festivals dating to the medieval era provide the most direct lineage for beauty
pageants. For example, English May Day celebrations always involved
the selection of a May Queen. In the United States, the May Day tradition
of selecting a woman to serve as a symbol of bounty and community ideals
continued, as young beautiful women participated in public celebrations.
A beauty pageant was held during the Eglinton Tournament of 1839, organized by Archibald Montgomerie, 13th Earl of Eglinton, as part of a re-enactment of a medieval joust that was held in Scotland. The pageant was won by Georgiana Seymour, Duchess of Somerset, the wife of Edward Seymour, 12th Duke of Somerset, and sister of Caroline Norton, and she was proclaimed as the “Queen of Beauty”.
Entrepreneur Phineas Taylor Barnum staged the first modern American pageant in 1854, but his beauty contest was closed down after public protest.
became more popular in the 1880’s where the first beauty queen was awarded to
an 18 year old lady. A photo of the contestant had to be submitted along with a
brief description of themselves. Thereafter 21 judges would decide who would
become the winner.
Beauty contests however did not become more popular till 1921, when a business man in an attempt to get more tourist to his city held the first Miss America. The pageant hosted the winners of local newspaper beauty contests in the “Inter-City Beauty” Contest, which was attended by over one hundred thousand people. Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C., was crowned Miss America 1921, having won both the popularity and beauty contests, and was awarded.
The popularity of the Miss America pageant prompted other organizations to establish similar contests in the 1950s and beyond. Some were significant while others were trivial, such as the National Donut Queen contest. The Miss World contest started in 1951, Miss Universe started in 1952 as did Miss USA. Miss International started in 1960. Miss Asia Pacific International which started in 1968 is the first and oldest beauty pageant in Asia. The Miss Black America contest started in 1968 in response to the exclusion of African American women from the Miss America pageant. The Miss Universe Organization started the Miss Teen USA in 1983 for the 14-19 age group. Miss Earth started in 2001, which channels the beauty pageant entertainment industry as an effective tool to actively promote the preservation of the environment. These contests continue to this day.