Tomas Edison, judge of
 first recorded American pageant

According to Wikipedia, a beauty pageant or beauty contest is a competition that mainly focuses on the physical beauty of its contestants. The contests often incorporate personality, talent, and answers to judges’ questions as criteria. The first recorded beauty contest in America took place in 1880, in Delaware, where inventor Thomas Edison was a judge.

As early as the 1880’s, business owners and community leaders began organizing beauty pageants in seaside towns, but journalists and travelers considered these events unpleasant. Pageants remained unprofitable and irregular. 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".

Georgina Seymour
Queen of Beauty-1839

Beauty pageants began with entrepreneur Phineas Taylor Barnum. He staged the first modern American pageant in 1854, but his beauty contest was closed down after public protest. Barnum reformed his idea of a beauty pageant that allowed women to share their beauty and talents in a refined way which led to many more pageants. Before the 1920’s, regardless to many attempts, no beauty pageant caught on as a national or annual event. Soon after World War II broke out in 1942, the pageants faced being cancelled. Pageant officials began to promote its competitors as patriotism by sending them around the U.S. to help with the war efforts.

Modern beauty pageants as we know them today are traceable to the Miss America Beauty Pageant, which was first held in Atlantic City in 1921 under the title “Inter-city beauty contest”. The Little Miss America pageant began in the 1960s at Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. Originally, it was for teenagers from 13 to 17 years old, but by 1964 there were over 35,000 participants, which prompted an age division. The modern child beauty pageant emerged in the early 1960s, held in Miami, Florida. In 1968, the first Miss Black America pageant was held by the NCAAP the same night as the Miss America pageant (as a protest against pageant’s discrimination of non-whites). By 1989, the idea that each participant is required to compete with a platform or social issue was introduced. That if the participant was crowned winner, they would commit to supporting during their reigning year.

2019 Miss America Contestants, PC: Miss America Organization 

Fast forward over a century and according to Forbes, 2.5 million women compete in a pageant every year. To put that in perspective, the latest recorded population of the United States was 324 million, with 161 million being female. This means that 1.5 %, or 1.5 out of every 100 women in the United States compete in a pageant every year. Further, it is estimated that there are 20 million women that have competed in a pageant before but are not competing in the current year (alumni). - Abby P.