The Miss America pageant is a long-standing competition which awards prizes to young women contestants from the states of the United States of America. The first prize winner of the national pageant is awarded the title of "Miss America" for one year.
The Pageant originated as a beauty contest in the early 1920s, but now prefers to avoid terms like "beauty contest" since beauty is no longer the primary criterion used to judge contestants. Some involved with the organization say that "other pageants are looking for a model, but Miss America is looking for a role model".
The Miss America competition originated on September 7, 1921 as a beauty contest in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was initiated in an attempt to keep tourists in Atlantic City after Labor Day.
In the early years of the pageant, a beauty competition of the women wearing bathing suits was the main event. When the Miss America organization decided to make this a less important part of the competition, swimsuit-making sponsors started their own separate pageant, "Miss USA". Yolande Betbeze, Miss America 1951, refused to pose for publicity pictures while wearing a swimsuit, citing that she wanted to be recognized as a serious opera singer. Catalina Swimwear, which was a Miss America sponsor, split off and created the Miss USA/Universe pageants.
The pageant has been nationally televised since 1954. The pageant peaked in the early 1960s when it was repeatedly the highest rated program on American television. It was seen as a symbol of the United States, Miss America often referred to as the female equivalent of the President. The pageant stressed conservative values, contestants were not expected to have ambitions beyond being a good wife. It was also only open to whites, a parallel Miss Black America pageant being held.
With the rise of feminism and the civil rights movement the pageant became a focus of protests each year, and its audience began to fade. In the 1970s it began to change admiting Blacks and encouraging a new type of professional women. This was symbolized by the 1974 victory of Rebecca Ann King an outspokenly pro-choice law student.
Still ratings flagged. In an attmpet to create a younger image, Bert Parks emcee from 1955 to 1979 was fired. Parks had virtually became an American icon, singing show's signature song, "There She Is," as the newly-crowned Miss America took her walk down the ramp. In 1980. His firing prompted a public outcry. In protest, Johnny Carson organized a letter writing campaign to reinstate Parks; it was unsuccessful.
In 1984, Vanessa Lynn Williams became the first Black winner, but was forced to relinquish her title when Penthouse magazine published nude pictures of her that were taken before her contest victories; finalist Suzette Charles was crowned Miss America.
In the 1990s the pageant was reformed into The Miss America Organization, a not-for-profit corporation with three divisions: the Miss America Pageant, a scholarship fund, and a Miss America foundation.
Miss America is connected to various subsidiary programs throughout the U.S.A. Local contests select local representatives (e.g., "Miss Mobile, Alabama") who go on to participate in state pageants (e.g., for "Miss Alabama"). The winners of the various state pageants (plus a pageant for "Miss District of Columbia") go on to compete for the title of "Miss America" at an annual competition held in Atlantic City. Miss U.S. Virgin Islands will compete in Atlantic City, starting with the 2004 pageant.
Contestants for Miss America and the various state and local pageants are selected by panels of judges based on a set of four competitions:
- 1) Interview Each contestant converses with the judges on a variety of topics, from frivolous trivia to serious political and social issues. The contestant is awarded points for being well spoken, polite, articulate, and confident. This competition is less known by the general public than other aspects of the pageant, since unlike the other three does not take place on a theater stage nor is it usually televised.
- 2) Talent The contestant performs on stage before the judges and an audience. The most common talents are singing or dancing, but a variety of other talents may be exibited at the contestant's choosing; some have demonstrated juggling or playing musical instruments; one even chose to demonstrate the proper way to pack a suitcase.
- 3) Swimsuit In the famous swimsuit competition constestants rapidly walk on and off stage in swimsuits and high-heeled shoes. The Miss America pageant regulates certain minimum standards of modesty the swimwear must comply with. Judging for this portion of the competition focuses on overall physical fitness, poise and posture. Until recently, the contestants were required to wear identical, somewhat dated, one-piece suits. Recently, the organization has allowed contestants to choose conservative two-piece suits (bikinis) or more modern one-piece suits.
- 4) Evening gown Similar to the swimsuit competiton, but the contestants walk slowly in formal evening gowns.
A casual wear section was added to the Miss America competition in 2003, and is filtering down to state and local competitions.
A community service platform became a requirement of Miss America contestants beginning with the 1989 pageant. Platforms promoted by previous Miss Americas have included AIDS awareness and prevention, diabetes awareness, outreach for homeless veterans, domestic violence awareness and support for terminal breast cancer patients.
Prizes are given at local, state, and national level, consisting most commonly of scholarships for use in higher education, sometimes suplimented with money and merchandise donated by sponsors.
- 1921 Margaret Gorman, Washington, D.C.
- 1922–23 Mary Campbell, Columbus, Ohio
- 1924 Ruth Malcolmson, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- 1925 Fay Lamphier, Oakland, California
- 1926 Norma Smallwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma
- 1927 Lois Delaner, Joliet, Illinois
- 1933 Marion Bergeron, West Haven, Connecticut
- 1935 Henrietta Leaver, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- 1936 Rose Coyle, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- 1937 Bette Cooper, Bertrand Island, New Jersey
- 1938 Marilyn Meseke, Marion, Ohio
- 1939 Patricia Donnelly, Detroit, Michigan
- 1940 Frances Marie Burke, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- 1941 Rosemary LaPlanche, Los Angeles, California
- 1942 JoCaroll Dennison, Tyler, Texas
- 1943 Jean Bartel, Los Angeles, California
- 1944 Venus Ramey, Washington, D.C.
- 1945 Bess Myerson, New York, New York
- 1946 Marilyn Buferd, Los Angeles, California
- 1947 Barbara Walker, Memphis, Tennessee
- 1948 BeBe Shopp, Hopkins, Minnesota
- 1949 Jacque Mercer, Litchfield, Arizona
- 1951 Yolande Betbeze, Mobile, Alabama
- 1952 Coleen Kay Hutchins, Salt Lake City, Utah
- 1953 Neva Jane Langley, Macon, Georgia
- 1954 Evelyn Margaret Ay, Ephrata, Pennsylvania
- 1955 Lee Meriwether, San Francisco, California
- 1956 Sharon Ritchie, Denver, Colorado
- 1957 Marian McKnight, Manning, South Carolina
- 1958 Marilyn Van Derbur, Denver, Colorado
- 1959 Mary Ann Mobley, Brandon, Mississippi
- 1960 Lynda Lee Mead, Natchez, Mississippi
- 1961 Nancy Fleming, Montague, Michigan
- 1962 Maria Fletcher, Asheville, North Carolina
- 1963 Jacquelyn Mayer, Sandusky, Ohio
- 1964 Donna Axum, El Dorado, Arkansas
- 1965 Vonda Kay Van Dyke, Phoenix, Arizona
- 1966 Deborah Irene Bryant, Overland Park, Kansas
- 1967 Jane Anne Jayroe, Laverne, Oklahoma
- 1968 Debra Dene Barnes, Moran, Kansas
- 1969 Judith Anne Ford, Belvidere, Illinois
- 1970 Pamela Anne Eldred, Birmingham, Michigan
- 1971 Phyllis Ann George, Denton, Texas
- 1972 Laurie Lea Schaefer, Columbus, Ohio
- 1973 Terry Anne Meeuwsen, De Pere, Wisconsin
- 1974 Rebecca Ann King, Denver, Colorado
- 1975 Shirley Cothran, Fort Worth, Texas
- 1976 Tawny Elaine Godin, Yonkers, New York
- 1977 Dorothy Kathleen Benham, Edina, Minnesota
- 1978 Susan Perkins, Columbus, Ohio
- 1979 Kylene Barker, Galax, Virginia
- 1980 Cheryl Prewitt, Ackerman, Mississippi
- 1981 Susan Powell, Elk City, Oklahoma
- 1982 Elizabeth Ward, Russellville, Arkansas
- 1983 Debra Maffett, Anaheim, California
- 1984 Vanessa Williams, Milwood, New York (resigned)
- 1984 Suzette Charles, Mays Landing, New Jersey
- 1985 Sharlene Wells, Salt Lake City, Utah
- 1986 Susan Akin, Meridian, Mississippi
- 1987 Kellye Cash, Memphis, Tennessee
- 1988 Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, Monroe, Michigan
- 1989 Gretchen Carlson, Anoka, Minnesota
- 1990 Debbye Turner, Mexico, Missouri
- 1991 Marjorie Judith Vincent, Oak Park, Illinois
- 1992 Carolyn Suzanne Sapp, Honolulu, Hawaii
- 1993 Leanza Cornett, Jacksonville, Florida
- 1994 Kimberly Clarice Aiken, Columbia, South Carolina
- 1995 Heather Whitestone, Birmingham, Alabama
- 1996 Shawntel Smith, Muldrow, Oklahoma
- 1997 Tara Dawn Holland, Overland Park, Kansas
- 1998 Katherine Shindle, Evanston, Illinois
- 1999 Nicole Johnson, Roanoke, Virginia
- 2000 Heather French, Maysville, Kentucky
- 2001 Angela Perez Baraquio, Honolulu, Hawaii
- 2002 Katie Harman, Gresham, Oregon
- 2003 Erika Harold, Urbana, Illinois
- 2004 Ericka Dunlap, Orlando, Florida
- 2005 Deidre Downs, Birmingham, Alabama
- Miss America official site (http://www.missamerica.org/)