In the early 20th century, the most famous types of pageants were those which were performed and produced by America's leading woman suffragists. Many suffragists believed that pageants were the most effective means of bringing the equal rights campaign to the American people.
Unlike these earlier pageants, however, the first Miss America pageant did not attempt to portray women as part of a larger political movement. Women were judged almost entirely on their physical beauty. The women would represent their various states, and the winner would be crowned, "Miss America". This type of pageant encouraged women to compete for the approval of men, and to view physical appearance as the most important quality in a woman, rather than things like intelligence, or community service. The Miss America pageant would not have been possible, however, if it had not been for the success of the earlier suffrage pageants.
The Miss America pageant was certainly not the first beauty contest, but it was the first such contest to be considered suitable family entertainment. Previously, such "bathing beauty" contests were considered almost obscene.
This report prepared by Nathaniel Ford