Everyone certainly remembers Helen—Miss Troy—winner of the first beauty pageant. Beauty pageants are not the popular, newsworthy events that they once were. Can you name Miss Asheville, Miss North Carolina, or Miss America 2015? I’ll wager you can’t (I couldn’t), so the answers will appear at the end of this post. Let’s take a look at some of North Carolina’s beauties, shall we?
Raphael Tuck & Sons—“Art Publishers to Their Majesties The King and Queen”—published a postcard series of 45 State Belles in 1908. North Carolina’s card was typified with a mountain cascade, tall pines, the state seal (featuring the beauties of Liberty and Plenty), and an artist’s depiction of a lovely belle. Most likely she was not an actual resident of this state, but probably the vision of a British artist given that Tuck & Sons was a British publisher.
The very first winner of the Miss North Carolina pageant in 1937 was Miss Charlotte, Ruth McLean Covington. Local pageants across the state such as Miss Capital City, Miss Greater Cape Fear, Miss Queen City, Miss Metrolina, Miss Spivey’s Corners, and Miss Asheville send contestants what is now known as the Miss North Carolina Scholarship Pageant.
Various festivals around the state have also crowned beauty queens. In Hendersonville, the Apple Festival of 1947 crowned Joan S. Williams as the first queen. In this circa early 1960’s postcard, a bevy of “Festival Queens of Beauty” are posed in an apple orchard. In 1993, the Apple Festival changed the title from queen to ambassador.
In 1948, the first North Carolina Azalea Festival in Wilmington crowned the actress Jacqueline White queen. Unlike others festivals, the Azalea Queen was an invited celebrity. Other celebrity Azalea Queens include the actresses Martha Hyer, Alexis Smith, Polly Bergen, and Phylicia Rashad to name just a few. This postcard from the 1950’s to early 1960’s shows the queen’s float in the annual parade.
Asheville’s (and North Carolina’s) claim to national fame occurred on September 9, 1961 when Maria Beale Fletcher (after winning the Miss Asheville and Miss North Carolina pageants) was crowned Miss America. Maria’s parents ran the Fletcher School of Dance for many years in Asheville and Fletcher.
In the Miss America pageant Maria was a preliminary winner in the swimsuit competition. For her talent she tap-danced to a recording of herself singing, “Somebody Loves Me”. On November 4, 1961, just a few weeks before the scheduled Christmas parade, Asheville’s Miss America was honored with a parade in downtown Asheville.
With her Miss America scholarship winnings, Maria earned a degree at Vanderbilt University and became a successful businesswoman, author, wife and mother. During the late 1960s, Fletcher served as co-host of The Noon Show on a Nashville, Tennessee television station.
I found two of these specially made license plates at a flea market several years ago. I gave them to my brother and one of my oldest friends as Christmas presents one year!
Interestingly, another Miss North Carolina—Jeanne Swanner Day of Graham—won the Miss Congeniality crown in 1963 with a record of 50 out of 52 signed ballots (to prevent contestants from voting for themselves). She also holds the record as the tallest woman—at six-foot two-inches—ever to compete in the Miss America pageant.
The only other Miss Asheville (so far) to become Miss North Carolina was Connie Lerner, Miss North Carolina, 1970. And the answers are…
*Miss Asheville 2015– Brianne Schlott
Miss North Carolina 2015—Kate Peacock (Miss Dunn)
Miss America 2015– Kira Kazantsev (Miss New York State Scholarship Program)
Here is a link to Miss Asheville website with a list of previous Miss Asheville winners.
Post by Terry Taylor, Board Member of the Friends of the North Carolina Room; postcards from the Terry Taylor private collection.