Rowan University students help to preserve 100 years of Miss America artifacts
This year marks 100 years since the beginning of the Miss America pageant, which got its start in Atlantic City.
With a century of pageants comes many artifacts – ones that the students at Rowan University are helping to preserve.
“I was born and raised here and I go to college here and it was really exciting to me that I could be a part of something that was preserving New Jersey,” says freshman Grace Fox.
Fox and senior Destiny Hall have spent hours inside the Rowan library archiving 100 years of artifacts and digitizing them.
“I originally started scanning photographs from 1921, from that original Miss America pageant, which was super interesting,” Fox says. “And now I am scanning programs from throughout the years of the Miss America pageant.”
But beyond the programs, there are also oil paintings, clothing, crowns and newspaper articles – artifacts that say represent more than just the history of the pageant.
“There’s fashion history. There’s political history. There’s racial history. There’s gender history in terms of changing expectations we have on women’s bodies,” says history and American studies professor Katherine Turner.
“There was one when AIDS was a big thing. There was another one where polio was a thing, so it was interesting to see how the country changed and how the different women of Miss America responded to that and how they helped the world,” says Hall.
Both students said they came out with different views of Miss America, but with similar thoughts.
“I was really curious to see how women were represented and one of the interesting things I realized is that a lot of these women are educated, they were in college and had really interesting majors and they're also part of the entertainment industry,” says Hall. “I realize that Miss America is kind of a stepping ground for their careers.”
"Miss America has supported so many of those women along the way and it's incredible to see how that educational and professional opportunity has expanded for women,” says Fox.
The archival project will take years to complete, with different students stepping in to help digitize the items which are currently sitting in storage. The 2021 Miss America competition is set for December.