This Miss America Made More Money Than the President of the United States
Who: Norma Smallwood, crowned Miss Tulsa and the first Native American to win the title of Miss America; May 12,1909–May 8, 1966
Why She Dazzles: Norma was regarded as the first financially savvy Miss America when she asked for appearance fees, however, the press highly criticized her when she requested earnings and made money as a popular poster girl during her Miss America reign. According to the Miss America organization, Norma “proceeded to make approximately $100,000 (an income higher than either Babe Ruth or the President of the United States) through personal appearance fees and product endorsements.” She toured the Orpheum vaudeville circuit after her reign.
Why You Need to Know Her Today: Norma wasn’t the stereotypical beauty queen in 1926. Unlike her fellow contestants who wore their hair in the popular flapper bobbed style, she rolled her hair in braided buns pinned to the side of her face. She was the first Native American (she was Cherokee) and the first woman from Oklahoma to win the Miss America pageant; six women from Oklahoma have since won the national crown. Since Norma’s reign, Miss America has evolved through the decades. The pageant no longer judges women in bathing suits; Miss America bid farewell to the infamous swimsuit competition in 2018. Today the organization says it focuses on inclusiveness, providing scholarships, and making a difference in communities.
What the Media Wrote Back Then: “WESTERN GIRL WINS MISS AMERICA TITLE; Miss Norma Smallwood of Tulsa Is Crowned at Atlantic City Pageant. WINNER'S HAIR IS UNBOBBED Marjorie Joesting of Washington Is Second Choice -- Thousands View Roller Chair Parade.
“ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Sept. 10. - Miss Norma Smallwood of Tulsa, Okla., was selected by the fifteen expert beauty judges tonight in the annual national contest of bathing beauties as the prettiest girl in a bathing suit of all the seventy-two entrants from all parts of the United States.” —New York Times
Where She May Like to Instagram: Gilcrease Museum, once her home, is now the current home to the largest public holdings of art of the American West, as well as a fine art collection of more than 13,000 pieces spanning 400 years. Norma married oil magnate Thomas Gilcrease in 1928, although their marriage ended in a messy divorce that received national attention just a few years later. Gilcrease Museum is located near downtown Tulsa in the Osage Hills, where the scenic tallgrass prairie glides through rolling hills.
What the Ladies Rocked Then: Originally called the Inter-City Beauty contest, the Miss America pageant began in 1921 as a way for city newspapers to increase their circulations through photographic popularity contests. Atlantic City hosted these “Inter-City Beauties” who aspired for the coveted prizes including the title of Miss America, a fantastic crown unlike today’s diamond crown, a loving cup, and other aquatic-themed trophies presented by the pageant mascot King Neptune.
How You Can Rock It Now: Miss America is synonymous with a four-pointed glittering crown. The eye-catching sparkle has dazzled for decades since it debuted in 1955, the same year when the pageant theme song, “There She Is, Miss America,” was introduced. While the crowning of Miss America showcases a real diamond-encrusted crown, the day-to-day crown worn by Miss America is a replica in rhinestones fit for a queen on the go.
Shop the Sparkle: Sparkle Queen
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