1921 Miss America Pageant - Margaret Gorman wins

1921 Miss America Pageant - Margaret Gorman wins

Miss America Pageant history began in 1921, when the first Miss America, Margaret Gorman, won the crown at the first "national beauty tournament" in the famous seaside vacation mecca, Atlantic City. There, Miss Washington, D.C., a wholesome blond high school freshman, emerged as the audience favorite and walked off with the first crown and trophy.

Margaret Gorman Miss America 1921
The first Miss America was Margaret Gorman, Miss Washington, DC, who won the crown in 1921.
That first Miss America pageant was held during an era still in the shadows of the horrific World War I and marked by social values that were colliding bizarrely. While Prohibition laws banned alcohol nationwide, bootleggers found ingenious ways to supply booze to an increasingly boisterous generation of youth. Women had not only just won the right to vote, but could now actually expose their ankles in public without being arrested for indecency.

It was era of intoxicating new freedoms for young women ...and they reveled in their new freedoms. More daring girls sheared off their hair into the fashionable short "bob", bound their breasts down into the new flat-chested silhouette that was all the rage, and partied the night away dancing the "Charleston", earning the derisive nickname "flappers." 

Conversely, girls of a more conservative nature modeled themselves after "America's Sweetheart", Mary Pickford, a super-star of silent movies whose long ringlets were the height of fashion - and whose sweetly feminine image was the polar opposite of the racy flapper.

As Miss Washington DC, Gorman was a dead-ringer for the sweet blonde matinee idol and boasted suitable wholesome measurements (30-25-32) ... setting the standard from day one that, in any given era, Miss Americas almost always reflect a more wholesome brand of femininity (albeit, with markedly improved measurements). Samuel Gompers, an elderly labor executive, gushed that adorable little queen, "represents the type of womanhood America needs -- strong, red-blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood."

Gorman returned to Atlantic City the following fall where she nearly walked away with the winner's crown a second time, finishing as first runner-up to Mary Katherine Campbell, Miss Columbus, Ohio, who became the Miss America pageant's only two-time winner.

After her reign, Gorman returned to complete high school, married Victor Cahill, an East coast real estate investor, and enjoyed a long, somewhat reclusive life until her death in 1995.

all Miss Americas

  • Miss America 1921: Margaret Gorman, Washington DC
  • 1st runner-up (amateur): Miss South Jersey, Kathryn M. Gerron (Camden) 
  • 1st runner-up (professional): New York, New York, Virginia Lee

1921 Contestants:

  • Miss Washington, DC, Margaret Gorman
  • Miss Philadelphia, Nellie Orr
  • Miss New York City, Virginia Lee
  • Miss Newark, Margaret Bates
  • Miss South Jersey, Kathryn M. Gerron (Camden) 
  • Miss Ocean City, Hazel Harris
  • Miss Pittsburgh, Thelma Matthew
  • Miss Harrisburg, Emma Pharo
  • Miss Atlantic City, Ethel Charles (declined to officially compete due to being on her home turf, served role as hostess)

Beauty group winners:

  1. Miss Washington, Margaret Gorman
  2. Miss Philadelphia, Nellie Orr
  3. Miss Camden, Kathryn M. Gearon

Inter-city beauty contest winners:

  1. Miss Washington, Margaret Gorman
  2. Miss South Jersey
  3. Miss Newark, Margaret Bates
  4. Miss Ocean City, Hazel Harris

"Professional beauty" group winners:

  1. Polly Salisbury
  2. Virginia Lee
  3. Sydney Nelson
Next Year...


View more pageant history | Miss America Pageant results by year Opening  I  1920s  I  1930s  I  1940s I  1950s  I  1960s  I  1970s  I  1980s  I  1990s  I  2000s

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