine, but her lawyer told her that if it went to trial, the defense would uncover every single detail about her life to try to damage her reputation. She opted to let it go, and try to move on with her life.

Thankfully, Vanessa was able to come back from the scandal. She had a very successful music career. Her song “Save the Best for Last” is still played on the radio today, and “Color of the Wind” was used in the Disney movie Pocahontas.

After this scandal, people began to realize just how much young women in the modeling industry were being exploited. Today, most of the scandals have everything to do with money, like the 2016 scandal where Miss Florida was kicked out of the competition for using her own hair and makeup team, and she turned around and sued Miss America for $15 million. It’s no secret that pageants are big business, and they can make or break a woman’s career.

20 Fascinating Things You Didn’t Know About the History Of The Miss America Pageant
Pageant contestants spend thousands of dollars on dresses, makeup, and hair products. Credit: The New York Post

1. Today, Aspiring Beauty Queens Are Going Broke

Today, beauty pageants cause very polarizing opinions; You either love them, or you hate them. TV shows like Toddlers in Tiaras gave a behind-the-scenes look of the cringe-worthy world we now live in, where literal babies are paraded around by their parents in hope that some day, they might grow up to become the next Miss America.

In the original Miss America, competitors showed up wearing their Sunday Best. Today, they are expected to buy multiple outfits that are incredibly expensive to make. On average, one dress costs hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Their goal is to win a scholarship, but only one girl out of hundreds of competitors will actually go away winning the crown.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Miss America: A History. MissAmerica.org

How Vanessa Williams Endured Her Miss America Scandal. The OWN Network. YouTube.

Fifty Years Ago, Protestors Took To The Miss America Pageant And Electrified the Feminist Movement. Roxane Gay. Smithsonian. 2018.

I Trained Like Miss USA For 60 Days. Michelle Khare. YouTube.

1944 Miss America Who Inspired WWII Effort Dies At 91. Business Insider.

Beauties Are Going Broke Trying To Win Pageant Crowns. Christian Gollayan. New York Post.

Advertisement