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Miss America, 1921: How It All Began

In-Person Program presented in partnership with the National Museum of American History

Weekend Lecture/Seminar

Sunday, February 4, 2024 - 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0335
National Museum of American History
Nicholas and Eugenia Taubman Hall of Music
14th St & Constitution Ave NW
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Miss America winner Margaret Gorman, 1921

How did the Miss America pageant survive for more than 100 years despite scandals, shifting cultural tastes. and changing expectations for women? To understand, you have to go back to the beginning.

At the dawn of the Roaring ‘20s, a small-time beauty contest thrown together to draw tourists to Atlantic City, N.J., unexpectedly turned into a high-stakes drama that captivated spectators and the media when judges tapped to pick the prettiest girl found themselves torn between two very different young women. They made a choice that would set the stage for a century of tensions and contradictions.

Washington Post journalist Amy Argetsinger, author of There She Was: The Secret History of Miss America, explores this pop culture icon’s rise and fall, investigates its existential struggles in recent years, and shares the stirring stories of the women who wore the pageant crown over decades of social change. 

Following the lecture, attendees have the rare opportunity to see objects from the National Museum of American History’s Miss America collection that are not on public display, hear from curators Ryan Lintelman and Jane Rogers about collecting the objects, and meet former Miss America titleholders, who tell stories about the pieces.

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