The Miss America pageant started as little more than a bathing suit revue. It broke viewership records in its heyday and bills itself as one of the world's largest scholarship programs for women. But, like other pageants, it has struggled to stay relevant as national attitudes regarding women's rights have changed.
The contest originated in 1920 as the Fall Frolic, which became the Inter-City Beauty Contest the following year. In 1921, a high school junior named Margaret Gorman was one of approximately 1,000 entrants in a photo contest held by the Washington Herald. She was chosen as the first Miss Washington, D.C., and her prize was a trip to Atlantic City, where she won the top prize: the Golden Mermaid Trophy.
The next year, Gorman was expected to defend her title. But when the Washington Herald selected a new Miss Washington, D.C., Atlantic City pageant officials didn't know what new title to award Gorman. Since both titles she won in 1921 — Inter-City Beauty, Amateur and The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America — were considered somewhat awkward, it was decided to call her Miss America.
The pageant was conceived by the Businessmen's League of Atlantic City as a way to extend the summer tourism season in Atlantic City for another week, being held the weekend after Labor Day weekend, when temperatures were generally still warm.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.