KINGSTON, R.I. – Oct. 22, 2020 – Founded in 1921 and featuring contestants wearing sashes inspired by the suffrage movement, the Miss America pageant has a complicated history. In fact, America’s first beauty contest began just a year after the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.
On, Thursday, Oct. 29, Hilary Levey Friedman, author of Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America, will explore the history of the suffrage sash and how it influenced the Miss America Pageant in a free, virtual lecture entitled, Suffrage and Sashes: American Pageantry and the Feminist Movement. Friedman, who teaches at Brown University and is president of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women, appears at 7 p.m. as part of URI’s Long Rhode to the Vote: Suffrage Centennial Lecture Series.
“It is uncomfortable to recognize that shortly after women got the right to vote, an enduring national ritual developed that silenced women and reduced them to their appearance — even if at the time, a woman presenting her body to be judged in public, especially in a swimsuit, was quite unconventional,” said Friedman, in a recent New York Times Op-ed. Friedman’s mother, Pamela Eldred, a former Miss Michigan, was crowned Miss America in 1970.
The series is sponsored by the URI Center for the Humanities, the program in Gender and Women’s Studies, URI’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Honors Program, the Women’s Leadership Council and the Suffrage Centennial Committee. It marks two monumental events in American history: the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment that at least nominally enfranchised African American men.
Most recently, the series hosted Johns Hopkins University Professor Martha S. Jones who spoke on race and suffrage. Her lecture How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All discussed some of the hurdles that still remain for Black women and many others who wish to exercise their right to vote.
For more information on upcoming lectures, to view past lectures, or to register for Suffrage and Sashes: American Pageantry and the Feminist Movement, visit: uri.edu/suffrage.