From web site of Santa Cruz Public Library Local History 1924
Too Much Makeup, Too Much Skin
Pageant Protests Go Back to 1924
by Ross Eric Gibson
Today the Miss California Pageant emphasizes its scholarship program,
countering protesters who call the pageant a cotillion of debutants, wearing
too much makeup and showing too much skin.
Some of those same complaints were lodged against the Miss California Pageant
when it originated in Santa Cruz in 1924. It drew considerable opposition
over the indecency of girls wearing too much makeup and showing too much
skin. Back then, makeup was for shady women, yet movie glamour was starting
to popularize it for the masses. Women's bathing suits were the all-covering
leotard/bloomer/skirt-and-cap. In 1922, women in Chicago were arrested for
indecent exposure for donning swimwear equal to men's tanktop suits. Two
years later, these same suits worn in Santa Cruz made the Miss California
Pageant the benchmark of the liberated woman.
When boardwalk founder Fred Swanton first proposed the pageant to the chamber
of commerce, it was regarded as a way to link Santa Cruz to Atlantic City's
publicity machine, and tie in to their high-profile annual Miss America
Pageant, which had started in 1921. Miss Santa Cruz was selected in May at
the St. George Hotel's ballroom and Palm Court. The Miss California Pageant
followed in June. Several thousand flags lined Pacific Avenue, Beach Street
and in front of the Casa Del Rey. Laurel Grove Campground, at Pacific, Laurel
and Front streets, became the Court of Blossoms, where an assembly lawn
bordered with 50,000 gladioluses faced a stage overlooking a lily pond. Here
the parade began, going up Front to the Plaza, then down Pacific back to
Miss Santa Cruz, Mary Black, wore a peacock gown made for the Paris Opera.
Police blocked a car driven by sheeted Ku Klux Klansmen from San Jose, but
they pushed back into the parade later on. The contestants then modeled
sportswear at the Court of the Blossoms, overturning the notion that any
sport producing perspiration was unladylike. Cooper Street became Mardi Gras
Square, with jazz dancing 'til midnight drawing complaints that the
contestants were becoming wild-living "flappers."
The pageant featured successful women as judges, representing expanding
female opportunities. Judges included diving champion Annette Kellerman; Lois
Webber, the first female film director; and once-local film star Helen
Ferguson, among others. Comedian Anne Seymore provided entertainment as part
of an Orpheum Circuit vaudeville show at the New Santa Cruz Theatre.
Alameda's Faye Lamphier was crowned Miss California, only to have William
Randolph Hearst denounce her in the San Francisco Examiner as a phony, asking
how she could be a bathing beauty without knowing how to swim. Undaunted,
Lamphier went to Atlantic City, but did not win.
Afterward, Trenton, N.J., dropped out of the competition, saying the grueling
week-long schedule of events left contestants unable to enjoy the experience.
Watsonville also refused further participation locally, calling the Miss
California Pageant a waste of money. With local opposition on moral grounds,
Santa Cruz was uncertain that it wanted to continue the pageant. But the
chamber of commerce was ecstatic, calling the pageant the greatest publicity
boon the city ever had, not only bringing business to town during the event
but encouraging return visits thereafter.
The contest was revamped the following year to greater public approval. A
three-mile-long parade on Pacific and Front streets took two hours to pass,
with floats of grand design from sponsors around the state. Stunt fliers
overhead wrote "Santa Cruz" in the sky and dropped whistling fireworks.
People parked as far as Capitola, then trolleyed into town. Faye Lamphier was
again crowned Miss California, as one coronation song put it:
" . . . There she stands in virginal array
the model here of womanhood today.
From among the finest all around
Miss California, you are
This time Lamphier did become Miss America, and in President Coolidge's
private rail car, she rode to New York for a ticker-tape parade. Afterward,
she starred in the movie "American Venus," filmed in Atlantic City.
After feminist protests, the pageant left Santa Cruz in 1990 [sic] for San
Diego, where it has been the scene of protests. [Correction: the last pageant
held in Santa Cruz was in 1985; "The pageant made its debut in San Diego on
Monday after a 62-year run in Santa Cruz." Santa Cruz Sentinel. June 18,
1986. p.1. RAP-ed.]
Some of the Contestants in the 1937 or 1938 Pageant
This article originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, June 7, 1994,
p.1B. Copyright 1994 Ross Eric Gibson. Reprinted by permission of Ross Eric
Gibson. Photograph is from the Libraries collection.
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