1921: The First Miss America
On Sept. 7, 1921, Margaret Gorman, pictured here, became the first Miss America when she won the inaugural pageant in Atlantic City. The contest began as a way to extend the city’s tourist season past the usual Labor Day drop-off and was originally called the Fall Frolic. Gorman was a Washington, D.C., native who was 16 years old, five feet one inch, and 108 pounds. The contest attracted wide attention and a huge audience. As the New York Times breathlessly reported the next day: “1,000 BATHING GIRLS ON VIEW IN PAGEANT; 150,000 See Picked Beauties in One-Piece Suits in Atlantic City's Fall Event. 8 MILES OF ROLLING CHAIRS People From 100 Cities Guests at Governor's Ball, Which Closes Celebration.”
Many histories state that the precursor to this pageant was held in Rehoboth Beach, Del., in 1880—when the town was a resort reserved for Methodists. Inventor Thomas Edison was supposedly one of the judges, and the prize for the unmarried winner, Myrtle Meriwether, was a bridal trousseau. But according to Rehoboth town historian Evelyn Thoroughgood, the story, which has thrived in books and films over the years, is probably a legend. A couple of strikes against the tale: One of the alleged judges of the pageant died in 1878 and the story originally came from a historian known to be “sloppy” with his facts. It’s also unlikely that the sedate, Methodist residents would’ve allowed such an immoral contest.