Miss America History 1921 to date
In 1921, the Miss America Pageant was started as an inauspicious “national beauty tournament” on Atlantic City’s beaches, concocted by local merchants to extend the summer tourism season into early September by staging a parade of bathing beauties on the town’s beaches to select “the most beautiful bathing beauty in America.” A local reporter, Herb Test, offhandedly suggested: “Let’s call her ‘Miss America!’
We also offer a detailed decade-by-decade pageant history section where you can read a more detailed history of all major pageant systems.
Newspapers throughout the east coast were invited to run mail-in photo contests to select their representatives. When the contestants arrived in town that September,
thousands of tourists flocked to Atlantic City to watch the first bathing
beauties parade down the beach in swimsuits considered risque at the time (baggy wool dresses draped over bloomers and coordinated with knee socks!) The event was a huge success and the “pageant” of bathing beauties became so popular that it soon attracted massive crowds and its winners became celebrities of their times.
The judging panels in early years had the unenviable task of deciding which type of woman their queen would be – seductive and alluring…or wholesome and respectable. They concluded that someone called “Miss America” should reflect ideal American womanhood – pretty, charming and wholesome.
In years to come, what had now officially become the “Miss America Pageant”, added:
An evening gown to showcase a more wholesome image
A talent competition to expand judging beyond beauty
Private interviews with judges to assess contestants’ personality, intelligence and charm
On-stage interviews with emcee Bert Parks to reflect how well (or not so well) contestants could think on their feet under the pressure of live television
By the half century mark, the pageant had evolved into a beloved national tradition, a popular annual television special on par with the Academy Awards at times, and a major scholarship program for women.
By the end of the century the Miss America Organization had become the world’s largest private
provider of scholarships for women. In 2012, the Miss America system made available over $45 million in scholarship assistance to over 12,000 young women who competed at the local, state and national levels.
All Miss America winners
Famous pageant winners
Miss America Pageants from 1921 to date
2018 (North Dakota)
2015 (New York)
2014 (New York)
2013 (New York)
1994 (South Carolina)
1984 (New Jersey)
1984 (New York)
1976 (New York)
1962 (North Carolina)
1957 (South Carolina)
1945 (New York City)
1940 (Philadelphia, PA)
1937 (New Jersey)
1934 – No pageant
1928-1932 – No pageant
1921 (Washington DC)