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Miss America's history

Miss America’s history — The nation’s first beauty queen was crowned 70 years ago

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Never mind the 1921 Atlantic City law prohibiting the display of nude limbs. On Sept. 7 and 8 that year the weather was hot, spirits were giddy, and the cops looked the other way as the first seven Miss America contestants rolled down their stockings and flashed their knees for the judges on the Garden Pier. Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman, Miss Washington, D.C., walked off with that first crown. And in the 70 years since then, pesky reporters haven’t given the publicity-shy beauty a moment’s peace.

”I have no interest in Miss America whatsoever,” says the 86-year-old widow from her D.C. home. In past interviews she has expressed anger that the pageant never reimbursed her the $1,500 in expenses she incurred traveling to Atlantic City for a 1960 reunion. But Gorman hasn’t written off Miss America completely: She still has the lime chiffon-and-sequins number that carried her to glory. ”Oh, it’s around here somewhere,” she says, ”what’s left of it.”

Gorman walked away with a handful of trophies and considered herself lucky. The winner of this year’s Miss America Pageant, to be broadcast on NBC Sept. 14, will do a lot better, hauling in an estimated $200,000 in scholarships and prizes. Gorman strutted her stuff in the swimsuit and evening-gown competition — same as today. But the first Miss A never had to flaunt talent — with-a-capital-T.

Nor did she have to flaunt stature. Last year’s winner, Marjorie Vincent, strode the runway at 5’6”. Margaret Gorman stood 5’1”. Without her crown.


TIME CAPSULE
Sept. 7-8, 1921

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington is the weeper of choice. Mary Pickford flaps her way through Little Lord Fauntleroy, while ”Ain’t We Got Fun,” ”Second Hand Rose,” and ”I’m Just Wild About Harry” are whistled on everyone’s lips.