She won the crown but couldn’t beat the pageant

“In 1961, Miss North Carolina, Maria Beale Fletcher, was named Miss America. A former A-student in high school, Maria was also the daughter of professional dancers and had been a Rockette herself. After winning the title she expressed an interest in opening up a dancing school rather than going to college. The possibility so appalled the Pageant that four Miss Americas, who had returned for the ceremonies , were sicked on Miss Fletcher to give her some of that old-time Pageant religion. Eventually, Maria gave in and subsequently used the scholarship at Vanderbilt University, where she enjoyed an outstanding academic career.

“The point is not primarily what she finally elected to do; it is in the reaction of the Pageant to the idea that anyone might wish to deviate from the academic schedule. But anyway, for proof that Maria certainly made the right decision, it cited that she found and married an outstanding young doctor at Vanderbilt. As the Pageant will explain, over and over, a formal education is a most valuable American commodity.”

— From “There She Is: The Life and Times of Miss America” by Frank Deford (1971)


Miss North Carolina 1933: First but forgotten?

As Jack noted in his comments on Margaret “Mug” Richardson, the archives yield scant information on early Miss North Carolinas.

According to contemporary news accounts, the first Miss North Carolina was crowned at Wrightsville Beach in 1933, and later she is pictured in a lineup of contestants in Atlantic City. But Leola Councilman of Sanford is inexplicably ignored in both Miss North Carolina and Miss America pageant histories.

I had hoped this badge and photo from the collection could be traced to an appearance by Miss Councilman at the 1933 national convention of the American Legion, held in conjunction with the Century of Progress world’s fair. Alas, no, says Donna Hay of Encino, Calif., who has done remarkably detailed research on the often chaotic 1933 competition. The Chicago exposition rolled out “lots of state beauty queens throughout its year of operation [that] had nothing to do with the Miss America pageant.”

So who is that off-brand Miss North Carolina riding regally past the crowds along Chicago’s waterfront? Her name is remembered even less than Leola Councilman’s.

For a lovingly amused look at North Carolina’s state pageant culture, see Frank Deford’s “There She Is: The Life and Times of Miss America” (1971).