Journal of Popular Culture. Summer2000, Vol. 34 Issue 1, p105-126. 22p.
The article discusses the impact of the Miss America pageant on U.S. culture. Regardless of what is on the calendar, every U.S. resident knows that Labor Day marks the beginning of the end of summer, and that summer truly ends on the first Monday after Labor Day, with the glitz and glamour of the longest running beauty contest, the Miss America pageant. Throughout the pageants long history, thousands of young U.S. women, supported by family, friends, and community, have worked and sacrificed, and spent hundreds and, in many cases, several thousands of dollars, in pursuit of wearing the most coveted crown in the U.S., gliding down the runway in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The enduring popularity of the Miss America pageant over the course of its seventy-nine year history supports the contention that the pageant represents a microcosm of change in U.S. culture, and the pageant, at any given time in its history, for the most part, reflects the values and beliefs of the greater U.S. society, particularly in its view of women. The Miss America pageant was the brainchild of several Atlantic City, New Jersey, hotel owners who, in 1921, were seeking a means to prolong the summer resort season.
The Miss America program exists to provide personal and professional opportunities for young women to promote their voices in culture, politics and the community. It provides a forum for today's young women to express their viewpoints, talents and accomplishments to audiences during the telecast and to the public-at-large during the ensuing year. Almost all contestants have either received, or are in the process of earning either college or postgraduate degrees, and utilize Miss America scholarship grants to further their educations.
The Miss America Competition began in 1921 as part of an elaborate public festival staged by Atlantic City businessmen to extend the summer tourist season. In succeeding years, the Miss America competition evolved into an American tradition with contestants from each of the states competing every September for the coveted title of Miss America. Early on, the talent competition was made part of the Competition in addition to the original swimsuit segment. The event made a national ritual of the by then powerful notion that the pursuit of beauty ought to be a women's primary goal.
The Miss America pageant was first held in September 1921 in Atlantic City. It began as part of a marketing plan by the Businessmen's League of Atlantic City to keep tourists on the boardwalk after Labor Day. It organized a Fall Frolic, which was held on September 25, 1920. The most popular event that day (overseen by Ernestine Cremona, in a flowing white robe) was a parade of young women pushed along the boardwalk in rolling chairs, and its success inspired a similar event the following year. At the same time, to increase circulation East Coast newspapers had begun sponsoring beauty pageants in which submitted photographs were judged. The Businessmen's League decided to capitalize on the idea, inviting winners of local newspaper beauty contests to the next Fall Frolic for an inter-city beauty contest. The contest would be judged on two levels: popularity and beauty. The winner of the beauty contest, the Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America, would be awarded the title of Golden Mermaid. On September 8, 1921 100,000 people came to the boardwalk to watch the contestants, a turnout much greater than expected. A panel of artists serving as judges named 16-year-old Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C. the winner of both contests, awarding her $100. When Gorman returned in 1922 to defend her title, she was draped in the American flag and called Miss America. Ironically, One of the great paradoxes of American women's history's that the pageant was first held in the same year that