99 Years Ago: A Look Back at the First Miss America Pageant
The iconic Miss America Pageant crowned its first winner almost a century ago; September 8th, 1921, to be exact. What started as an “exuberant local pageant” became one of the most popular and anticipated events in the country's cultural calendar.
Indeed, the Miss America Organization says that these days, the contest is more of “a movement of empowering young women everywhere to dream big, to insist that their voices be heard and to inspire change in the world around them.” It didn’t start that way, though; it started as a bathing beauty revue that had grown out of a “fall frolic” on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
For that first Miss America contest, an estimated 100,000 people lined the boardwalk to watch a 16 year old from Washington, DC, Margaret Gorman, get crowned the “Golden Mermaid” or Miss America. Over the years, the pageant evolved. A talent component was added in 1938, and in the 1940's, the compensation changed from furs and movie contracts to scholarships. A minimum age of 18 was also instituted.
The pageant was first televised in 1954, hosted by Bob Russell. He would be replaced as host the next year by Bert Parks who continued in that role until 1979. By the early 1960s, it was reported to be the highest rated television broadcast of the year, bringing attention to Atlantic City.
After the 2004 pageant, Miss America left Atlantic City for Las Vegas, but returned ten years later, only to move to the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut last year. There is no pageant this year due to the pandemic. The next one is scheduled for December of 2021.