A Little History on Miss America at the Miss NJ Pageant

It wasn't until recently that I was fully exposed to the wonderful "culture of pageants". Miss America is an institution, a long standing entity and a platform to inspire and motivate the lives of many outstanding young women. Beyond beauty, these women are smart, influential, talented and even world-changers with the many charitable platforms they each lead and represent!

So, let me share a little history on Miss America. According to Wikipedia, the pageant originated as a beauty contest in 1921. The pageant began in Atlantic City, New Jersey and was held there each year in September through 2004. The pageant presents itself as a "scholarship pageant," and the primary prizes for the winner and her runners-up are scholarships to the institution of her choice. The Miss America Scholarship program, along with its local and state affiliates, is the largest provider of scholarship money to young women in the world, and in 2006 made available more than $45 million in cash and scholarship assistance.

No African American women participated until 1970, although African Americans did appear in musical numbers as far back as 1923, when they were cast as slaves. Until at least 1940, contestants were required to complete a biological questionnaire tracing their ancestry. For decades it was, practically speaking, a pageant for young white women, though by the 1980s black women were winning the crown. Since the 1980s seven black women have been crowned Miss America.

In 1984, Vanessa Williams became the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss America, but resigned from her duties in scandal. The job was subsequently filled by first runner-up Suzette Charles who carried out the remaining seven weeks as Miss America 1984. Both women are now included on the canonical list of Miss America laureates; Williams is officially designated Miss America 1984 and Charles is officially designated Miss America 1984b. She was also as such the first African-American woman to win the crown.

Thankfully today, the pageant is a beautiful celebration of diversity, inspiration and talent. During this years Miss New Jersey pageant for example, 2 out of 5 finalists Latinas!

So, we've come a long way when it comes to embracing beauty of all shades. And today more than ever, it is ethnic influences that are setting the trends in fashion, culture and beauty for American women.

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