Miss America

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For other uses, see Miss America (disambiguation).
Miss America
Scholarship pageant
Predecessor September 25, 1920 (1920-09-25) in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States (The Fall Frolic)
Founded September 8, 1921 (1921-09-08) in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States
Headquarters Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States
Key people
Sam Haskell (Executive Chairman and CEO)
Lynn Hackerman Weidner (Chairman)
Website missamerica.org

Miss America is an annual competition open to women from the United States between the ages of 17 and 24. Originating in the 1920s as a beauty pageant, the competition is now judged on competitors' talent performances and interviews in addition to their physical appearance. It is run by the Miss America Organization, a not-for-profit corporation based in Linwood, New Jersey, which has developed the "Miss America Scholarship Program", which awards educational scholarships to successful competitors.[1] The stated purpose for the contest is that it "provides young women with a vehicle to further their personal and professional goals and instills a spirit of community service through a variety of unique nationwide community-based programs".[2] Miss America travels about 20,000 miles a month, changing her location every 24 to 48 hours, touring the nation and promoting her particular platform of interest.[3]

The current title-holder, Miss America 2015, is Miss New York 2014, Kira Kazantsev. She is the third consecutive Miss America winner from the state of New York, and was crowned on September 14, 2014, by her predecessor Nina Davuluri (Miss America 2014).

In September 2014, comedian John Oliver held a segment highlighting a major controversial claim made by the Miss America foundation; namely that the foundation provides millions in scholarships to women, stating that the organization is the "nation's largest for women, making $45 million dollars 'available;'" this amount of money has in fact never been awarded and that the actual amounts awarded to individuals through scholarships only amount to tiny fractions - Oliver contended that subversive math and misrepresentation was present to increase appearances and detract from the pageant's purpose.[4]


Woman with crown, holding a large flag
Margaret Gorman was the first Miss America Pageant winner in 1921.

The origins of the Miss America Pageant lie in a 1920 event entitled The Fall Frolic. Held on September 25 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the event was designed to bring business to the Boardwalk: "three hundred and fifty gaily decorated rolling wicker chairs were pushed along the parade route. Three hundred and fifty men pushed the chairs. However, the main attractions were the young 'maidens' who sat in the rolling chairs, headed by a Miss Ernestine Cremona, who was dressed in a flowing white robe and represented "Peace." [5]

The event was so successful that The Businessmen's League planned to repeat it the following year as a beauty pageant or a "bather's revue" [5] (to capitalize on the popularity of newspaper-based beauty contests that used photo submissions).[5] Thus, "newspapers as far west as Pittsburgh and as far south as Washington, D.C., were asked to sponsor local beauty contests. The winners would participate in the Atlantic City contest. If the local newspaper would pay for the winner's wardrobe, the Atlantic City Businessmen's League would pay for the contestant's travel to compete in the Inter-City Beauty Contest."[5] Herb Test, a "newspaperman" coined the term for the winner as, "Miss America."[5] On September 8, 1921, 100,000 people gathered at the Boardwalk to watch the contestants from Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Ocean City, Camden, Newark, New York, and Philadelphia.[5] The 16 year-old winner from Washington D.C., Margaret Gorman was crowned the "Golden Mermaid" and won $100.[5]

The pageant continued consistently over the next eight decades except for the years 1929-1933, when it was temporarily shut down due to financial problems and suggestions that it promoted "loose morals."[6] With its revival in 1933, 15 year-old Marian Bergeron won, prompting future contestants to be between the ages of 18 to 26.[6] In 1935, Lenora Slaughter was hired to "re-invent" the pageant and served for 32 years as its Director.[6] By 1938, a talent section was added to the competition, and contestants were required to have a chaperone.[6] In 1940, the title officially became "The Miss America Pageant" and the pageant was held in Atlantic City's Convention Hall.[6] In 1944, compensation for "Miss America" switched from "furs and movie contracts" to college scholarships.[6]

During the 1930s, under the directorship of Lenora Slaughter, the pageant became segregated as rule number seven stated: "contestants must be of good health and of the white race."[7] Rule seven was abolished in 1950.[8] While there were Native American, Latina, and Asian-American contestants, there were no African-American contestants until the Miss America 1971[9][10][11] pageant when Cheryl Browne, Miss Iowa 1970,[12][13][14] competed (although African-Americans appeared in musical numbers as far back as 1923, when they were cast as slaves).[7][15][16] Nina Davuluri, (Miss America 2014), is the first Indian-American to win the pageant, and the second Miss Syracuse to win after Miss New York 1983, Vanessa Lynn Williams. Williams (Miss America 1984) was the first African American Miss America.[17][18][19] Both Davaluri and Williams won when the pageant was held in Atlantic City and both faced discrimination in response to their respective wins.[18][19] In addition, Congresswoman Grace Meng compared Davuluri to Miss New York 1945, Bess Myerson (to date the only Jewish-American winner and Miss America 1945)[19][20] who also faced discrimination during her time as Miss America.[21][22][23][24][25]


The early years[edit]

Margaret Gorman, Miss District of Columbia, was declared "The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America" in 1921 at the age of 16 and was recognized as the first "Miss America" when she returned to compete the next year. The contest that year was won by Mary Katherine Campbell (Miss Ohio) and again in 1923.[26] She returned to compete a third time in 1924 but placed as first runner-up that year. Beginning in 1940, Bob Russell served as the first official host of the Pageant.[27] In 1941, Mifauny Shunatona, Miss Oklahoma, became the first Native American contestant.[28][29]

In 1945, Bess Myerson became the first Jewish-American and the first Miss New York [30] (competing as Miss New York City, a competition organized by a local radio station[23]) to win the Miss America Pageant as Miss America 1945.[21][22][23][24] As the only Jewish contestant, Myerson was encouraged by the pageant directors to change her name to "Bess Meredith"[31] or "Beth Merrick"[21] but she refused.[21][31] After winning the title (and as a Jewish Miss America), Myerson received few endorsements[21][22][23][24][31] and later recalled that "I couldn't even stay in certain hotels [...] there would be signs that read no coloreds, no Jews, no dogs. I felt so rejected. Here I was chosen to represent American womanhood and then America treated me like this."[31] She thus cut short her Miss America tour and instead traveled with the Anti-Defamation League. In this capacity, she spoke against discrimination in a talk entitled, "You Can't Be Beautiful and Hate."[21][22][23][24][31]

In 1948, Irma Nydia Vasquez, the first Miss Puerto Rico, became the first Latina contestant.[28][32][33] In addition, in 1948 Yun Tau Chee, the first Miss Hawaii, was also the first Asian-American contestant.[28]Miss America 1949 Jacque Mercer was married and divorced during her reign; after this, a rule was enacted requiring Miss America contestants to sign a certification that they have never been married or pregnant.[34] Starting in 1950, although the pageant continued to be in September, the Miss America title changed to "post-dated", thus that year's pageant winner became Miss American 1951, and there was no Miss America 1950. The pageant was first televised nationally in 1954, hosted by Bob Russell.[27] Future television star, Lee Meriwether, was crowned Miss America 1955. It would also be the last time Russell served as host. He recommended, and was replaced by, Bert Parks, who served as the host for the second televised pageant in 1955 and stayed as host until 1979.[27][35] Television viewership peaked during the early 1960s, when it was the highest-rated program on American television.[36]


With the rise of second-wave feminism and the civil rights movement during the 1960s, the Miss America Pageant became the subject of protests that attacked it as sexist and racist. In 1968, about 400 members of the group New York Radical Women demonstrated during the event on the Atlantic City boardwalk by comparing it to a county fair where livestock are judged.[12][37] They thus crowned a sheep as Miss America and symbolically destroying a number of feminine products, including false eyelashes, high-heeled shoes, curlers, hairspray, makeup, girdles, corsets and bras.[38] Burning the contents of a trash can was suggested, but a permit was unobtainable; news media seized on the similarity between draft resisters burning draft cards and women burning their bras. In fact there was no bra burning, nor did anyone remove her bra.[39] A pamphlet by Robin Morgan which was distributed at the Miss America protest, No More Miss America!, became a source for feminist scholarship.[40]

The Women's Liberation Front demonstrated at the Miss America 1971 pageant held on September 12, 1970.[9] One of the 1971 participants, Miss Iowa 1970,[14] Cheryl Browne, was the first African American contestant in the history Miss America pageant.[9][10][11][12][13] Browne drew attention from reporters and from security personnel in Atlantic City who maintained a visible presence during pageant rehearsals.[10] Brown was not a finalist, however,[10] losing to future media personality, Miss Texas 1970, Phyllis George. In August 1971, Browne traveled to Vietnam with George, Miss Nevada 1970, Vicky Jo Todd, Miss New Jersey 1970, Hela Yungst, Miss Arizona 1970, Karen Shields, Miss Arkansas 1970, Donna Connelly, and Miss Texas 1970 (George's replacement), Belinda Myrick.[41] They participated in a 22-day United Service Organizations tour for American troops that began in Saigon.[10][41][42] Browne later commented that she thought "it was one of the last Miss America groups to go to Vietnam."[10] In addition to George, two other participants in the Miss America 1971 pageant became media personalities, Miss South Dakota 1970, Mary Harum (Mary Hart) and Miss New Jersey 1970, Hela Yungst.

Law student Miss America 1974, (Miss Colorado 1973 Rebecca Ann King) supported the legalization of abortion.[7] In 1980, Lencola Sullivan, Miss Arkansas 1980, became the first African American contestant to finish in the top five.[28] Later, in 1984, Vanessa L. Williams, Miss New York 1983, became the first African American Miss America when she was crowned Miss America 1984.[17][28][43] Williams was forced to resign seven weeks prior to the end of her time as Miss America after the publication of nude photos in Penthouse.[28][43][44] First runner-up Miss New Jersey 1983 Suzette Charles replaced her, serving as Miss America 1984 for the final weeks of Williams' reign.[45] In 1985, Miss Utah 1984 Sharlene Wells Hawkes became the first foreign-born, bilingual Miss America, as she was born in Asunción, Paraguay.[46] Miss Alabama 1994, Heather Whitestone, won the 1995 pageant becoming the first deaf Miss America (she lost most of her hearing at the age of 18 months).[47][48] In 1999, Nicole Johnson (Miss Virginia 1998) became the first Miss America with diabetes and the first contestant to publicize an insulin pump.[49][50] Also in 1999, Miss America officials announced they had lifted the ban on contestants who were divorced or had had an abortion. This rule change, however, was rescinded and Miss America CEO Robert L. Beck, who had suggested it, was fired.[51][52] Angela Perez Baraquio, Miss Hawaii 2000, was crowned Miss America 2001, thereby becoming the first Asian-American, the first Filipino-American, as well as the first teacher ever to win the pageant.[53]

During the period of 2004-2013, the Miss America Pageant changed locations, time periods, and networks. Miss America 2005 was held in Atlantic City on September 18, 2004 and was broadcast live on ABC. ABC dropped the pageant after this broadcast, however, as it "drew a record-low 9.8 million viewers."[54] In addition, the winner for the Miss America 2005 pageant, Miss Alabama 2004 Deidre Downs, held the position four months longer than usual as the Miss America 2006 pageant was moved from September, 2005 to January 21, 2006. Miss America 2006 also marked a move to the Las Vegas Strip's Theatre for the Performing Arts at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino.[55][56] It was broadcast live on MTV Networks' Country Music Television. A few years later in 2009, Discovery Networks picked up the pageant on TLC (with Countdown to the Crown airing on Friday nights before the pageant).[57] ABC resumed broadcasting the pageant for Miss America 2011.[58] The 2011 pageant showcased Miss New York 2010 Claire Buffie, who was the first Miss America contestant to advocate a gay-rights platform [59][60] and Miss Delaware 2010 Kayla Martell who was the first bald contestant.[61][62]

The Miss America 2013 pageant, held on January 12, 2013, was the last one to take place in Las Vegas.[63] "America's Choice" winner, Alexis Wineman (Miss Montana 2012) was the pageant's first Autistic contestant.[64][65] The 2013 winner Mallory Hagan (Miss New York 2012) served for only nine months as the pageant moved back to its former broadcast slot in September 2014.[63][66]

Miss America 2014–present[edit]

Miss America 2014, held on September 15, 2013 in the Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey, marked the return of the pageant to its traditional location and month for the first time in nine years.[63] The 2014 winner, Miss New York 2013, Nina Davuluri (the first Indian-American and second Asian-American to be chosen as Miss America)[67][68] became the target of xenophobic and racist comments in social media[69][70][71] relating the proximity of the event date to the 9/11 anniversary and to anti-Indian sentiment shortly after her win.[69][70][72][73][74] News agencies cited tweets that misidentified her as Muslim or Arab, associated her with groups such as Al-Qaeda, and questioned why she was chosen over Miss Kansas 2013, Theresa Vail.[69][70][72][75][76] Davuluri said that she was prepared for this because "as Miss New York, I was called a terrorist and very similar remarks"[77][78] and Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, denounced the social media backlash and offered her support to Davuluri.[79][80][81] In addition, Vail (who won the "America's Choice" award) was the first contestant to display tattoos in the swimsuit competition,[82][83] Nicole Kelly (Miss Iowa 2013) was the first contestant born without her left forearm, and[84] Miss Florida 2013, Myrrhanda Jones, performed her baton routine with a decorated leg brace due to a torn ACL and MCL.[85][86][87][88][89]

The following year, Kira Kazantsev (Miss New York 2014) won the title of Miss America 2015. She was the third Miss New York in a row (after Mallory Hagan and Nina Davuluri) to win the title; New York thus became the first state to have a Miss America winner three years in a row.[90][91] In February 2015, Sharon Pearce announced that she was stepping down from her role as President of the Miss America Organization. The current CEO, Sam Haskell, was named Executive Chairman and will retain the title of CEO. He will also assume all of Pearce's responsibilities.[92] At the same time, Miss New Jersey 1971, Lynn Hackerman Weidner, was named the new Chairman[92] and Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri was appointed as one of the new trustees to the Miss America Foundation Board.[93]

Recent titleholders[edit]

Year Miss America State Represented
Miss America 2016 TBA TBA
Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev  New York
Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri  New York
Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan  New York
Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler  Wisconsin
Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan  Nebraska
Miss America 2010 Caressa Cameron  Virginia



According to the official Miss America website, contestants must be between the ages of 17 and 24[1] and a U.S. citizen.[1] There are also a number of other requirements.[1]

On June 14, 2014, Amanda Longacre was crowned Miss Delaware 2014, and prepared to compete in Miss America 2015. However, on June 27, 2014 she was stripped of the title and the crown was given to the runner-up, Brittany Lewis.[94][95][96] According to news outlets, "officials said Longacre was ineligible under Miss America rules because she will turn 25 in October, and Miss America rules require that contestants in the current year must still be 24 on Dec. 31."[94][95][96] Longacre filed a $3 million lawsuit that asks for her to be reinstated as Miss Delaware and be allowed to compete in the Miss America pageant. She also asks to be reimbursed for financial losses related to this decision.[94][95][96] Media outlets further reported that, "officials with the national Miss America organization confirmed to ABC News ... that they plan to fight Longacre's lawsuit but will still give her the full $9,000 in scholarship money they pledged to her after she was disqualified ... Miss America officials last month blamed the error on state pageant officials who, they said, "missed the age discrepancy in Longacre’s submitted paperwork." [94][95][96]


According to the official Miss America website, contestants are judged in the following fashion:

Preliminary competition

  • Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit - 15%
  • Evening Wear - 20%
  • Talent - 35%
  • Private Interview - 25%
  • On-Stage Question – 5%".[97]

Final competition

  • Composite Score - 30% (Top 16)
  • Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit - 20% (Top 16)
  • Evening Wear - 20% (Top 10)
  • Talent - 30% (Top 8)
  • On-Stage Question (Top 8)
  • Final Ballot – Each judge ranks the Top 5 contestants in the order he/she believes they should each finish. The outcome of the pageant is based solely on the point totals resulting from the final ballot."[97]





Books and archives[edit]



Video clips[edit]

Scholarship Misrepresentation[edit]

In September 2014, comedian John Oliver ran a segment on his show, Last Week Tonight, in which he criticized the Miss America Organization, stating that the organization does not actually give out $45 million in scholarships. Oliver contends that the actual claim that it 'makes available' "45 million dollars annually" for college scholarships is a figure that is arrived at using carefully calculated math and funds that are never used and have never been distributed. Using the organization's tax returns and other documents, he argued that the organization greatly inflates its number, that it donates far less than it claims to (less than half a million dollars in 2013), and that the $45 million figure the organization uses has little to do with how much they give out.[105]

Oliver found no record of scholarships being actually granted in amounts even approximately matching the claims made by the foundation. The organization's response to the segment failed to clarify the position and simply stated the number of scholarships made available to women around the country and did not in any way refute the claims that the $45 million number was inaccurate or misleading as Oliver had contended; the organization's response highlighted their efforts to offer scholarships for participants without further clarification.[106]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Become a Contestant
  2. ^ http://www.missamerica.org/organization-info/corporate-info-overview.aspx
  3. ^ Watson, Ellwood; Martin, Darcy (2000). "The Miss America Pageant: Pluralism, Femininity, and Cinderella All in One". Journal of Popular Culture (Wiley) 1 (34): 105–126. 
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  49. ^ "A Crown, Scepter & Insulin Pump The New Miss America, Nicole Johnson, Has Drawn Attention To The Device, Which Frees Diabetics From The Strict Scheduling Of Conventional Insulin Regimens. - Philly.com". Articles.philly.com. October 5, 1998. Retrieved September 22, 2013. 
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