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1980's - Decade in Review

 Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, Miss America 1988, helped lay the groundwork for the Miss America Platform by spending her year of service speaking about the nursing shortage in America.

In the 1980's, Miss America maintained its prominence and popularity in a world that was quickly finding the competition less relevant. The decade witnessed the crowning of the first African-American woman, Vanessa Williams and later that year, also witnessed her resignation. This decade became a turning point in the evolution of the pageant’s history.

1980's Timeline

Cheryl Prewitt, Miss America 1980
Cheryl Prewitt
Miss America 1980
The contract of popular host Bert Parks was not renewed. Public outcry for his return was even featured in a "Bring Back Bert" campaign on The Tonight Show. Ultimately, Bert was replaced by actor Ron Ely. Cheryl Prewitt, Miss America 1980 lead the 18th annual USO tour to Korea and Navy ships stationed in the Indian Ocean. Doris Janell Hayes (Miss Washington) and Lencola Sullivan (Miss Arkansas) became the first African-American women to win preliminary awards in Atlantic City. Miss Sullivan became the first African-American to place among the Top Five. Susan Powell, Miss Oklahoma is named Miss America 1981. At the local, state and national competitions over $2 million in scholarship funding was awarded.
Susan Powell, Miss America 1981
Susan Powell
Miss America 1981
On the 40th anniversary of the USO, the Miss America troupe performed in the Mediterranean, Germany and Iceland. In a gown fashioned from her grandmother's lace tablecloth, Elizabeth Ward, representing Arkansas was crowned Miss America 1982.
Elizabeth Ward, Miss America 1982
Elizabeth Ward
Miss America 1982
Ron Ely was replaced by actor Gary Collins as pageant host. Debra Sue Maffett, representing California, was crowned Miss America 1983.
Debra Maffett, Miss America 1983
Debra Maffett
Miss America 1983
Vanessa Williams (Miss New York) became the first African-American woman to win the title when she was named Miss America 1984. Annual scholarship funds rose to $2.5 million dollars.
Vanessa Williams, Miss America 1984 - A
Vannessa Williams
Miss America 1984 - A
  Suzette Charles, Miss America 1984 - B
Suzette Charles
Miss America
1984 - B
July 23: Vanessa Williams resigned the 1984 title before questionable photos of her appeared in print. She was replaced by New Jersey's Suzette Charles (the first runner up) who became the second African-American woman to wear the crown. Sharlene Wells, Miss Utah, won the 1985 title in September. Born in Paraguay, she was the first Miss America not born on American soil. Local, state, and national scholarship funds reached the $4 million dollar mark. The District of Columbia sent a representative for the first time since 1963
Sharlene Wells, Miss America 1985
Sharlene Wells
Miss America 1985
Bust, waist, and hip measurements appeared for the last time in the pageant's program book. Susan Diane Akin became Mississippi's fourth Miss America (1986).
Susan Akin, Miss America 1986
Susan Akin
Miss America 1986
For the first time since 1982, Gillette sponsored a Miss America troupe featuring nine state titleholders. Representing Tennessee, Kellye Cash won the 1987 Miss America title. Annually, at least $5 million dollars in scholarships funds were awarded at the three levels of competition nationwide.
Kellye Cash, Miss America 1987
Kellye Cash
Miss America 1987
The first Registered Nurse won the Miss America title when Michigan's Kaye Lani Rae Rafko was named Miss America 1988. She elected to spend much of her tenure promoting the nursing profession and hospice care, which drew national attention. Her example would spawn official platform requirements for all contestants two years later. Al Marks retired as CEO and was replaced by Leonard Horn.
Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, Miss America 1988
Kaye Lani Rae Rafko
Miss America 1988
Minnesota claimed the spotlight when Gretchen Carlson was named Miss America 1989. The first and only classical violinist to win the title, Gretchen promoted Arts in Education during her tenure.
Gretchen Carlson, Miss America 1989
Gretchen Carlson
Miss America 1989
In September, Debbye Turner- Miss Missouri 1989- became Miss America 1990. The familiar term "reign" was replaced with "Year of Service" in pageant vernacular. 1989 marked the first year of Miss America's "official" platform. Miss Pennsylvania 1989, Michelle Kline, became the first winner of the Quality of Life Award for her volunteer community service efforts with Organ Donation.

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