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Here’s How Much the Miss America Pageant Has Changed Throughout the Years

For nearly 100 years, the Miss America pageant has reflected the ever-changing American culture.

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Margaret GORMAN 1905-1995, winner of the first Miss America pageant in 1921 at Atlantic City, New JerseyThe Art Archive/Shutterstock

1921: The beginning of an era

In its inaugural year, the Miss America Pageant (which was then called the “Inter-City Beauty” contest) drove attention and revenue to the nine East Coast newspapers that founded it. The “Inter-City Beauties” were judged based on their personality and social graces after a day of mingling with judges and the public. The first winner, 16-year-old Margaret Gorman, hailed from Washington D.C. Check out these vintage photos of what the Miss Universe pageant used to look like.

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Bess Myerson, Helen Myerson, Sylvia Grace Miss America, Bess Myerson, center, poses with her two sisters, Helen Myerson, left, and Sylvia M. Grace, after walking off with the honors at the annual Beauty Pageant held at Atlantic City, N.J., . An accomplished flautist, she plans to use the $5,000 scholarship accompanying her title for the advanced study of music here and abroadSam Myers/Shutterstock

1928: Or… the end of an era?

In a 27-3 vote, pageant organizers decided to fold the annual contest due to increasing pressure from women and church groups, as well as imminent financial issues.

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Myerson Bess Myerson, of New York, holds the scepter after being crowned Miss America 1945 at the annual Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America who parlayed her stunning 1945 victory into national celebrity, died Dec. 14, 2014, at her home in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 90Uncredited/AP/REX/Shutterstock

1933: Back with a bang

Officials reinstated the annual contest, but this unrest was only a foreshadowing of the controversy it would continue to create over the next 75+  years.

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Renee Dianne Roy, Miss Connecticut, appears in bathing suit during preliminary event, of Miss America pageant on at Atlantic City, N.JMarty Lederhandler/Shutterstock

1947: Little polka dot bikini

The pageant reflected the cultural shifts of fashion and modesty; during this year, contestants began wearing two-piece swimsuits. This year was the first and last year that the winner was crowned in her swimsuit. Miss America and Miss USA actually aren’t the same pageant; here is the difference between the two.

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These women line the boardwalk at Atlantic City, N.J.,, where they are competing for the title of Miss America, 1952. The annual beauty pageant ends Sept. 8. Three of this group (front, center), Miss Sweden, Miss America 1951, and Miss Atlantic City, are not contestantsUncredited/AP/REX/Shutterstock

1954: Broadcasting live from Atlantic City

As the media landscape shifted from radio to television in the early 1950s, the Miss America pageant also evolved to stay relevant. This year brought the first live TV broadcast of the contest, garnering 27 million viewers. This made the Miss America brand ubiquitous; everyone knew what it was and it became a definition of American culture and beauty.

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Lynda Lee Mead Lynda Lee Mead of Natchez, Miss., is shown during the swimsuit competition during the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.JUncredited/AP/REX/Shutterstock

1960: A household name

Eighty-five million people––an all-time high––tuned into the annual two-hour broadcast of the Miss America pageant.

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Demonstrators from the National Women's Liberation Party picket with signs in protest of the annual Miss America Pageant in front of the Convention Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., onAP/REX/Shutterstock

1968: The rise of unruly women

The ‘60s brought the rise of protests: against war, the government, and yes, even the Miss America pageant. Feminists gathered outside of the competition venue and protested by throwing their bras, girdles, curling irons, false eyelashes and other “instruments of female torture” into a trash can. They claimed that Miss America encouraged unrealistic beauty standards. We wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t learn about this in history class––or about these 9 other incredible women with empowering stories.

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King Rebecca Ann King, of Denver, Co., walks down the runway after she is crowned Miss America 1974 at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., Saturday nightAP/REX/Shutterstock

1973: Using her platform

The winner of the 1974 pageant, Rebecca King, received nationwide attention for her vocal pro-choice stance on abortion during the divisive Roe v. Wade decision year. Each year, the winner of the contest chooses a cause to champion, but King’s was by far the most controversial. Check out this list of 8 other inspiring women that are changing the lives of women across the world, just like King.

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Miss America 1976, Tawny Elaine Godin of Saratoga Springs, New York, left, is crowned by Miss American 1975 Shirley Cothran, right, at the pageant in Atlantic City, N.JAnonymous/AP/REX/Shutterstock

1974: Beauty… and brains

A law student crowned a doctorate student, and the “Modern Miss America” was born. She was smart, sophisticated, and eloquent. She was expected to be beautiful and driven. The common narrative of desiring marriage and childbearing transformed into one that encouraged careers, higher education, and success.

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Williams Vanessa Williams, representing New York State, is shown during her coronation walk holding the scepter after she is crowned Miss America 1984 at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., on . Williams, of Syracuse, is the first African American to win the competitionJACK KANTHAL/Shutterstock

1983: It only took 50 years

Vanessa Williams was the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss America in 1984, but she resigned shortly after Penthouse released nude photos of her to the public. The runner-up, Suzette Charles of New Jersey, became the second African-American woman to be crowned. Be sure to read about these 58 trailblazing women who made history, just like Williams.

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Pictured on the beach in Atlantic City at the Miss America Pageant are from left: Suzette Charles, Miss N.J.; Vanessa Williams, New York; Jennifer Eshelman, Pa.; and Dakeita Vanderburg, Conn., shownJack Kanthal/Shutterstock

1985: Nixing the measurements

The pageant program book ran bust, waist, and hip measurements for the last time. This marked an enormous change, as the female body was meticulously studied and measured for the previous 50 years.

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Heather Whitestone Miss America 1995 Heather Whitestone, the former Miss Alabama, walks down the runway and signs "I Love You" to the crowd after she won the 74th annual pageant in the Atlantic City Convention HallTOM COSTELLO/Shutterstock

1994: DisABILITY

Heather Whitestone, who had serious hearing loss, became the first Miss America with a disability. This transformed the narrative that Miss America had to be able-bodied in order to be a role model for other Americans.

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MISS AMERICA Former Miss America Heather French, top, crowns Miss America 2001 Angela Perez Baraquio, the former Miss Hawaii, during the Miss America pageant in the Atlantic City, N.J., Boardwalk Convention HallCHARLES REX ARBOGAST/Shutterstock

2000: Changing cultural landscape

Angela Perez Baraquio was the first Asian-American woman to be crowned Miss America. As a competitor, she probably needed a lot of motivation to move through the challenging competition. Check out these 20 confidence-boosting quotes from impressive women in history.

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Mallory Hagan, Nina Davuluri. Miss New York Nina Davuluri, front, is crowned as Miss America 2014 by Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan, in Atlantic City, N.JMel Evans/Shutterstock

2013: Fostering an accepting environment

Nina Davuluri was the first Indian-American Miss America and represented her cause, cultural diversity.

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Miss Missouri, Erin O'Flaherty waves as she is introduced during Miss America Pageant arrival ceremonies, in Atlantic City. The contestants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were welcomed to the city Tuesday afternoon to kick off two weeks that will culminate in the crowning of the 2017 Miss America on Sept. 11Mel Evans/Shutterstock

2016: LGBTQ+ equality

Erin O’Flaherty became the first openly lesbian contestant in the pageant. Her presence in the pageant represented another big step toward achieving equality and inclusivity.

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Gretchen CarlsonMatt Baron/Shutterstock

January 2018: The aftereffects of #MeToo

Gretchen Carlson, a political journalist and former Miss America winner, was named Chair of the Board of Trustees. A handful of other women were elected to the board, replacing men after the explosive and revealing #MeToo movement in 2017. Since their election, the organization has undergone rapid (and welcomed) change.

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Miss America 1989 Gretchen CarlsonREX/Shutterstock

June 2018: Bye, bye bikini

Gretchen Carlson called for the end of the swimsuit portion of the competition––which has been an integral part of the pageant structure since its creation. In a press release, the Board of Trustees wrote, “In its place, each candidate will participate in a live interactive session with the judges, where she will highlight her achievements and goals in life and how she will use her talents, passion, and ambition to perform the job of Miss America.” Regina Hopper, President and CEO, unveiled the new mission statement of the competition: ‘To prepare great women for the world, and to prepare the world for great women.’ Now, find out what Miss USA looked like the year you were born.