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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.
In this episode of the Radio Diaries Podcast, meet the Miss Subways. This episode originally aired on NPR in 2012.