The Miss America beauty pageant, a cherished American tradition, has been a symbol of grace, talent, and beauty for nearly a century.
Since its inception in the early 1920s, this iconic pageant has not only celebrated the accomplishments and charisma of young women from across the nation but has also mirrored the societal shifts and evolving ideals of America.
The origins of beauty pageants in the United States can be traced back to the late 19th century.
One of the earliest documented beauty pageants in the country was the “Atlantic City Pageant,” held in 1854 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
This event laid the groundwork for what would later become the Miss America Pageant.
In 1921, the Miss America Pageant made its debut in Atlantic City. It was initially conceived as a way to extend the tourist season beyond Labor Day, drawing visitors to the beachside resort town.
The pageant hosted the winners of local newspaper beauty contests in the “Inter-City Beauty” Contest, which was attended by over one hundred thousand people.
Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C., was crowned Miss America 1921, having won both the popularity and beauty contests, and was awarded $100.
In the 1930s, the beauty contests introduced the talent competition, elevating the event beyond a mere beauty contest.
Contestants were now expected to demonstrate their skills and talents, which ranged from singing and dancing to playing musical instruments and performing dramatic monologues.
This innovation recognized that beauty was not the sole measure of a woman’s worth and added depth to the competition.
The popularity of the Miss America pageant prompted other organizations to establish similar contests in the 1950s and beyond.
Some were significant while others were trivial, such as the National Donut Queen contest. The Miss World contest started in 1951, Miss Universe started in 1952 as did Miss USA. Miss International started in 1960.
Miss Asia Pacific International which started in 1968 is the first and oldest beauty pageant in Asia.
The Miss Black America contest started in 1968 in response to the exclusion of African-American women from the Miss America pageant.
The Miss Universe Organization started the Miss Teen USA in 1983 for the 14-19 age group.
Miss Earth started in 2001, which channels the beauty pageant entertainment industry as an effective tool to actively promote the preservation of the environment.
The requirement for contestants to wear a swimsuit was a controversial aspect of the various competitions.
The controversy was heightened with the increasing popularity of the bikini after its introduction in 1946. The bikini was banned for the Miss America contest in 1947 because of Roman Catholic protesters.
When the Miss World contest started in 1951, there was an outcry when the winner was crowned in a bikini.
Pope Pius XII condemned the crowning as sinful, and countries with religious traditions threatened to withdraw delegates.
The bikini was banned for future and other contests. It was not until the late 1990s that they became permitted again.
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