Women’s History Wednesday!
When Dora Martin Berry was crowned the first black Miss University of Iowa in 1955, it made news around the world. “It’s not the color of the skin that should matter, it’s just the person,” she told reporters.
Unfortunately things were not as progressive as they seemed. As she explained in a 1997 oral history interview with the Iowa Women’s Archives, University administration immediately changed pageant rules to prevent such an occurrence in the future, and cancelled or had Berry replaced in events traditionally attended by the campus queen. Despite facing such discrimination, she still has positive memories of the experience. “I never wasted much time being upset about what they did or didn’t do, because they couldn’t diminish what had happened to me,” Berry told IWA. ”That was a gift that is mine to keep.”
Learn more at Iowa Digital Library:
Beauty contestants backstage at a pageant sponsored by the Shriners in Harlem, 1951. Photo: Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos.
Dorothy Dandridge (third from left front row) with beauty contest winners in Los Angeles, CA - 1946
1942 Miss Victory Beauty Contest, being guest hosted by Maria Montez at the Victory House in Los Angeles. Photo by Joseph Jasgur
Miss America 1941 was held at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The winner was Miss California Rosemary LaPlanche.
Group of beauty contestants pose lined up in swimsuits, c. 1960 (via)
Some contestants in the Miss Universe Pageant, 1968
(Not all the contestants are shown. This is half of the contestants.)
Betty Barrett diaper queen of the convention for the Diaper Service Institute of America. Chicago, 1947