In 1941, the New York Subway System needed an ad campaign to draw attention to the ad campaigns posted in its cars.
"Miss Subways" ran from 1941 to 1976, and was deceptively ahead of its time. Other beauty pageants were still proudly featuring swimsuit competitions, but Miss Subway's bio always told of her career asipirations.
Meet the 1st Miss Subways, writer and illustrator Mona Freeman:
And Helen Lee, Columbia grad and 1st Asian-American Miss Subways in 1949:
From the beginning, Miss Subways was lobbied by local groups to include black, Jewish, Catholic, Asian, Hispanic and even Scandanavian women. Racial integration happened fairly quickly, with the first African American crowned in 1948 (the news was so big, the NAACP magazine did a feature story). An African-American Miss America wouldn't be crowned for another 35 years.
Decades later when Marcia Kilpatrick was crowned, she had her skin darkened in her photo. “I looked too light; I didn’t want any confusion,” she said.
That way, she said, “People can say, ‘That’s one of us.’”
An exhibition is running on the Miss Subways at the New York Transit Museum from October 23 - March 25.