It’s impossible to tell exactly when beauty contests or beauty pageants began, but they certainly existed since antiquity. For example, in Troy, in Ellas, on Lesbos Island, in ancient China etc, beauty pageants were a form of entertainment. Even in the Ottoman Empire, despite strict Islamic morals, rulers entertained themselves with competitions to choose the most gorgeous wife in their harem.
It’s interesting how the perception of beauty have changed over time. Looking at the beauty quins of the past and the women of today I am sure you will agree they aren’t beautiful as todays “modern woman”. What was once considered beautiful and fashionable is now even laughable.
The first modern Europen pageant was held in 1839 in Scotland.
The title of “Queen of Beauty” was awarded to the 30 year old Jane Georgiana Sheridan (5 November 1809 – 14 December 1884), wife of Edward Seymour, 12th Duke of Somerset and sister of noted author Caroline Norton .
First modern American pageant
The first modern American pageant, involving the display of women’s faces and figures before judges, was staged by Phineas Taylor Barnum in 1854. His beauty contest was closed down by public protest.
It was in the 1880s that beauty pageants became more popular and the first “Bathing Beauty Pageant” took place as part of a summer festival to promote business in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
The first international beauty pageant was held on Sept. 19, 1888 at the Belgian resort of Spa.
The title of ‘beauty queen’ was awarded to the 18 year old Creole contestant from Guadeloupe: Marthe Soucaret. She was rewarded with an impressive prize fund of 5,000 francs, as well as the honour of appearing on the cover of French magazine L’Illustration.
According to a reporter of a Scandinavian newspaper highlighting the unusual event, all men wore tuxedos and all women wore long dresses.
All participants had to send a photograph and a short description of themselves to be eligible for entry. There were over 350 applications but the judges selected only 21. The jury consisted only of men. The contestants were hidden from the wider public in a secluded wing of a private house and closed carriages that took them to and from the main hall. They were judged in person by the jury.
The first German beauty contest was held in the summer of 1909 in Berlin cabaret “Promenade.”
The 19 year old Gertrude Dopieralski, won the beauty queen title and received the prize – as much as 20 Reichsmark gold! She was just a cigar vendor in East Prussia.
However, poverty from of the post-war victory forced Gertrud to trade her 20-mark gold coin in the black market in exchange for food and other necessities.
The first beauty pageant in France was held in 1920.
There were 1 700 registrations, the beauty queen title was won by the 18 year old Agnès Souret.
The first winner of the “Miss America” pageant was selected on September 8, 1921.
The winner was sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C, the daughter of an official of the Ministry of Agriculture. Her prize was a golden mermaid statue and the title “Miss America.”
Margaret Gorman, 16, (3rd from left) with contestants from 9 cities – 1921
By the way, that pageant was the world début of a seminude body as the girls showed up wearing swimsuits for the first time.
The “Miss America” pageant was to become the specimen of morality and chastity since the winner was strictly prohibited to show up in places of alcohol consumption during the year following the pageant. Failure to follow this rule was punished by termination of the contract and even revocation of the prizes.
Beginning in 1926, the world’s first international contest was added, known as the “International Pageant of Pulchritude.”
Catherine Moylan had many suitors and became a famed silent film actress in the 20’s after winning the beauty pageant.
The first winner of this pageant was Catherine Moylan of Dallas, Texas, but it was in 1929 when the winner was named “Miss Universe” by the press because of more other countries participating. It featured contestants from England, Russia, Turkey, and many other nations and it was the first time a non-American girl, Lisl Goldarbeiter from Austria won the title. This is where the term Miss Universe first came up and was seen on news publications.
Lisl Goldarbeiter is said to be the true first Miss Universe in history since she is the first woman to be called Miss Universe.
The event was discontinued in the United States in 1932 because of the Depression (the international competition was revived briefly in Belgium).
The first Miss Europe was held in February 1929 in Paris. The winner was Stefanie Job from Switzerland.
The first beauty peagean in Greece was held in 1929.
Aliki Diplarakou entered the “Miss Hellas” pageant as Miss Athens. Aliki won the title and was given the chance to represent her country at the Miss Europe event in Paris, where she was crowned Miss Europe on February 6, 1930.
Aliki Diplarakou (August 28, 1912 – October 30, 1993), grandmother of Princess Sibilla of Luxembourg, first Miss Hellas in 1929 and the first Greek contestant to win the Miss Europe title in 1930
That same year the 18-year-old brunette beauty was once more given the chance to represent her country and Europe in the Miss Universe Contest. The event was held on October 13, 1930 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Aliki did very well, coming away as runner-up.
Aliki can be seen as somewhat of a pioneer in the beauty contest world. In an era when it was believed that pageant winners with intelligence did not exist, she proved them wrong. She toured the United States giving lectures on ancient and modern Greek culture. Aside from her native Greek language, she also spoke fluent English, French and Italian. She made headlines in the 1930s when she dressed up in men’s clothes and smuggled herself into the monks’ sanctuary on Mount Athos which had stood “inviolated” since the time of the Byzantine Empire, save for harbouring female refugees twice in the past.
Below are the photos of the other participants of Miss Europe 1930
First extant international beauty competition.
The first extant international competition to be established was the Miss World pageant, created in the United Kingdom by Eric Morley in 1951 and is still one of the most publicised beauty contests in the world.
The competition started as the Festival Bikini Contest, in honour of the recently introduced swimwear of the time, but was called “Miss World” by the media. It was originally planned as a one-off event. Upon learning about the upcoming Miss Universe pageant, Morley decided to make the pageant an annual event. Opposition to the wearing of bikinis led to their replacement with more modest swimwear after the first contest.
The first Miss Universe was held in 1952 in Long Beach.
The contest was won by Finland’s Armi Helena Kuusela.
Favorite from Germany was 5th, Miss Hong Kong was 4th ( first from the left), Miss Greece was 3rd (first from the right) and Miss Hawaii (second from the left) was 2nd
With the appearance of television beauty pageants became widely popular. The fist live broadcasting of the 1954 beauty pageant was watched by 39 percent of the viewers, which is over 27 million people.
In 1959, the BBC started broadcasting the competition. The pageant’s popularity grew with the advent of television.
The first Miss International was held in 1960 in Long Beach.
The first Russian beauty pageant was held in 1988, 100 years after the famous pageant in Brussels.
“Miss Moscow-1988” was organized by the Komsomol (The Communist Union of Youth) and the Burda group, whose magazines just appeared in Russia.
Tens of thousands of Muscovites showed up for the casting. The winner was 16 year old Masha Kalinina. After the competition Masha worked as a model at the famous German company “Burdamoden”. In 1990 she moved to the U.S., where she graduated from acting school. Maria was invited to the Pride Reception at the White House, where she met President Bush. Today she is called Maria Kalin, and teaches Kundalini yoga in her own LA studio.