People & Events: The Miss America Organization
The Miss America Pageant and its sponsor, the Miss America Organization, has evolved from a beach-side showcase for frolicking bathing beauties to a competition that still includes bathing suits, but now emphasizes scholarships and social causes. In 1921 the winner of the first Inter-City Beauty Contest was crowned "Miss America," and she won a first place prize of $100. The first pageant had only seven contestants from cities along the East Coast. Although the number of contestants and the pageant's popularity increased throughout the decade, the event was closed down in 1927 due to growing criticism and charges of immorality, as well as a lack of financial support.
In 1933 organizers revived the pageant. By 1940, the pageant had regained its financial footing and respectability. It continued as a not-for-profit event; its official title became the "Miss America Pageant" and chose the Atlantic City Convention Hall as its permanent venue. The national executive director, Lenora Slaughter, shaped the modern pageant by adding features such as state competitions, the scholarship program, and a judging category based on personal interviews.
In the 1990s the pageant was reformed into The Miss America Organization, a not-for-profit corporation which comprised three distinct divisions: the traditional Miss America Pageant, the scholarship fund, and a Miss America foundation. The organization grants state franchises to one "responsible" organization in each state -- usually the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees). The state organization conducts a state competition in accordance with all the rules and regulations established by the Miss America Organization. These include having a panel of Miss-America-certified judges. The state pageant organizations, in turn, are responsible for reciprocal franchising of "responsible" organizations within each state to sponsor local and regional competitions. The local, state, and national organizations all rely on a vast army of volunteers and financial supporters to work throughout the year.
Contestants at all levels of the pageant compete in four categories: talent, evening wear, interview and physical fitness. Further, every Miss America state titleholder must select a platform for a social cause that is important to her. She spends her year's service as a state winner advocating her issue. On the national level, Miss America also spends her year (since 1989, when the platform requirement was established) advocating her cause to the media, business people, public officials, and civic and charitable organizations.
The pageant competitions and the national broadcast are only one part of what the Miss America Organization does. The national and state organizations operate twelve months a year, raising scholarship funds from large and small businesses. The Miss America Organization's main mission is to provide contestants with the opportunity to pursue their professional and educational goals through monetary grants and awards.
On the national level, scholarships are distributed as follows:
Miss America, $40,000
First runner-up, $30,000
Second runner-up, $20,000
Third runner-up, $15,000
Fourth runner-up, $10,000
Each of the five semi-finalists also wins $8,000. Each of the other 40 contestants receives $3,000. The three preliminary talent winners get $2000 each. The three preliminary swimsuit winners gain $500 each. One non-finalist interview winner is awarded $1,000. There are a number of other scholarship awards on the national level, including ten Bert Parks non-finalist talent winners, receiving $1,000 each, and a newly established Steinway Music Scholarship of $5,000.
Since establishing the scholarship program in 1945, the Miss America program has distributed more than $150 million in educational grants, making it the world's largest scholarship program for women. Each year more than $30 million in diverse scholarships are made available to thousands of women who participate in local, state and national Miss America programs.
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