Previous Page  9 / 100 Next Page
Show Menu
Previous Page 9 / 100 Next Page
Page Background

would accept entries in the form

of photographic likenesses. These

photographs would be displayed in

his museum and the public would vote

for them. The final ten entrants would

receive specially commissioned oil

portraits of themselves. These por-

traits would be reproduced in a “fine

arts” book to be published in France,

entitled the World’s Book of Female

Beauty. Barnum sold off his museum

before the photographs arrived, but

in employing modern technology and

in combining lowbrow entertainment

with the appeal of highbrow culture,

Barnum pioneered a new model of

commercial entertainment.

In the decades to come, the picture

photo contest was widely imitated

and became a respectable way for

girls and women to have their beauty

judged. Civic leaders across the coun-

try, seeking to boost citizen morale,

incorporate newcomers, and attract

new settlers and businesses to their

communities, held newspaper contests

to choose women that represented the

“spirit” of their locales. One of the most

popular of these contests occurred in

1905, when promoters of the St. Louis

Exposition contacted city newspapers

across the country to select a repre-

sentative young woman from their city

to compete for a beauty title at the

Exposition. There was intense com-

petition and, according to one report,

forty thousand photo entries.

By the early decades of the twentieth

century, attitudes had begun to change

about beauty pageants. Prohibitions

against the display of women in public

began to fade, though not to disappear

altogether. One of the earliest known

resort beauty pageants had been held

in 1880, at Rehoboth Beach, Dela-

ware. However, it was not until the

twentieth century that beach resorts

began to hold regular beauty pageants

as entertainments for the growing

middle class. In 1921, in an effort to

lure tourists to stay past Labor Day,

Atlantic City organizers staged the first

Miss America Pageant in September.

Stressing that the contestants were

both youthful and wholesome, the

Miss America Pageant brought to-

gether issues of democracy and class,

art and commerce, gender and sex -

and started a tradition that would grow

throughout the century to come.