Yolande Margaret Betbeze
November 28, 1928
|Died||February 22, 2016 (aged 87)|
|Alma mater||New School for Social Research|
|Occupation(s)||Opera singer, activist|
|Title||Miss America 1951|
|Successor||Colleen Kay Hutchins|
(m. 1954; died 1964)
Betbeze was born on November 28, 1928 in Mobile, Alabama, to William, a butcher, and Ethel Betbeze. Betbeze was raised in a Catholic family of French Basque descent, and she attended convent schools.
She captured her first crown in 1949 when she won Mobile's "Miss Torch" pageant. In 1950, Fox (then Betbeze) entered Miss Alabama for the scholarship opportunities the pageant presented. As Miss Alabama, she traveled to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to compete in the Miss America 1951 pageant. Having been educated in a convent school, she was reluctant to pose in a swimsuit and refused to do so after she won Miss America. That led the swimsuit company, Catalina, to withdraw their sponsorship of the Miss America pageant and eventually brought about the creation of the rival Miss USA pageant.
Fox's Miss America title, although won in 1950, was for 1951 and is the first Miss America title to be "postdated" in this manner. Due to the change, there was no Miss America 1950. The Miss America Organization has claimed that Fox's (then Betbeze's) actions were pivotal in directing pageant progress towards recognizing intellect, values, and leadership abilities, rather than focusing on beauty alone. From then on, the Miss America pageant concentrated more on scholarship than beauty.
Fox was active in the feminist movement. After her one-year reign as Miss America, she was active in the NAACP, CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), and SANE (The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy); and studied philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City.
After her husband's death, she moved to Georgetown, Washington, D.C., purchasing the Newton D. Baker House from Michael Whitney Straight and his then wife Nina Gore Auchincloss. The home had previously been the residence of Jacqueline Kennedy after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.
In the early 1990s Yolande Fox was contacted by the writer Philip Roth, who was researching the Miss America beauty pageant for his novel American Pastoral. Roth studied Fox's scrapbooks and interviewed her about the culture surrounding the pageant in the late 1940s; he later said, "She was very smart, very funny....She just opened up whole ideas for me that I couldn't have had on my own."
Fox died on February 22, 2016 in Washington, D.C. of lung cancer. She was survived by her daughter and granddaughter.
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