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There She Is, Miss America Winners Then and Now

In 1921 Margaret Gorman won the very first Miss America competition wearing only a bathing suit. She was deemed the winner based on the loudness of the gathered crowd at the boardwalk of Atlantic City and points given by local artists. After Margaret’s win president of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers, told the New York Times, “She represents the type of womanhood America needs — strong, red blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood. It is in her type that the hope of the country rests.”

The 93rd Miss America Competition will air this Sunday at 9pm Eastern on ABC. The 2013 show will be broadcast live from Atlantic City, returning to where the pageant began after several years in Las Vegas. The big story within this year’s contestants is that one of the women vying for the crown (Miss Kansas) will not be covering up her tattoos before walking onto the stage. Pageant officials explain, “we’ve probably had girls with tattoos before who chose to cover them and she’s chosen not to cover them.”

Pageant Chairman and CEO Sam Haskell is thrilled to have the pageant back in Atlantic City as he considers Miss America to be a child of the city. “When you have thousands of people from all over the country coming to be here and you see a broadcast that features Atlantic City all the way through it, you see a parade that’s going to be televised for the very first time about Atlantic City and all the excitement in Atlantic City, it’s going to make Atlantic City look very relevant.”

Sam also says another special accomplishment of this year is that 35% of the contestants are in medical, science, technology, engineering or math fields. It is because of this great percentage that the organization has partnered with the U.S. Secretary of Education and Department of Education to establish specific STEM related scholarships. Sam shares, “we’re going to be awarding two $5,000 scholarships separate and apart from the Miss America scholarships based on how they place and finish in the competition — two $5,000 STEM scholarships to those who are most outstanding in that area. The Department of Education is coming down to judge those contestants and be a part of that with us.”

Earlier this week the Miss America Organization announced Miss California Crystal Lee and Miss Mississippi Chelsea Rick were the recipients of the STEM scholarships.

I try to watch the competition every year and I am not sure I can explain why. I have never been a pageant girl nor have I haver aspired to be one, but there is something about the ceremony of it all, the tradition, that I enjoy. There are parts of the contest I enjoy more than others (I’ll take the talent competition over the swimsuit strut any day!) but what I honestly love the most is seeing the face of the winner the moment she realizes she will wear the crown.

The very first Miss America winner was vocal about her dislike of the competition in later years, but I wonder how she would have felt about the advances the organization has made recently.

Miss America Winners from 1921 to today:

  • Then and Now 1 of 21
    There She Is: Miss America, Then and Now

    The Miss America Pageant has come a long way since 1921. The official site for Miss America shares, "The Miss America Organization is one of the nation's leading achievement programs and the world's largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women. Last year, the Miss America Organization and its state and local organizations made available more than $45 million in cash and scholarship assistance." 

  • Margaret Gorman | 1921 2 of 21
    1921

    In 1921 Margaret won "The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America" contest in Atlantic City, NJ. That contest is what led to Margaret being named the first Miss America. Later in her life Margaret came to despise the contest that made her famous. She told an interviewer in 1980, "I never cared to be Miss America. It wasn't my idea. I am so bored by it all. I really want to forget the whole thing."

     

    Image Credit: Wikimedia

  • Ruth Malcomson | 1924 3 of 21
    1924

    Ruth was an 18 year old Philadelphian when she won the title of Miss America. After the contest she published '10 Rules For Beauty':

    1. Rise early.
    2. Eat a hearty breakfast.
    3. Exercise.
    4. No alcohol.
    5. Smoking is detrimental.
    6. Get outdoors.
    7. Eat a light lunch.
    8. Eat a satisfying dinner.
    9. Early to bed.
    10. Sleep.

     

    Image Credit: Library of Congress, Bains Collection, LOC: "No known restrictions on publication." 

  • Marian Bergeron | 1933 4 of 21
    1933

    Marian is the youngest winner of Miss America. She won the contest at age 15. Reports from the Miss America organization share, "There was so much confusion during and after the vote tabulations that nobody informed Marian she had won. She was unaware of her victory until the dressing assistants placed the banner on her."

     

    Image Credit: Miss America 1933

  • Patricia Donnelly | 1939 5 of 21
    1939

    Patricia entered the Miss Michigan contest on a dare! After she won Miss America the Wayne County scholarship program says she "toured the country making personal appearances prior to World War II, and speaking to audiences around the nation about patriotism and boosting the country's morale. "

     

    Image Credit: Ebay

  • Venus Ramey | 1944 6 of 21
    1944

    Venus, crowned Miss America in 1944, wrote a pretty intense letter to Miss America 1998 to let her know she did not agree with her platform. She begins the letter: "Dear Kate, Now that you wear the crown of Miss America 1998, we have something in common. I wore that crown in 1944. So I hope you won't mind a few words to the wise, from an old bathing-suit bimbo to a young one." What follows can only be defined as a class of the times. 

     

    Image Credit: Ovguide

  • Lee Meriwether | 1955 7 of 21
    1955

    After Lee was crowned Miss America she landed a job on The Today Show and began to study acting in New York. She then went on to have a very successful acting career. You may know her as the very first Catwoman in the original Batman movie.

     

    Image Credit: Miss America via PR Newswire

  • Mary Ann Mobley | 1959 8 of 21
    1959

    Mary Ann is considered one of the most successful winners of Miss America. The organization boasts, "She is probably the only Miss America ever to achieve success in film, television, Broadway, personal appearances, and as a documentary filmmaker."

     

    Image Credit: Mary Ann Mobley's website

  • Vonda Kay Van Dyke | 1965 9 of 21
    1965

    The Miss America organization has declared Vonda to be a woman who achieved many firsts on the show. "She was the first to appear on stage in talent competition as a ventriloquist, the first to speak of her faith on national television, and the first and only winner to be named Miss Congeniality."

     

    Image Credit: Zazzle

  • Judith Anne Ford | 1969 10 of 21
    1969b

    Judith Ann was one of the first Miss America contestants to use her athletic abilities to win the talent competition. She wowed the judges with her trampoline exhibition!

     

    Image Credit: Ebay

  • Terry Anne Meeuwsen | 1973 11 of 21
    1973

    Terry Anne studied journalism after her Miss America win in 1973. She later became a host of The 700 Club in the 1980's. 

     

    Image Credit: Antique Vintage Postcards via Ebay

  • Susan Perkins | 1978 12 of 21
    1978b

    In 2010 Susan gave advice to a Miss Ohio contestant who was about to embark on her own Miss America journey. "She should be well-read and well-informed with regard to what is happening in our country and the world today. If her mindset is that she is competing with herself to do her best job in every aspect of the competition then she will truly enjoy and benefit from the experience whatever the outcome."

     

    Image Credit: Ebay

     

  • Elizabeth Ward | 1982 13 of 21
    1982b

    Elizabeth might be the only former Miss America winner connected to a presidential scandal. Now known as Elizabeth Gracen, she has gone on to have a successful acting career within the sci-fi world. 

     

    Image Credit: Ebay

  • Vanessa L. Williams | 1984 14 of 21
    1984b

    Vanessa was the first African American Miss America. After she won the crown she received death threats. She was later forced to resign after questionable photos of her surfaced. The first runner up, Suzette Charles, also African American, was named the new Miss America for 1984. 

     

    Image Credit: Ebay

  • Gretchen Carlson | 1989 15 of 21
    1989b

    Gretchen has enjoyed great success as an anchor. Earlier this week, on the 25th anniversary of her win of Miss America, Gretchen stepped down as a co-anchor of Fox & Friends after seven years in the role.

     

    Image Credit: Ebay

  • Heather Whitestone | 1995 16 of 21
    1995b

    As the first Miss America winner who was deaf, Heather used her fame to champion deaf causes. Her dance during the talent competition on Miss America has been called one of the most beautiful performances. Watch Heather dance.

     

    Image Credit: Heather's Facebook page

  • Katherine Shindle | 1998 17 of 21
    1998

    Katherine's platform for her Miss America reign was HIV/AIDS awareness. After finishing her degree at Northwestern she went on to perform as Vivienne Kensington in Legally Blonde on Broadway and has continued to have a successful career as a stage actress.

     

    Image Credit: Ebay

  • Ericka Dunlap | 2004 18 of 21
    2004b

    Ericka's complete shock over winning Miss America is STILL talked about. Recently Ericka and her ex husband came in third on The Amazing Race 15. She now works as an image consultant and recently wowed entrepreneur Steve Mariotti with 12 tips for image and confidence. 

    Image Credit: Miss America via PR Newswire

  • Kirsten Haglund | 2008 19 of 21
    2008b

    The 2008 Miss America show was the result of a complete makeover. In the weeks leading up to the show TLC aired a reality show featuring the contestants. This was also the first year Miss America had ever aired on the TLC network. The vibe of the new revamped show was akin to an episode of The Bachelor

     

    Image Credit: Wikimedia

  • Teresa Scanlan | 2011 20 of 21
    2011b

    Teresa had just graduated high school before entering the Miss America pageant. At 17 years old, she was the youngest winner of Miss America since the 1930's. Now a sophomore at Patrick Henry College Teresa is focused on learning how to connect. "I'm actually a very introverted person, and so when it comes to person-to-person interaction and not having my title as Miss America precede me… it scares me to death." 

     

    Image Credit: Teresa's Facebook page

  • Mallory Hagan | 2013 21 of 21
    2013b

    Mallory is about to end her reign as the current Miss America. She recently spoke to Sasha Goldstein from the NY Daily News about responsibilities of role models. "You're responsible for the people who look up to you, who need a good role model. Miss America has always been "the ideal" but I've tried to be a good role model in that I've tried to just be myself and hopefully in some way give the girls who look up to me and follow me permission to do the same."

     

    Image Credit: PR Photos

Sources:
“Bikinis, tattoos, lobster high heels, and more style secrets from the Miss America pageant”, Entertainment Weekly
Miss America official site
“People and Places: First Miss America”, PBS

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