Atlantic City was home to the first Miss America Pageant in 1921 which included representatives from 7 cities and Atlantic City. Sixteen year-old Margaret Gorman from Washington, DC (at far left in white hat) won the first competition.
(H009.394.5fir329; ACFPL Atlantic City Heritage Collections)
The 1921 Atlantic City Pageant was designed to encourage visitors to stay in the resort past Labor Day, the traditional end of the season. The first pageant was held September 7-8, 1921, and eight finalists from cities in the Northeast competed for the title, which would later be known as Miss America.
The first pageant contestants were:
Margaret Bates, Miss Newark
Kathryn M. Gearon, Miss Camden
Margaret Gorman, Miss Washington, DC
Hazel Harris, Miss Ocean City
Virginia Lee, New York City
Thelma Matthews, Miss Pittsburgh
Nellie Orr, Miss Philadelphia
Emma Pharo, Miss Harrisburg
Ethel Charles, Miss Atlantic City, was the hostess, thus beginning a longstanding tradition in which Miss Atlantic City participated annually as the hostess of the Miss America Pageant.
Margaret Gorman, Miss Washington, DC, was the overall winner, and she received a statue of a golden mermaid, hers until the next year's pageant. Kathryn Gearon, Miss Camden, was the runner-up, and Virginia Lee, Miss New York City, was the winner of the professional division.
For more information and resources on the Miss America Pageant, please see the Atlantic City Free Public Library (ACFPL) Subject Guide on Miss America.
As part of the festivities, an annual parade was held with floats from businesses, civic organizations, and the pageant contestants competing. In 1921, as part of the very first parade, the Atlantic City Free Public Library submitted an entry. Below is a description of the library float, written soon after by one of the librarians:
The floor space was 8 by 10 feet. The front was a replica of the library entrance painted on beaver board. The back was about 3 feet high also painted beaver board. These 'walls' on the inside were lined with publishers' stretchers to represent book shelves. The front doors were cut so they could be opened. There was not room for a table or desk. There were four chairs facing out; they were occupied by four young people to represent Literature, Medicine, genealogy, and the children's department. Genealogy wore a very old dress and was interested in a copy of "The Daughters of the American Revolution". Medicine wore the surgeons white. And the cap and gown for Literature. The children's librarian had two children and suitable books for their use.
The valance was painted by a member of the staff & represented the types of borrowers of any library. Eight boy scouts served as motor power. Each represented various subjects and carried some article to illustrate his subject. There were two girl scouts advertising books on Food & Cookery and Household Management. There was a bunch of flags of all nations flying from the real 'wall' and the stars and stripes on the front. Plants and ivy for decoration. Two janitors in uniform.Atlantic City Free Public Library float entry in the Atlantic City Pageant parade, September 8, 1921. (H001.1921MissAmericaPageantLibraryfloat; ACFPL Atlantic City Heritage Collections)
More information on the history of the Atlantic City Free Public Library.