Jean Bartel, Miss America 1943, died last week. And she's a woman worth remembering.
Bartel, an aspiring Broadway actress, hailed from California. And she was much, much more than just a megawatt smile. It was she who suggested the pageant incorporate scholarships. And, writes Hilary Levey Friedman on the Huffington Post,
After her win, Bartel said she would not pose for pictures in her bathing suit. She was quoted as saying, "I use a bathing suit to go swimming in." For an organization that started out as a bathing beauty contest, and was sponsored by Catalina, a bathing suit company, this stance certainly upset the apple cart. Bartel's actions paved the way for Yolande Betbeze, Miss America 1951, to take a stand for "propriety," and refuse to be crowned in her bathing suit.
Bartel did go on to become a successful professional singer. But her legacy, as Friedman points out, is even greater than this: she singlehandedly helped redefine what it meant to be the "ideal" American woman. As she writes,
With so many more opportunities available to women today — both in higher education and in entertainment — it's easy for many to dismiss the Miss America Pageant. But Jean Bartel reminds us, particularly as we think about women's roles around the world, that it hasn't always been so easy. While parts of the Pageant may seem a bit outdated today (like the swimsuit competition), those features evolved over time, and women fought hard for progress when it came to baring their bathing suit bodies and supporting their minds.
Bartel not merely made the most of her opportunities, she redefined them. Would she be a pageant queen today? It's hard to know — but partially thanks to women like her, if she'd wanted another avenue, she'd have that, too.
There She Goes: A Trailblazing, Feminist Beauty Queen [Huffington Post]