What Was Miss America Like 100 Years Ago? Unveiling the 1924 Competition and Its Winner, Ruth Malcomson

In a time when the Miss America competition wasn’t the globally televised spectacle it is today, the year 1924 marked the crowning of Ruth Malcomson as the Miss America of her time.

Long before the tearful moments, unexpected reactions, and bouquets of flowers became synonymous with modern Miss America pageants, the event was a more modest affair held in the iconic locale of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Nearly a century ago, Miss America was a low-key pageant that managed to capture public attention and the aspirations of young women across the nation.

Delving into the annals of history, let’s uncover 10 intriguing facts about the 1924 Miss America pageant and the victor herself, Ruth Malcomson.

Malcomson (left) with her mother, 1925

1) Fourth Year of the Competition: The 1924 Miss America competition marked its fourth consecutive year. Initially known as the “Atlantic City Pageant,” it originated in 1921 to extend the tourist season beyond Labor Day. The inaugural Miss America, Margaret Gorman from Washington, DC, received a golden mermaid statue as her trophy.

2) Location, Location, Location: The 1924 Miss America pageant found its home in Atlantic City, New Jersey, specifically at the Million Dollar Pier.

3) A Young Victor: The coveted title was claimed by 18-year-old Ruth Malcomson, who had previously been crowned Miss Philadelphia.

4) Record Number of Contestants: Ruth Malcomson competed against a staggering number of over 80 contestants, marking the largest turnout in Miss America history at that time.

5) Overcoming the Odds: Ruth bested Mary Campbell from Columbus, Ohio, who had previously been crowned Miss America in both 1922 and 1923. Campbell had been on track to potentially secure a third victory, but Ruth emerged as the unexpected winner.

Malcomson crowned “The Golden Mermaid,” Miss America 1924

6) The “Golden Mermaid”: Ruth was awarded the title of the “Golden Mermaid” upon her victory. The mermaid symbol alluded to the pageant’s connection with Atlantic City, positioned by the Atlantic Ocean.

7) Not Without Criticism: In an unusual twist, Ruth Malcomson publicly criticized the Miss America pageant in 1925, asserting that it had transformed into a commercial venture exploiting the looks of the contestants who relied on their beauty for a living. She questioned the fairness of competing against girls who were groomed to maximize their attractiveness.

8) Defending Her Ground: Ruth Malcomson didn’t shy away from addressing critiques from women’s rights groups. She retorted against those who targeted her individually rather than critiquing the larger organizational structure of the pageant.

Ruth Malcomson

9) Staying in Shape: Ruth Malcomson’s regimen for maintaining her Miss America figure in 1924 provides a glimpse into the health and beauty ideals of the time. Her ten-point plan included rising early, having a hearty breakfast, engaging in exercise, abstaining from alcohol, avoiding smoking, spending time outdoors, opting for a light lunch, enjoying a satisfying dinner, prioritizing early bedtime, and ensuring ample sleep.

As the Miss America pageant evolved over the decades, transforming from its simpler origins to its contemporary grandeur, the memory of the 1924 competition and its young victor, Ruth Malcomson, remain a fascinating chapter in the history of this iconic event.

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