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1930's - Decade in Review

Patricia Donnelly, Miss America 1939
Patricia Donnelly
Miss America 1939

In 1933 the country was in the throes of the Great Depression. Some prominent Atlantic City businessmen finally decided to revive the pageant after being convinced they were missing out on valuable revenue by Armand T. Nichols, who directed the pageant from 1924-1927. The outdoor parades and other big attractions were left out due to the high cost that Depression Era businesses could not afford. Due to the lack of adequate publicity, the 1933 event was a financial disaster. The pageant was not revived in Atlantic City on secure financial footing until 1935.

Innovations to raise the pageant's public image included the talent segment added to the competition in 1935 and the formation of the vast Hostess Committee. The committee was made up of prominent Atlantic City women.

Images of the beautiful women of the pageant began to permeate the culture through newsreels, newspaper coverage and journals. As the country moved toward the 1940's, Miss America was becoming a national figure.

1930's Timeline

Taking matters into his own hands, Pageant Director General of the 1920's, Armand T. Nichols, Atlantic City local and former Mayor's secretary, attempted to convince city officials to bring back the fabled Atlantic City Pageant. Despite being in the throes of the Great Depression, he convinced the city it was losing out on valuable revenues for having abandoned it. He sited a successful event of a much smaller scale staged in Florida where a "Miss America' (Tampa's Margaret Ekdahl) was crowned. But, Atlantic City Hotelmen refused to endorse its return. 1931
Isolated city pageants (newspaper sponsored) continued to crop up as Armand T. Nichols tried to redevelop contacts from the 1920s. But, Atlantic City businessmen remained adamant in their decision not to stage the pageeant.

Wildwood, New Jersey picks up the ball and stages a "Miss America" pageant. A petite brunette by the name of Dorothy Hann took the title as Miss Greater Camden (New Jersey). Although not nearly the scope of the 1920s events in Atlantic City, it is considered a success. Atlantic City gave Armand T. Nichols the green light to hold the pageant once again in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Convention Hall in September 1933.

Marian Bergeron, Miss America 1933
Marian Bergeron
Miss America 1933

Despite backing from the Mayor and the endorsements of other city officials, the Atlantic City Hotelmen still did not endorse the pageant as they had in the past. Thirty representatives took part, most wearing state titles. But gone were the outdoor parades and other attractions deemed too expensive to stage for Depression-era businesses. Prizes to the eventual winner (fifteen year old Miss Connecticut, Marian Bergeron) were also hard to come by. After being named a winner in the "professional" class division, a defiant Miss New York City abruptly quit, charging the pageant wasn't "on the up and up". RKO, who had promised a screen test to the new Miss America, abruptly withdrew their support. Instead they awarded the screen test to Elsa Donath, Miss New York City, billing her as "the girl who turned down the title of Miss America." She was also the contest winner RKO had helped sponsor at the Madison Square Garden preliminary where Miss New York City was chosen. Miss Oklahoma suffered an appendicitis attack shortly after arrival. Miss Arkansas admitted she was married and other women from Iowa, Illinois, and Idaho were disqualified when their official residency papers didn't arrive on time. This time both Atlantic City and Armand T. Nichols decided to lay Miss America quietly to rest.

In an ill-fated attempt to pick up the ball, Madison Square Garden sponsored a "Queen of American Beauty" contest. Helen Mack, of New York, was proclaimed the winner.

Henrietta Leaver, Miss America 1935
Henrietta Leaver
Miss America 1935

Steel Pier owner Frank P. Gravatt and associate Eddie Corcoran enlisted the help of the Variety Club of Philadelphia to bring back Miss America. The new contest would be called "The Showman's Variety Jubilee." Corcoran hired Lenora S. Slaughter from the St. Petersburg Florida Chamber of Commerce for a six-week stint that lasted thirty-two years. Her immediate goal was to build interest within Atlantic City itself. The Boardwalk Parade was brought back with 350,000 people in attendance. The 1920's pageant mascot, "King Neptune," also made a valiant return. Fifty-two contestants, representing eleven states and forty-one key cities, took part. The Hostess Committee was formed. Three nights of preliminary competitions were staged. Talent was added as a judged category with twenty-five percent of the total score included towards the selection of Miss America. Although not mandatory, contestants were encouraged to participate and about half of them displayed their talents. The others relied solely on their interviews with the judges and the scores received in eveningwear and swimsuit competitions. Thinking she would take a chance at singing and tap dancing to "Living in a Great Big Way", Pittsburgh's Henrietta Leaver took top honors. Scandal soon again appeared in November when noted Pittsburgh sculptor, Frank Vittor unveiled a nude statue he made of his model, Henrietta Leaver who was then Miss Pittsburgh. Henrietta declared that she wore a swimsuit at all times and that her grandmother was present for each session, but the press went wild with the story anyway. However, the profits from the 1935 pageant were enough to reduce its previous financial deficit of 1933 by $5,000.

Rose Coyle, Miss America 1936
Rose Coyle
Miss America 1936

The Showman's Variety Jubilee is incorporated as a non-profit civic corporation of the State of New Jersey. Forty-six contestants took part in that year's festivities. Additional events included an American Beauty Ball, Bicycle Parade, Boardwalk Float Parade, National Fashion Show, Naval Parade, and a Championship Ocean Swim. Philadelphia's Rose Veronica Coyle won the 1936 Miss America title. The balance of the old pageant's debt was paid in full.

Bette Cooper, Miss America 1937
Bette Cooper
Miss America 1937

Mrs. C.D. White, wife of the Atlantic City Mayor, accepted the invitation to serve as the first Chairman of the Hostess Committee. Also formed were: a Board of Directors, an Executive Board, a Finance Committee, and a General Committee. It was revealed that a leading contender Phyllis Randall, Miss California, had a marriage annulled. She finished among the top five. Seventeen-year-old Bette Cooper, who entered the Miss Bertrand Island (NJ) Pageant on a dare, took the national title. For reasons still unknown, Bette quickly left Atlantic City and returned home the next morning before her press conference, which was elaborately staged on the Steel Pier.

Marilyn Meseke, Miss America 1938
Marilyn Meseke
Miss America 1938

The talent competition became a required element of competition. A rule that contestants were limited to single women, never married, never divorced nor having a marriage annulled was put in place. Another rule that contestants must be between the ages of eighteen and twenty-eight was instituted. Miss Ohio, Marilyn Meseke, a dancing school teacher became Miss America 1938. It was estimated that over 112 million moviegoers witnessed the crowning of Miss America through newsreel coverage.

Patricia Donnelly, Miss America 1939
Patricia Donnelly
Miss America 1939

Miss America of the "new era" received a cash prize when a hat company agreed to pay her $2000 to endorse its products. Miss Congeniality (Doris Coggins, Miss Mississippi) was named for the first time and Patricia Mary Donnelly, Miss Michigan, became the first woman of her state to win the title. The pageant was staged on the world famous Steel Pier for the last time.

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