Miss Subways

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Miss Subways was a title accorded to individual New York City women between 1941 and 1976. The woman who was "Miss Subways" at any one time appeared on posters placed on New York City Subway trains, along with a brief description of her. In 1957 it was estimated that "5,892,000 pairs of eyes a day" viewed Miss Subways on "14,000 car cards".[1] The program was run by the New York Subways Advertising Company.[2] Around 200 women held the title during the program's run.

An advertisement for Miss Subways at the New York City Transit Museum.

Significance[edit]

Miss Subways began as a way for the John Robert Powers Agency "to promote his models and for the New York Subways Advertising Company 'to increase eye traffic' for the adjoining ... advertisements."[3] "The contest provided the main plot device of Leonard Bernstein's 1944 musical On The Town, in which a smitten sailor on leave searched for 'Miss Turnstiles.'"[3] By 1945, the four-year anniversary of the contest was commemorated nationally in Life Magazine.[4] "Unlike Miss America, these queens represented the full spectrum of their constituency, mainly Irish, Italian, Latina and Jewish. The first black winner reigned on the trains in 1947 (36 years before a black Miss America), the first Asian in 1949."[2] "Brooklyn College student ... Thelma Potter became the first black woman chosen Miss Subways. 'It was progressive,' recalled the former Miss Potter, ... 'It stirred things up a bit.'"[3]

Bernard Spaulding, the sales director for the New York Subways Advertising Company opined in 1971 that it "was a World War II pinup phenomenon and then lost social significance."[5] Miss Subways was of "mythic significance to many" with Mayor Ed Koch musing in 1979:

"Even now, I can sit in the subway, and look up at the ads, and close my eyes, and there's Miss Subways," he said. "She wasn't the most beautiful girl in the world but she was ours. She was our own Miss America." [6]

In 1983 when "many people ... suggested a revival of the contest" a "spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said ... that the contest would be 'irrelevant and socially unacceptable.'"[3] However, in 2004 journalist Melanie Bush commented that the:

...posters were also covertly feminist, sometimes shockingly so, even to [Bush], a child of the 70s. From the first ('Mona Freeman, wants to be a top notch freelance illustrator') to the last ('Heidi Hafner ... Her goal: a flight instructor's rating'), they focused on women's ambitions, and in the 1940s or the 70s or [2000s], that's a rare rose to find clamped in the teeth of mass advertising. Yet there it was, and there it more or less firmly remained, probably because the contest was structured during World War II, when more than three million women were offered paying work for the first time, and were thus riding the subways, not to mention operating them, in much greater numbers than before.

The posters were at their most radical during the war years, and equally reflect women's later return to the home. Miss Subways' journey tracks a clear underground parallel to the prescribed roles of her sisters' above: While the civilian women of World War II may have been crucial to the work force, the purpose of housewives, as Betty Friedan puts it, 'is to buy more things for the house.' From the exhilarating peak of December 1942's Marguerite McAuliffe, 'whose aim is to be a doctor as good as her dad,' and November 1943's Cecile Woodley, whose 'main interests are her job and the Navy ... enthusiastically O.K.'s skiing, Mozart and Katharine Hepburn,' we slide submissively toward Irene Scheidt, June 1950, whose 'fondest hope is a trip to Bermuda.' Then up we go again to Eleanor Nash, November 1960, 'young, beautiful, and expert with a rifle.' ... What I waited for each new month was: What did she do? What were her goals? The Miss Subways I wanted to be was the airplane pilot. Or how about 'travel writer'? 'Scientist'? 'Surgeon'? ... Maybe next month she'd plan to be an astronaut. Or president!

What was actually going on here, I saw, was women, real New York women, talking to each other about their intentions and transmitting these messages through the medium of some men's advertising campaign.[2]

Ellen Hart Sturm, owner of the New York diner Ellen's Stardust Diner, was Miss Subways in 1959; her diner features photos of many past Miss Subways on the walls.

Selection[edit]

The method of selecting Miss Subways varied over time, typically taking the form of a beauty contest with the general rule that to be eligible, a woman had to be a New York City resident and herself use the subway. "John Robert Powers, the head of the modeling agency, selected the winners" until 1961 or 1962 and later "for some years, winners were chosen by the contest organizers."[7]

"Until 1952 there was a new Miss S[ubways] appearing ... every month" and between 1952 and 1957 "only six a year have been picked, each to reign for two months."[1] Although "Mr. Powers once picked seven winners to reign side by side in the subway."[1] By 1957:

All Miss Subways have one thing in common. They look – or are supposed to look – like the girl next door. About 400 wholesome young things enter each of the three yearly contests. The winners are picked by John Robert Powers model agency millionaire. Mr. Powers says he wants “no glamour gal types or hand-painted masterpieces.” Professional models, actresses and entertainers are taboo. Anyone else over 17 may enter.The Misses Subways have been secretaries, service women, nurses, sales girls, receptionists.[1]

John Robert Powers was no longer involved in selection by 1963 when the contest changed to "public vote ... by post card" and the New York Subways Advertising Company "redirected the contest to reflect the girl who works – what New York City is all about.”[7] Winners were given bracelets with gold-plated (later, silver-plated) subway tokens."[3] Spaulding commented in 1971 that “Prettiness per se is passe. It’s personality and interest pursuits that count" and described how "each contest attracts between 300 and 400 entries, submitted by family, friends and colleagues. About 30 are selected for a personal interview 'to judge personality and make certain that the submitted picture is a good likeness.' Most of the winners have been stenographers, clerks, receptionists and some have been teachers and stewardesses."[7]

Subsequent to the postcard system, winners were usually chosen by telephone-based voting, from among a group of nominees whose photos were all placed on the subways.

In 2004, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in conjunction with the New York Post, brought back the program, now named "Ms. Subways", for one year only. A voting contest was held to determine the winner, Caroline Sanchez-Bernat, an actress.[8] Posters of "Ms. Subways" appeared with subway safety tips instead of biographical notes.

Ruth Ericsson, 30 years later in Sweden

Car Cards[edit]

Title holders were photographed by photographers such as James J. Kriegsmann who "specialized in pictures of stage and screen stars, but he also photographed ordinary people, including the women who appeared in the Miss Subways promotion for more than 30 years." [9]

Cultural references[edit]

  • In the 1944 musical On the Town, one of the main characters falls in love with "Miss Turnstiles" after seeing her picture on the subway. Lyricist Betty Comden later claimed that the musical influenced the contest's selection process to include more diverse contestants, due to the casting of the half-Japanese Sono Osato as Miss Turnstiles in the original production.[10][11]
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poetry collection A Coney Island of the Mind contains a poem entitled "Meet Miss Subways."
  • Donald Sosin's 1972 song cycle "Third Rail" includes the entire text of a Miss Subways poster, but with the name of the girl and her school changed at her request.
  • Cher's 1974 album, Dark Lady, featured the comedic song, "Miss Subway of 1952," written by Mary F. Cain, about a once-beautiful woman who has not aged gracefully.
  • In the 1996 The Nanny episode "Tattoo" (Season 4 episode 9), Fran claims to have won the Miss Subways title.
  • In 1996, Marga Gomez debuted a show called 'A Line Around the Block' in which a character says: "You're Miss America. No, better than that. Miss Subways."[12]

List of "Miss Subways" title-holders[edit]

Term started Sept. 1951 Term ended Oct. 1951 Name Jean Hagen Notes
1 April 1941 30 April 1941
1 May 1941 31 May 1941 Freeman, MonaMona Freeman[10] "the second Miss Subways" [4]
1 June 1941 30 June 1941
1 July 1941 31 July 1941
1 August 1941 31 August 1941
1 September 1941 30 September 1941
1 October 1941 31 October 1941 Borgia, HelenHelen Borgia (two title holders for October 1941, second unknown)[4]
1 November 1941 30 November 1941 Schott (aka Suzanne Saunders), MurielMuriel Schott (aka Suzanne Saunders)[4]
1 December 1941 31 December 1941 Ericsson, RuthRuth Ericsson[10]
1942 Ryan (Mrs. Brunel), RitaRita Ryan (Mrs. Brunel)[13]
1 February 1942 28 February 1942
1 March 1942 31 March 1942 Kusins, ElaineElaine Kusins[4]
1 April 1942 30 April 1942
1 May 1942 31 May 1942
1 June 1942 30 June 1942 Mate, Dorothea (Mrs. Michael)Dorothea (Mrs. Michael) Mate[14]
1 July 1942 31 July 1942
1 August 1942 31 August 1942 Gregory, RosemaryRosemary Gregory[4]
1 September 1942 30 September 1942 Evelyn Clark
1 October 1942 31 October 1942
1 November 1942 30 November 1942 Woodley, CecileCecile Woodley "main interests are her job and the Navy ... enthusiastically O.K.'s skiing, Mozart and Katharine Hepburn,"[2]
1 December 1942 31 December 1942 McAuliffe, MargueriteMarguerite McAuliffe "whose aim is to be a doctor as good as her dad,"[2]
1 January 1943 31 January 1943
1 February 1943 28 February 1943 Sameth, ConnieConnie Sameth
1 March 1943 31 March 1943
1 April 1943 30 April 1943
1 May 1943 30 May 1943
1 June 1943 30 June 1943 Friedman, EvelynEvelyn Friedman[4]
1 July 1943 31 July 1943
1 August 1943 30 August 1943 Davis, Tera KathrynTera Kathryn Davis[4]
1 September 1943 30 September 1943
1 October 1943 31 October 1943
1 November 1943 30 November 1943
1 December 1943 31 December 1943
1944 Mazley Kenny, HelenHelen Mazley Kenny[1]
1 February 1944 28 February 1944 Cashman, JoanJoan Cashman
1 March 1944 31 March 1944 Henry, EileenEileen Henry[4]
1 April 1944 30 April 1944 Vohs, JoanJoan Vohs[1]
1 May 1944 31 May 1944 Clawson, DawnaDawna Clawson;Clawson, DorisDoris Clawson;Clawson, DorothyDorothy Clawson
1 June 1944 30 June 1944 McAleer, WinifredWinifred McAleer[15]
1 July 1944 30 July 1944 Healy, PeggyPeggy Healy[4]
1 August 1944 31 August 1944 Radchuck, MaryMary Radchuck[4]
1 September 1944 30 September 1944
1 October 1944 31 October 1944
1 November 1944 30 November 1944
1 December 1944 31 December 1944
1 January 1945 31 January 1945
1 February 1945 28 February 1945
1 March 1945 31 March 1945
1 April 1945 30 April 1945 Cuddy, RitaRita Cuddy[4] (Aug. 6, 1923 - Oct. 18, 2003) Rita Cuddy Online Memorial: Click here: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=14970580
1 May 1945 31 May 1945
1 June 1945 30 June 1945
1 July 1945 31 July 1945
1 August 1945 31 August 1945
1 September 1945 30 September 1945
1 October 1945 31 October 1945
1 November 1945 30 November 1945
1 December 1945 31 December 1945
1 January 1946 31 January 1946
1 February 1946 28 February 1946
1 March 1946 31 March 1946
1 April 1946 30 April 1946
1 May 1946 31 May 1946
1 June 1946 30 June 1946
1 July 1946 31 July 1946 Berkowitz, EnidEnid Berkowitz[15]
1 August 1946 31 August 1946
1 September 1946 30 September 1946
1 October 1946 31 October 1946
1 November 1946 30 November 1946 Landing, KayKay Landing
1 December 1946 31 December 1946
1 January 1947 31 January 1947
1 February 1947 28 February 1947
1 March 1947 31 March 1947
1 April 1947 30 April 1947
1 May 1947 31 May 1947
1 June 1947 30 June 1947
1 July 1947 31 July 1947
1 August 1947 31 August 1947
1 September 1947 30 September 1947
1 October 1947 31 October 1947
1 November 1947 30 November 1947
1 December 1947 31 December 1947 Farley, GeneGene Farley
1 January 1948 31 January 1948
1 February 1948 28 February 1948
1 March 1948 31 March 1948
1 April 1948 30 April 1948 Porter, ThelmaThelma Porter
1 May 1948 31 May 1948
1 June 1948 30 June 1948
1 July 1948 31 July 1948
1 August 1948 31 August 1948
1 September 1948 30 September 1948
1 October 1948 31 October 1948
1 November 1948 30 November 1948
1 December 1948 31 December 1948
1949 Levine, ElaineElaine Levine[16]
1 February 1949 28 February 1949
1 March 1949 31 March 1949
1 April 1949 30 April 1949
1 May 1949 31 May 1949
1 June 1949 30 June 1949
1 July 1949 31 July 1949
1 August 1949 31 August 1949
1 September 1949 30 September 1949
1 October 1949 31 October 1949
1 November 1949 30 November 1949 Lee, HelenHelen Lee
1 December 1949 31 December 1949
194? Burke, PatriciaPatricia Burke[17]
1950 Marra, MargieMargie Marra[18]
1 February 1950 28 February 1950 Singer, SaraleeSaralee Singer[14]
1 March 1950 31 March 1950 Vorsteg Norris, AngelaAngela Vorsteg Norris
1 April 1950 30 April 1950
1 May 1950 31 May 1950
1 June 1950 30 June 1950 Scheidt, IreneIrene Scheidt "fondest hope is a trip to Bermuda"[2]
1 July 1950 31 July 1950
1 August 1950 31 August 1950
1 September 1950 30 September 1950
1 October 1950 31 October 1950
1 November 1950 31 November 1950
1 December 1950 31 December 1950
1 January 1951 31 January 1951
1 February 1951 28 February 1951
1 March 1951 31 March 1951
1 April 1951 30 April 1951
1 May 1951 31 May 1951
1 June 1951 30 June 1951
1 July 1951 31 July 1951
1 August 1951 31 August 1951
1 September 1951 Jean Hagen 30 September 1951
1 October 1951 Jean Hagen 31 October 1951
1 November 1951 30 November 1951
1 December 1951 31 December 1951
1 January 1952 28 February 1952
1 March 1952 30 April 1952 Byrne, PeggyPeggy Byrne[15]
1 May 1952 30 June 1952
1 July 1952 31 August 1952
1 September 1952 31 October 1952
1 November 1952 31 December 1952
1 January 1953 28 February 1953
1 March 1953 30 April 1953
1 May 1953 30 June 1953 Gardiner, MaryMary Gardiner[15]
1 July 1953 31 August 1953
1 September 1953 31 October 1953
1 November 1953 31 December 1953
1 January 1954 28 February 1954
1 March 1954 30 April 1954
1 May 1954 30 June 1954 Lee, Juliette RoseJuliette Rose Lee
1 July 1954 31 August 1954
1 September 1954 31 October 1954
1 November 1954 31 December 1954
1955 1955 Johnson, PhyllisPhyllis Johnson[15]
1 March 1955 30 April 1955
1 May 1955 30 June 1955
1 July 1955 31 August 1955
1 September 1955 31 October 1955
1 November 1955 31 December 1955 Leonard, MarieMarie Leonard[1]
1 January 1956 28 February 1956
1 March 1956 30 April 1956
1 May 1956 30 June 1956
1 July 1956 31 August 1956
1 September 1956 31 October 1956
1 November 1956 31 December 1956
Before 1957 Flannigan, TerryTerry Flannigan[1]
Before 1957 Grogan, JeanJean Grogan[1]
Before 1957 Seris, NancyNancy Seris[1]
1 January 1957 28 February 1957
1 March 1957 30 April 1957
1 May 1957 30 June 1957
1 July 1957 31 August 1957
1 September 1957 31 October 1957
1 November 1957 31 December 1957
1958 Keeler, KathrynKathryn Keeler; Keeler, MaryMary Keeler[8]
1 January 1959 28 February 1959
1 March 1959 30 April 1959 Hart, EllenEllen Hart[15]
1 May 1959 30 June 1959
1 July 1959 31 August 1959
1 September 1959 31 October 1959
1 November 1959 31 December 1959
1 January 1960 28 February 1960
1 March 1960 30 April 1960
1 May 1960 30 June 1960
1 July 1960 31 August 1960
1 September 1960 31 October 1960
1 November 1960 31 December 1960 Nash, EleanorEleanor Nash "young, beautiful, and expert with a rifle"[2]
1 January 1961 28 February 1961 Mitchell, DoloresDolores Mitchell
Before 1962 Dempsey, KathyKathy Dempsey[19]
1 March 1961 30 April 1961
1 May 1961 30 June 1961
1 July 1961 31 August 1961
1 September 1961 31 October 1961
1 November 1961 31 December 1961
1 January 1962 28 February 1962 Tasch, EvelynEvelyn Tasch[19]
1962 1962 Pishney, SallySally Pishney[15]
1 March 1962 31 April 1962
1 September 1963 30 September 1963 Nealon, CaroleCarole Nealon[15]
1 January 1964 31 March 1964 Selsey, SanoraSanora Selsey
1965 Marshall, JudithJudith Marshall[7]
1966 Price, CarolCarol Price[7]
1 December 1967 31 January 1968 Garde, NeddyNeddy Garde[14]
1 February 1968 31 August 1968 Walsh, MaureenMaureen Walsh[14]
1 January 1971 30 June 1971 Shilling, PatriciaPatricia Shilling[7]
1 January 1971 30 June 1971 Heilbronn, LindaLinda Heilbronn[7]
1 May 1974 31 July 1974 Dominguez, SoniaSonia Dominguez[14]
1 April 1975 31 October 1975 Lawson, AyanaAyana Lawson[14]
Before 1976 Lazzaro, JosephineJosephine Lazzaro[3]
Before 1976 Demarta, DonnaDonna Demarta[3]
Before 1976 Peer, BarbaraBarbara Peer[3] "winner ... was mugged on the subway"[3]
1976 (last) Hafner, HeideHeide Hafner[3]
2004 Sanchez-Bernat, CarolineCaroline Sanchez-Bernat[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Robertson, Nan (February 18, 1957). "Miss Subways Reigns: Persephone to 5 Million". The New York Times. Retrieved April 23, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Bush, Melanie (October 24, 2004). "Miss Subways, Subversive and Sublime". The New York Times. Retrieved October 7, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Geist, William E. (October 15, 1983). "Subway queens of old to gather for reunion". New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "...New York City's Miss Subways is 4 Years Old". Life Magazine. April 23, 1945. Retrieved April 21, 2013. 
  5. ^ Johnston, Laurie (August 22, 1983). "New York By Day: Calling all Miss Subways". The New York Times. Retrieved April 23, 2013. 
  6. ^ Collins, Glen (December 19, 1979). "Metropolitan Diary". The New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Nemy, Enid (December 8, 1971). "Miss Subways of '41, Meet Miss Subways of '71". The New York Times. Retrieved April 23, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c Ramirez, Anthony (October 26, 2004). "After a 28-Year Hiatus, Miss (er, Ms.) Subways Is Back". The New York Times. Retrieved October 7, 2011. 
  9. ^ New York Times (May 1, 1994). "James J. Kriegsmann; Theatrical Photographer, 85". The New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c Bayen, Ann (March 29, 1976). "Token Women". New York Magazine. p. 46. Retrieved October 7, 2011. .
  11. ^ Klein, Alvin (June 6, 1993), 'On the Town' in Revival at Goodspeed Opera, The New York Times, retrieved October 7, 2011 
  12. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence (April 3, 1996). "THEATER REVIEW;Daddy's Miss Subways". The New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Miss Subways Wins Custody of Her Child". Long Island Star-Journal. August 7, 1946. Retrieved April 21, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f New York Times (December 29, 2007). "Saw You on the E Train". New York Times. Retrieved April 21, 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h New York Daily News (April 19, 2013). "Miss Subways through the years: The iconic NYC beauty queens then and now". New York Daily News. Retrieved April 21, 2013. 
  16. ^ Neuman, William (March 24, 2007). "A Museum-Quality Car for a Subway Yet Unbuilt". New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  17. ^ New York Times (October 23, 2004). "Meet Miss Subways". New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  18. ^ New York Times (March 14, 1989). "Next Stop, Nostalgia; Watch the Closing Doors". New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  19. ^ a b Robertson, Nan (January 18, 1962). "Champagne Hour Flat on Subway". New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2013. 

External links[edit]