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1940's - Decade in Review

Contestants waving to the cameras from Atlantic City's famous 
Contestants waving to the
cameras from Atlantic City's famous boardwalk
During World War II, the pageant once again faced discontinuation, this time because of war. Pageant officials had to think quickly and adapt to the changing world around them.

Faced with the crisis of wartime, Miss America was transformed into an emblem of patriotism and national pride. The image of Miss America was connected to the war effort as the winners of those years sold more war bonds than any other public figures. Thus began the tradition of Miss America as a morale booster for American troops. In those years, the image of Miss America, with her small-town persona, youth and energy, was becoming enshrined in the nation's imagination as America's ideal woman.

Also during the 1940's, the Miss America Organization created the single most important innovation of its time - a scholarship program. 1945 was a year in which only 76,000 women graduated from college. Lenora S. Slaughter, Pageant Director from 1941-1967, continued innovations by adding more scholarships. When most of the country was concerned about returning GI's and not about women getting a college education, The Miss America Organization appealed to American women as an organization that believed in women. Sponsoring scholarships changed the pageant dramatically, which with time, helped the organization become the country's leading provider of educational scholarships for women.

1940's Timeline

Frances Burke, Miss America 1940
Frances Burke
Miss America 1940
Over 2,500 Atlantic City civic leaders rallied to support the enormous Boardwalk Convention Hall as the Pageant's permanent new home. Additional events included: a Baby Parade, Navy Maneuvers, Mardi Gras, Fireworks, and a dance in the Boardwalk Convention Hall Ballroom. The Miss America sorority Mu-Alpha-Sigma, was organized to include every woman who competed for the Miss America title in Atlantic City. In a close vote which took several hours to decide, Miss Philadelphia, Frances Marie Burke took home honors in being named Miss America 1940.
Rosemary LaPlanche, Miss America 1941
Rosemary LaPlanche
Miss America 1941
The by-laws were amended to change the name of the corporation from The Showman's Variety Jubilee to The Miss America Pageant. The judging system used at the National finals was hereafter required at all local and state pageants as well. Although not the only returning titleholder to come back to the competition, the 1940 First Runner Up Rosemary La Planche (Miss California), successfully took the national crown as an overwhelming favorite. The rules were amended so that no woman could compete for the title of Miss America more than once. Lenora S. Slaughter was named Executive Director. When the country enters into World War II in December 1941, Rosemary La Planche initiated a service endeavor that endeared Miss America to the American public by traveling with the U.S.O. and selling War Bonds.
Jo-Carroll Dennison, Miss America 1942
Jo-Carroll Dennison
Miss America 1942
The Air Force took over Boardwalk Convention Hall. The Miss America Pageant was threatened with closure until Lenora S. Slaughter secured the Warner Theater on the Boardwalk, with the help of Rose Coyle (Miss America 1936) and her husband Leonard Schlessinger (an executive with Warner Studios). Jo-Carroll Dennison became the first Texan to take the title. She and her twenty-nine fellow titleholders carried hope across the nation as they served in camps, hospitals, defense factories, U.S.O. Clubs, and Red Cross Canteens. Some even donned the uniforms of women in the armed forces.
Jean Bartel, Miss America 1943
Jean Bartel
Miss America 1943
While on a successful war bond tour with Miss America 1943 (California's Jean Bartel), her college Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sisters at the University of Minnesota suggested a scholarship be given to Miss America. This planted a seed within the mind of Lenora S. Slaughter which took Miss America in a new direction within two years.

Miss Bartel was awarded a citation from the United States Treasury Department for her part in selling more Series E War Bonds than any other person in the United States. She traveled to 53 key cities within three months.

Venus Ramey, Miss America 1944
Venus Ramey
Miss America 1944
Kentucky born Venus Ramey entered the pageant representing the District of Columbia, and was the first red head to win the title. She entertained in service camps, sold war bonds and toured in Vaudeville. In addition to a citation from the United States Treasury Department for her work in the War Bond effort, Venus Ramey's picture was painted on the side of fighter planes. These planes made sixty-eight raids over war torn Germany, and never lost a man. At a time when it seemed the country was losing the war, this story made the Associated Press and built a nation's morale. Miss America was seen as a political activist for the first time, as Venus worked with Senator Kaper of Kansas and Congressman Somner of Missouri in publishing their bills to gain suffrage for the District of Columbia.
Bess Myerson, Miss America 1945
Bess Myerson
Miss America 1945
New York City's Bess Myerson became the first Miss America to receive the Pageant's first $5000 college scholarship (Original scholarship patrons were: Joseph Bancroft and Sons, Catalina Swimwear, F.W. Fitch Company and the Sandy Valley Grocery Co.). She was the first post-war Miss America, the first college graduate to win the title, and the first Jewish-American winner. While on a Victory Bond Tour she becomes the target of anti-semitism and embarked on a school tour with the motto, "You Can't Be Beautiful And Hate."
Marilyn Buferd, Miss America 1946
Marilyn Buferd
Miss America 1946
The Miss America Pageant returned to Boardwalk Convention Hall. The scholarship fund increased to $25,000 to be shared by Miss America (California's Marilyn Buferd) and the remaining fifteen finalists. The term "bathing suit" was officially replaced with "swimsuit."
Barbara Walker, Miss America 1947
Barbara Walker
Miss America 1947
The contestants were judged in an "official" fourth category of Intellect and Personality based on judge's interviews. Although always interviewed in previous years, this was the first time it was included on the official ballot. 1947 was the first time that the Miss America contestants wore two-piece swimsuits in competition. State and local competitions began to award scholarships to contestants and Miss Memphis, Barbara Jo Walker, became the last Miss America to win representing a city. At the pageant she declared to the judges, "I'm only interested in one contract, the marriage contract." True to her word, she married in June of her year as Miss America. Barbara Jo was the last Miss America to be crowned in a swimsuit.
BeBe Shopp, Miss America 1948
BeBe Shopp
Miss America 1948
Minnesota's Bebe Shopp became the first Miss America since 1935 to be crowned in an evening gown. She also became the first Miss America to tour Europe during her year as Miss America. Miss Hawaii, Yun Tau Zane, became the first Asian American to compete for the title and won the first college scholarship awarded to Miss Congeniality.
Jacque Mercer, Miss America 1949
Jacque Mercer
Miss America 1949
Animal acts were banned from the talent competition after Miss Montana's (Carol Fraser) horse nearly fell into the orchestra pit. Arizona's Jacque Mercer captured the title.

The first young woman to receive a scholarship from the Miss America Organization Bess Myerson, Miss America 1945
The first young woman to
receive a scholarship from
the Miss America Organization
Bess Myerson,
Miss America 1945

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