Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Swimming Suit Beauties -- Way Back Then

by Connie Cortright

Courtesy of Wiki Commons
The Miss America pageant is approaching it's 100th anniversary in a couple years. Held in Atlantic City, it was started in 1921 with the name "Fall Frolic" by local businessmen to extend the summer tourist season beyond Labor Day. The first woman crowned as the winner was sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman.

The next year, the East Coast newspapers wanted to increase their circulations, so joined in with the sponsorship of the event. In the beginning years, rules for the contest didn't exist. There were girls from the age of fifteen and women who were married that competed for the title of "Miss America", which was first used in 1922. The youngest person to win the title of Miss America was fifteen-year-old Miss Connecticut, Marian Bergerson in 1933. After that, the rules for the contest specified that contestants had to be 18-26 year old single women.

During the 20s, the contest was named "Inter-City Beauty Contest" because the contestants were winners of local city competitions from such locations as New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Camden, and Ocean City. It wasn't officially named "The Miss America Pageant" until 1940.

The pageant was controversial from its inception because of the "loose morals" that were displayed by the contestants. Most of the people in the US were offended by the bobbed hair cuts and bare arms and legs that the women had to display, especially in the Bather's Revue portion of the contest. The dissenters won the argument when the annual event was cancelled in 1928.

The terrible economy during the Depression even affected the pageant. It was cancelled for several years and didn't resume it's annual competition until 1933. The five years between '28 and '32 were the only ones that the pageant hasn't taken place in September since the 1921 start.

The winners of the early contests were awarded anywhere between $100 in 1921 and $100,000 in 1926. With the popularity of the contest expanding, "Miss California" won the contest in 1925 and became Miss America. That was the year that the contest was broadcast live on the radio. Not too many radio stations were in existence that year, but the contest grew more in popularity as radio stations expanded.

During the 1930s, news about the contests was published in newspapers and journals across the country. Newsreels, shown in movie theaters, allowed people to actually watch the women participate in the contest even if it was seen after the fact.  It was first broadcast on television in 1954.

The early contestants competed to win money and often movie contracts. In 1944 the prize for the contest was changed from cash to college scholarships. The contest became more accepted as main stream after that time.

While growing up, I remember watching the Miss America Pageant every year. I'm not sure how important it is in the lives of Americans today, but it is an icon of our country that has lasted for almost a hundred years. That's quite an accomplishment in itself.

Information taken from Miss America - Wikipedia and Miss America - History

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