American Experience - Season 14, Episode 7 - Rotten Tomatoes

Miss America

EPISODE:

Episode Info

Miss America provides a detailed history of the longest-running beauty pageant, from its inauguration in 1921, to its attempt to adjust to the changing roles of women in the '80s and '90s. Born as a ploy by Atlantic City businessmen to hold tourists after Labor Day, the profitable procession quickly turned into an annual event. Despite its success, the carnival atmosphere and occasional scandal gave the pageant an air of seediness. Businessmen brought in Lenora Slaughter, a 29-year-old Southern Baptist, to clean up Miss America's reputation. Contestants would be required to be 18 years old, white, and chaperoned at all times. A scholarship prize also lent respectability to the pageant. Miss America did not become a national phenomenon, however, until 27 million people watched the procession on television in 1954. The annual event continued to garner high ratings until the late '60s, when many felt that the pageant was out of step with American women. After remaining in the doldrums for much of the '70s, the pageant opened a new chapter in 1983 when it crowned the first African-American Miss America, Vanessa Williams. Miss America includes film clips from past pageants and interviews with former winners.

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