The Secret Behind Miss America's First Ever Pageant -- Best Life

Today, Miss America is losing interest, but 100 years ago the competition was just beginning. It was not even known as Miss America at the time. The first Miss America pageant took place in 1921. A group of nine young women were invited from different cities to participate in an "Inter-City Beauty Contest" at a beach festival. Although it sounds innocent, the first Miss America pageant featured a conflict between the frontrunners. One was disqualified from the main competition while the other was forever known as Miss America.

The Secret Behind Miss America's First Ever Pageant -- Best Life

Virginia Lee, New York City, and Margaret Gorman, Washington, D.C. were the frontrunners in Miss America's first edition. Gorman, 16, was chosen through a contest she ran in her local newspaper. Lee, twenty-years-old, was selected for the competition by a group illustration artists she had previously worked with.

"The decision of judges, to be made to-morrow evening, is known to lie between Virginia Lee and. . . According to Argetsinger's article, Margaret Gorman and Margaret Gorman wrote the New York Tribune about the competition.

Miss America competitors in 1921

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Lee was disqualified prior to the announcement of the winner of the pageant. She was considered a "professional" and not an "amateur" as the other contestants. Argetsinger points out that the reason for the disqualification was not fully explained in the newspapers at the time. However, a few possible reasons have been identified.

Argetsinger writes that "Presumably it was something to do her film career: she already had a dozen credits," Argetsinger says. Because this competition didn't specify any rules regarding a professional career, it seemed that "this first season" had opened the doors to all women.

Zweiten, Lee was in a conflict with Howard Chandler Christy, chief judge of competition.

Lee was also married, which could have been a problem. The Post points out that "[being married] wasn't technically against the rules at the first pageant."

Margaret Gorman in her Miss America sash, 1922

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Gorman was the first winner, and he took home the Golden Mermaid trophy. Lee was out of the race. Argetsinger says that Gorman was modestly dressed and had long Victorian hair. This may have been a nod to a past time, when women gained more freedoms and rights, and flapper fashion was taking off. The article states that the pageant established its template from day one: Girls over women. Professionals are more common than amateurs. Modern flair is better than old-school virtues."

Lee won a second category in the competition, which was only for professionals.

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Miss America 2007 pageant contestants

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According to The Washington Post, Lee stated that Lee told them about the competition in 1993 during an interview. "They came back to me and said, "Oh Virginia, you won, but we can't give this to you." They would never tell me anything else. It was my victory."

Gorman competed again in the next year's Miss D.C. pageant. She was then known as Miss America. This established the name for the competition. Gorman did not fondly remember her pageant days later in life. According to her 1995 Los Angeles Times Obituary, "Life has been extremely, or I should say extremely, kind" she stated in 1980. She said that she never wanted to be Miss America. It was not my idea. It is so boring. It's all too much.

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