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Thursday, September 07, 2017

September 7, 1921

Here we are with the first Throwback Thursday post for September.  Unfortunately, this post has nothing to do with food, but it is a fascinating tale of an event that has been going on for almost a century - and despite some controversy surrounding it, it still remains a big deal.

That's your only clue for now.  It's September 7th, so let's see what else happened on this date in history...

1812 - The Battle of Borodino is fought

1863 - Fort Wagner is captured by Union troops during the American Civil War

1876 - Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang attempt to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota, but are chased away by armed residents of the town

1895 - The first rugby league football game is played in England

1901 - The Boxer Rebellion in Qing dynasty China officially ends

1911 - Guillaume Apollinaire - a French poet - is arrested after being suspected of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre

1923 - INTERPOL is founded

1925 - Fashion designer Laura Ashley (d. 1985) is born in Dowlais, Wales

1926 - Scooby-Doo voice actor Don Messick (d. 1997) is born in Buffalo, New York

1927 - The first fully electronic television system is achieved by Philo Farnsworth

1936 - Singer Buddy Holly (d. 1959) is born in Lubbock, Texas

1940 - The German Luftwaffe begins the Blitz - several cities in England, including London are bombed nightly for fifty consecutive nights

1943 - Fifty-five people die when fire sweeps through the Gulf Hotel in Houston, Texas

1945 - Japanese forces on Wake Island surrender to U.S. Marines

1957 - Singer Jermaine Stewart (d. 1997) is born in Columbus, Ohio

1963 - The Pro Football Hall of Fame is established

1964 - American rapper and N.W.A. member Eric "Eazy-E" Wright (d. 1995) is born in Compton, California

1979 - In an effort to avoid filing for bankruptcy, Chrysler asks the United States government for a $1.5 billion loan

1986 - Desmond Tutu becomes the first black man to lead the Anglican Church in South Africa

1999 - An earthquake strikes Athens, Greece, killing 143 and leaving 50,000 homeless

2003 - Singer Warren Zevon dies at the age of 56

2008 - The United States government assumes control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - two of the country's largest mortgage financing companies

2011 - Nearly the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavi Kontinental Hockey League team perish in a plane crash in Russia

2015 - Actor Dickie Moore dies at the age of 89

Now for celebrity birthdays, there's quite a lot of September 7 babies out there.  Happy birthday to Benjamin Latimore, Peter Gill, Dario Argento, Joe Klein, Susan Blakely, Gloria Gaynor, Barry Siegel, Julie Kavner, Chrissie Hynde, Morris Albert, Mark Isham, Corbin Bernsen, Michael Emerson, Mira Furlan, Michael Feinstein, Diane Warren, Toby Jones, Rudy Galindo, Tom Everett Scott, Shannon Elizabeth, Ben Hollingsworth, and Evan Rachel Wood.

Now, for today's blog entry, I thought that instead of celebrating a birthday, we would instead celebrate an anniversary.

How about a ninety-sixth anniversary?  Well, for that to happen, we'd have to set our throwback machine to the date of September 7, 1921!

Before we do this though, let's play a little bit of a game.  Don't worry if you don't know the answer.  It's all about having fun.

What do the following people all have in common? 

Heather Whitestone, Gretchen Carlson, Vanessa Williams, Phyllis George, Mary Ann Mobley, Lee Meriwether, Bess Myerson, and Margaret Gorman.

Yes, they are all women, but there's more to it than that.  Yes, in their prime, they were all considered some of the most beautiful women in the United States.  But again, that's not quite the connection.

Give up?

Well, all of the women I have listed in this group have won the Miss America Pageant!  And it was on this date 96 years ago in Atlantic City, New Jersey that the very first Miss America Pageant was held! wasn't called the Miss America Pageant when it made its debut.

The origin of the pageant actually began the year before.  In 1920, an event known as the Fall Frolic was held in Atlantic City, and it was initially meant as a way to promote the area to tourists.  A parade was launched with several hundred men pushing wicker chairs down the pathway with fair maidens seated atop of each chair.  The event proved to be a huge success, and the Businessmen's League wanted to do the event again in September 1921.  However, instead of a parade, they decided to turn it into a beauty competition.  Publications from all across the country were invited to sponsor the competition, and contestants (who largely came from the Eastern Seaboard of the United States) competed to win the title (which would not be officially called Miss America until 1922).

The winner of the very first pageant?  Well, it would be the last name that I posted in the trivia question above - 16-year-old Margaret Gorman.  Would you believe that as a prize for winning the competition, she won $100?  While a nice chunk of change for winning the pageant, it's a far cry from the college scholarships, make-up and cosmetics prizes, and fabulous fashions that the contestants win now!

And certainly the promise of college scholarships are one positive for the Miss America pageant.  There's also the chance to use the title to do good for the world and be an ambassador for the Miss America brand.  But the Miss America pageant wasn't always a brilliant shining example of good sportsmanship.  In fact, there was a lot of dirty laundry among the sashes, swimsuits and bedazzled evening gowns - especially during the pageant's early years.

Take what happened to Bess Myerson, who won the pageant in 1945.  While Myerson was the first winner from the state of New York to take the title, she was also the first Jewish-American to win.  And back in the mid-1940s, anti-semetic feelings were still a huge issue.  Myerson would later recall that she was actually unable to stay in certain hotels during her tour of the country because of her Jewish roots. 

The same thing happened to Vanessa Williams, as well as four other contestants of African-American origin who competed for the 1984 title.  She described how one contestant from North Carolina already had a cross burned on her front lawn simply for winning.  And even when Williams did win the title, she was the subject of hate mail and death threats - clearly by some insecure and hateful people, I'm sure.  Despite that, Williams stood strong and stayed true to her commitments.

Well, at least until she was forced to resign her title to Suzette Charles following that Penthouse spread.  Oh well...her film and music career certainly softened that blow quite a bit, and today she's doing just fine.

Actually, quite a few contestants went on to do great things after they served as Miss America.  Phyllis George, winner of the 1971 contest, went on to become First Lady of Kentucky and became a broadcaster.  Gretchen Carlson (above picture), the winner of 1989's pageant became a journalist and became quite the figure in 2016 when she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against FOX News CEO Roger Ailes.  And Heather Whitestone made history in the pageant by becoming the first deaf contestant to win the title for the 1995 contest.  Whitestone has since gone on to write several books.

Oh, and a couple of Miss America contestants became actresses after the crown was handed off.  Mary Ann Mobley, Miss America 1959, would become Philip Drummond's wife on "Diff'rent Strokes" in the final season of the show.  And do I need to remind you that Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955 (above photo), played the role of Catwoman on the 1960s television series "Batman"? 

And, of course, I've already mentioned Vanessa Williams - who has starred in "Ugly Betty", "Daytime Divas", "Soul Food", and many other film and television projects. 

But to all began with Margaret Gorman - the very first Miss America - crowned 96 years ago today.

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