Did You Know: Beauty pageants
Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 16, 2012 23:04
Did you know one of the earliest known beauty pageants was held in Rehoboth Beach, Del., in 1880?
Beauty pageants as we know them today have undergone a serious transformation over the course of history. Since ancient times, the concept of showcasing the beauty of human beings has been a popular form of entertainment. The ancient Greeks traditionally held a contest called a euandria, or contest of physique, at an annual festival in Athens. Medieval European festivals are the closest recorded relative to the modern day, female-centered beauty pageant, and the American May Day celebration, traditionally held on May 1, in which young women were chosen to serve as symbols of bounty and beauty, could also be considered part of the modern day pageant’s humble beginnings.
The first beauty contest similar to those we see today began in the 1850s with the popular national contests pioneered by the famous Phineas T. Barnum of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. He attempted to host a show displaying the “handsomest ladies” in America in 1854, but highbrow Victorian society was not yet ripe for respectable women of the era to put themselves on public display. He decided that holding a contest based on photographs would be a more acceptable approach, and the idea took off. For years to come, the photograph contest grew in popularity and reached from small local contests that chose women who represented the spirit of the community to the nationwide 1905 St. Louis Exposition beauty competition that reportedly received 40,000 photo entries.
The 20th century shifted societal perceptions of women, and this change was reflected in the growing acceptance of the public display of women. The 1880 Miss United States contest held in Rehoboth Beach is considered the precedent of the Miss America pageant. The pageant was a bathing beauty contest, and participants had to be under the age of 25, not married, at least 5 feet 4 inches tall and no more than 130 pounds. Inventor Thomas Edison was one of the judges, and the winner received a bridal trousseau, the clothes and linens a bride assembles for her marriage.