Commuters have been urging the city and state to do something about the subways of late, but so far no one's suggested putting on a beauty pageant. Until now, that is—the City Reliquary Museum in Williamsburg says they'll be resurrecting the Miss Subways Pageant from the days of yore, in hopes of, if not saving the subway, at least giving us something to celebrate. And they're looking for contestants.
For many years—from 1941 to 1977, to be exact—the Miss Subways Pageant was a very real thing, inviting straphangers to compete in regular (sometimes monthly!) beauty contests. The pageant was sponsored by the New York Subways Advertising company, and winners got their pictures and a short biography posted on the subways, along with bracelets with gold-plated tokens.
About 200 women were crowned Miss Subways over the years, including, Ellen Hart Sturm, founder of the famed Stardust Diner.
The pageant was very popular, and in some cases even trailblazing—it was eventually one of the first integrated pageants in the country, selecting a black winner in 1948 and an Asian-American winner in 1949. By the mid-1970s, though, the pageant went out of fashion, only to return for one year only in 2004. Then, the title was updated to the more apt Ms. Subways Pageant. There was also a reunion for winners in 2009, and in 2012 the New York Transit Museum hosted an exhibition of photographs and memorabilia celebrating the pageant's history.
The Transit Museum's Deputy Director, Regina Asborno, told Gothamist in a statement:
From 1941 to 1976, New York City subway and bus riders were treated to more than 9,000 posters featuring photos of talented young women that won the “Miss Subways” competition, as well as statements about each winner’s goals and aspirations. Created by the legendary advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, the contest had the secret goal of directing eye-traffic toward adjacent advertisements for products like chewing gum and cigarettes and the winner’s supposed aspirational statements were even often made up by the agency. In 2012, the Transit Museum honored Miss Subways in a special exhibit entitled Meet Miss Subways: New York’s Beauty Queens 1941-76. Today, you can see several car cards from the Miss Subways series inside of the vintage trains on view at the Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn.
The City Reliquary's version, which will take place at the Reliquary on September 28th, is modernized even more—it's open to folks of all gender identities, and promises to offer attendees "a night of performances spanning the classy, the trashy, the weird, and the whimsical," per a press release. Prospective competitors should send firstname.lastname@example.org, by Tuesday, September 5th:
1) a short essay telling us why you want to be Miss Subways 2017, what your favorite
subway line is, and why it inspires/enrages/enchants you;
2) a detailed description of your proposed performance. Show your love for our
subterranean system through song, dance, poetry, or any other talent: Rubik's cube
solving, hula hooping, speed knitting, playing the sousaphone...surprise us!;
3) a photo.
Tickets run $20 to $60 ($17 for Reliquary members) and will benefit both the museum and the Riders Alliance. For more information, see the Reliquary's website.