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On this day in history, September 8, 1921, 16-year-old Margaret Gorman was crowned the first Miss America

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WASHINGTON, DC: In a historic moment that would shape the future of beauty pageants, September 8, 1921, saw the crowning of 16-year-old Margaret Gorman as the very first Miss America.

 

As the story goes, when a reporter from the Washington Herald visited the Gorman family’s Georgetown house to tell them that Margaret had been chosen as DC’s representative for the first “Inter-City Beauty Contest,” they couldn’t find her.

The nearly flawless 16-year-old with beautiful golden locks and striking deep blue eyes, was outside playing marbles in the dirt with the local children. Today, we take a look back at this significant event in pageant history.

 

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(Wikipedia)
Margaret Gorman, the winner of the first Miss America beauty pageant (Wikipedia)

The birth of a beauty legend

Margaret, then a rising junior at Western High School (now known as the Duke Ellington School of the Arts), was an unwitting entrant into the world of pageantry.

Her photograph was submitted to the Washington Herald’s city popularity contest, which led to her selection as one of six finalists.

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Margaret went on to win the title of Miss District of Colombia which came with the remarkable prize of a trip to Atlantic City as an honored guest of the Second Annual Atlantic City Pageant.

From awkward titles to Miss America

Margaret’s victory in Atlantic City was celebrated with the somewhat awkward titles of ‘Inter-City Beauty’ and ‘The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America’. The news of her win made waves in Washington, with headlines across newspapers.

 

(Wikipedia)
Margaret Gorman lived all her life in Washington, DC, became a socialite and enjoyed traveling (Wikipedia)

She returned to her studies at Western High School but ventured back to Atlantic City the following year to defend her titles.

In an interesting twist, another young woman was awarded the Miss Washington, DC title in 1922. To streamline these various accolades, pageant officials decided to crown her as ‘Miss America.’

 

She was awarded her title toward the end of the year of her victory on September 7, 1922

Miss America offered unique prizes

In its early years, Miss America offered unique prizes, such as being crowned the ‘Golden Mermaid’ and receiving a trophy.

Runners-up were rewarded with swimsuits and trophies designed by Annette Kellerman, a swimmer famous for advocating the one-piece swimsuit over bloomers. Neverthless, Kellerman’s involvement was considered scandalous at the time, given her 1907 arrest for indecency.

(Wikipedia)
Margaret Gorman with her pet Greyhound, Long Goodie, in April 1925 (Wikipedia)

 

Miss America then and now

What began as a modest event called The Fall Frolic in 1920 evolved into a grand two-day event that attracted thousands of spectators. Margaret’s popularity extended beyond her title, winning her a trophy in the Boardwalk Parade, further solidifying her status as a crowd favorite.

Margaret’s age at the time, just 16, stands in contrast to today’s requirement that contestants must be at least 17.

It’s also worth noting that in those early days, Miss America contestants were required to be unmarried, a tradition that continues today, albeit with a 1999 rule change allowing divorcees to participate.

As we celebrate this historic day, the legacy of Margaret, the inaugural Miss America, has evolved over the decades to become a symbol of beauty, talent, and empowerment.

 

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