Sixteen year old Margaret Gorman won the Atlantic City beauty pageant today in 1921 becoming the first Miss America. Now WE know em

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Margaret “Margee” Gorman was born August 18, 1905 in Washington, D.C.

Her father worked for the Department of Agriculture.

By the time Margaret entered high school, he had become the executive clerk to the Secretary of Agriculture.

During the summer of 1921, while Margee was getting ready to enter her Junior year at Western High School (now the Duke Ellington School of Arts), when her proud parents submitted a photo of Margee for a Washington Herald newspaper beauty contest.

Margee’s picture was one of approximately one thousand photos submitted.

Margaret Gorman in 1921 (Library of Congress)

Margaret Gorman in 1921 (Library of Congress)

She became one of six finalists and was escorted around Washington, D.C. throughout the summer.

Then reporters from the Herald came to their Georgetown home to notify Margee that she had been selected as “Miss District of Columbia” due to her athletic ability, past accomplishments, and outgoing personality.

They were inviting Margaret Gorman to represent the newspaper in the Second Annual Atlantic City Pageant to be held on September 7th and 8th in Atlantic City.

Her mother and the reporters went looking for Margee and found her in a nearby park shooting marbles in the dirt.

The Second Annual Atlantic City Pageant was in fact an unabashed beauty contest. The organizers billed it both as the Inter-City Amateur Beauty Contest and the Atlantic City Bathing Beauty Contest.

The Inter-City Beauty Contest, in which Margaret Gorman represented the Washington Herald was held September 7th.

It was judged in stylish afternoon attire by judges, and the public alike, who shared in 50 percent of the final score.

Margaret Gorman is on the far right

Margaret Gorman is on the far right

Undoubtedly personality played a large role in the voting as masses of people surrounded each entrant to get to know her better and throw questions at them throughout the event.

Later, the contestants were escorted and presented on the stage of the Keith Theatre on the Garden Pier.

The petite sixteen year old blue-eyed beauty Margee stood only 5’1” and weighed all of 108 lbs. Her blond hair with long ringlets made her a Mary Pickford look-alike. Margee’s measurements were 30-25-32.

Margaret Gorman won and was awarded the amateur first place prize, the Watkins Trophy.

Miss South Jersey, Kathryn M. Gearon placed second.

A special professional prize, the Endicott Trophy, was awarded to Miss New York, the silent film actress Virginia Lee.

Margaret’s win qualified her for the next days contest, “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America” to be held on the beach.

Then the next day, September 8, 1921, one hundred thousand people came to the Boardwalk to watch the “Bather’s Revue.”

The turn out was much larger the the Businessmen’s League of Atlantic City had expected.

To be sure, the swimsuits of the era were demure by modern standards, none more so than Margee’s.

Margaret Gorman, 3rd from left

Margaret Gorman, 3rd from left

While some of her rivals violated a local modesty ordinance by appearing barelegged on the beach, Margee wore dark, knee-high stockings and a chiffon bathing costume with a tiered skirt that came almost to her knees.

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The now famous Bather’s Revue consisted of over 200 local women and tourists, as well as “professionals” which included eleven professional models and actresses.

A panel of artists served as judges.

In this extravagant and much-hyped final event, Margaret Gorman won.

Winning both events meant that Margaret also won the Grand Prize: the Golden Mermaid trophy and $100 in gold.

This photograph shows Margaret Gorman, the 1921 Miss America, on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ.

This photograph shows Margaret Gorman, the 1921 Miss America, on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ.

Her victory was big news back in Washington, D.C., making all the newspapers even though the Washington Herald had sponsored her.

One amusing story is that of a telegram Margee received from one of her high school friends.

It read:  “Congratulations. Don’t get stuck up.”

To make it even better… the telegram was sent collect, with the delivery boy asking for 35 cents upon receipt.

Then, after much celebration in Atlantic City, it was back to Western High School for Margee Gorman.

 The Most Beautiful Girl in America – “Miss America”

The following year, Margaret was expected to defend her titles.

However, with the Washington Herald having selected a new “Miss Washington, D.C. early in 1922,” the Atlantic City Pageant officials didn’t know what to call Margaret.

Since both titles she won in 1921 were a little awkward (“Inter-City Beauty, Amateur” and “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America”), it was eventually decided to call her “Miss America”.

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Upon her return to Atlantic City to defend her laurels in 1922, Margaret Gorman was draped in the American flag and crowned “Miss America” for the first time.

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Margaret is the only Miss America to receive her crown at the end of her reign.

1922 Contestants, Margaret Gorman on the far right

1922 Contestants, Margaret Gorman on the far right

Then a year older in 1922, more mature, and still a crowd favorite, Margaret lost to Miss Ohio, Mary Campbell, who beat her again in 1923 to become the only two-time winner.

Margaret Gorman was not only the first Miss America, but she also set two pageant records that still stand today.

At 5 feet 1 inch and 108 pounds, she remains the smallest Miss America, and with a 30-25-32 figure that was close to the flapper era ideal, she remains the slimmest Miss America.

Margaret was the lightest Miss America, at 108 pounds, until 1949, when five-foot three-and-one-half inch Jacque Mercer of Phoenix, Arizona, weighing in at 106, won the now-coveted title.

Margaret Gorman with her pet Greyhound, "Long Goodie", in April 1925

Margaret Gorman with her pet Greyhound, “Long Goodie”, in April 1925

Then in 1926, Margaret married Washington, D.C. real estate broker Victor Cahill, and became somewhat of a socialite and enjoyed traveling.

In later years, as the Miss America Pageant grew into a major annual event, the now Mrs. Margaret Cahill, sought to distance herself from her role in the pageant, especially the beauty queen label.

Margee was later quoted as saying “I never cared to be Miss America. It wasn’t my idea. I am so bored by it all. I really want to forget the whole thing.”

“My husband hated it,” … and “I did, too.”

Even so, three years after her husband’s death, she was persuaded to attend the 1960 contest, but she later called the organizers cheap for not reimbursing her for $1,500 in expenses.

Near the end of her life, Margee said, “I’ve lived a charmed life. I’ve been very lucky. God has been very kind to me.”

Margaret “Margee” Gorman Cahill died October 1, 1995 at the age of 90.

She still owned the sea green chiffon and sequined dress she wore in the 1922 competition as the first Miss America.

Now WE know em

 

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