Radio Diaries

Miss Subways

July 27, 2017

Most beauty pageants promote the fantasy of the ideal woman. But for 35 years, one contest in New York City celebrated the everyday working girl.

Each month starting in 1941, a young woman was elected “Miss Subways,” and her face gazed down on transit riders as they rode through the city. Her photo was accompanied by a short bio describing her hopes, dreams and aspirations. The public got to choose the winners – so Miss Subway represented the perfect New York miss. She was also a barometer of changing times.

Miss Subways was one of the first integrated beauty pageants in America. An African-American Miss Subways was selected in 1948 – more than thirty years before there was a black Miss America. By the 1950s there were Miss Subways who were Black, Asian, Jewish, and Hispanic – the faces of New York’s female commuters.

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