Court of Honor Contest at the Chicago World's Fair - May, 1933


In connection with the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago ("the Century of Progress Exposition"), the San Antonio Express and Evening News together with the Chicago Tribune cosponsored a Court of Honor Competition -- a photographic contest seeking "charming" girls who would formally dedicate the Century of Progress International Exposition at Chicago on June 1, 1933. Fourteen other newspapers nationwide cooperated in the event, and many others ran advertisements and articles.

The 51 winners of the contest would be awarded a two-week trip to Chicago, all expenses paid, including not only transportation, hotels, meals and entertainment, but also the gowns for the events at the Exposition. Additionally, there were handsome financial prizes for the Queen and her two ladies-in-waiting -- to understand the size of these amounts in the Great Depression, the Queen was to be awarded $5000 which is worth over $80,000 today!

The ads specifically stated that this was not a beauty contest -- the contestants here would be chosen for charm, as defined as loveliness, gracefulness and character. Specifically, there was stated to be no age restriction, and the woman could be single or widowed, but not married. Additionally, they could not be professional models or actresses.

January 15th -- this is a HUGE double-page full-page centerfold ad, with ad on page 1 and article too -- CLICK ON ANY PICTURE FOR A LARGER VIEW
The first advertisement found was on January 15, 1933 in San Antonio, Texas -- a massively huge double-page full-page centerfold from this newspaper which was one of the two co-sponsors.

Photographs were to be submitted to the San Antonio newspaper, and then "selections" were sent to the Chicago Tribune for judging by a committee selected by that newspaper and the Century of Progress Exposition. A Court of Honor was to be selected, as well as a Queen and a Princess. The list of rules included nine points, summarized here:
1. The newspaper has exclusive arrangement to seek 51 girls to become Queen and her Court of Honor -- girls from everywhere are invited to submit their photographs.
2. Open to girls (unmarried or widowed) anywhere in the world, but excludes professionals or family members of employees of the newspaper. The contest is free.
3. The 51 girls chosen from the photographs will be invited to Chicago for the final judging, all expenses paid, and three Grand Prize winners will be chosen: First Grand Prize ("Queen") to receive $5,000, Second Grand Prize (first Lady-in-Waiting") to receive $3,000 and Third Grand Prize ("second Lady-in-Waiting) to receive $2,000. The Queen and her Court (including the other 48 girls) will formally dedicate the Century of Progress International Exposition at Chicago.
4. The newspaper will provide chaperones, transportation, hotel, tntertainment, and gowns, etc. The girls cannot accept any professional assignment for a year.
5. Beginning Sunday, Jan 29th and continuing for 10 consecutive Sundays, 10 photographs submitted will be published.
6. Any photographs can be submitted by any person; prizes are payable only to the person whose photograph is submitted.
7. The transmittal coupon must be pasted on the back of each photograph; pictures will not be returned.
8. The offer is now open. Photographs must be submitted at once; no entries accepted after midnight April 5th, 1933.
9. The judges will be a committee composed of nationally known people and their staff. Judgment will be based upon charm, loveliness and personality. Judges' decisions are final.

The coupon to be pasted to the back of each photograph submission noted the $10,000 Cash Prizes and asked for name and address, occupation (the occupation examples are stenographer, clerk, school girl, home girl, factory girl, etc), hair color (Blonde, Brunette or Titian), eyecolor, weight, and height.

Two of the 1933 Miss America contestants (Arkansas and Kentucky) competed in and were selected as one of the final 51 contestants; it is unknown how many others sent in photographs that were not selected. This contest is instrumental in understanding how married Miss Arkansas came to compete in the Miss America contest (she was single when she mailed in her photograph, but likely married by the end of May), as well as a fascinating comparison in advertising and aura between the two contests.

February 2nd -- next 10 contestants chosen
January 29th -- first 10 contestants
The Sunday January 29th San Antonio newspaper had the first ten contestants for the Court of Honor. All ten were Texas women, and seven of the ten were, not surprisingly, from San Antonio. However, the contest was advertised in other states as well the end of January -- Lima OH, Benton Harbor MI, Madison WI, Sheboygan WI, Mason City IA, Waterloo IA were just a few of the other newspapers found. Clearly, the 14 cooperating newspapers (Boston MA, Philadelphia PA, Washington DC, Richmond CA, Louisville KY, Atlanta GA, New Orleans LA, Little Rock AR, Kansas City MO, Oklahoma City OK, San Francisco CA and Portland OR) must have done even more. This ad said to submit photographs to the Chicago Tribune, with 10 photographs published every Sunday in the Tribune, with the girls each receiving $100 if their picture were published. These were tremendous sums of money in those days -- $100 in 1933 is equivalent to $1600 today, and this was the middle of the Great Depression! And the winners would receive prizes worth 20-50 times that much! These grand sums in money prizes must have resulted in a huge number of entries.

The Sunday February 2nd newspaper had ten more entrants for the Court of Honor. All ten were Texas women, but only one was from San Antonio. In this accompanying article, it states that photographs will be accepted from entrants living anywhere in South or Southwest Texas, and again states that professional models are barred from the contest.

February 26th -- next 10 chosen
February 19th -- next 10 contestants
February 19th. The paper says the contest is open to Texas girls (although all along it was open to women around the world -- apparently, the San Antonio paper only wanted Texas entries sent to them; the non-Texas entries were supposed to be sent to Chicago).

February 26, 1933. These ten were also all from Texas, and four from San Antonio. This newspaper reminds potential candidates that the time for sending in pictures is growing short. Although all pictures would be accepted, the newspaper reminded contestants that since the initial judging is strictly based on the photographs, a quality professional photograph was recommended.

It should be noted that the San Antonio newspaper ran a large ad for the contest virtually every day; the large spreads with photographs were run once a week in the Sunday edition.

March 5th -- next 10 chosen
March 12th - more Texas entrants
March 5, 1933. These next ten contestants chosen include the first entrants from out of state -- one from California and one from Louisiana.

March 12, 1933. There was no article about the contest on this date -- just the pictures, rules and coupon.

April 2nd - more Texas entrants
April 2, 1933. Again there was no article about the contest on this date. However, on a separate page there was an article that said the competition to select the 51 Girls for Charm and Beauty closes on April 5th. It also specified that the 51 winners will be the guests, under distinquished chaperonage, of Chicago, of the exposition, and of the newspapers. There were a total of 16 newspapers co-operating in this venture: Chicago Tribune and its Paris edition, San Antonio TX, Boston MA, Philadelphia PA, Washington DC, Richmond CA, Louisville KY, Atlanta GA, New Orleans LA, Little Rock AR, Kansas City MO, Oklahoma City OK, San Francisco CA and Portland OR. It reiterated that there was no limit of age.

April 30th - The Judges of the Contest
April 30. 1933. The submissions are closed and the judging is beginning. 51 will be chosen; one will be named queen and two will be ladies-in-waiting, the other 48 will be members of the court. The article states that "From Europe and from many cities and villages in America, the girls named yesterday as the jury's choice will congregate in Chicago several days prior to June 1. A whirl of gaiety planned for them will be climaxed by the selection of one to wear the crown and rule over the great spectacle of the exposition's opening." The article then goes on to describe the qualifications of the judges.

May 7, 1933. The San Antonio Sunday newspaper featured the first of four weeks of photos of the finalists (see below). The first ten, with their pictures, names and addresses, were displayed in a full-page spread.

May 14th - Second set of 10 winners in the Court of Honor competition, including Vivian and Lucille
May 14, 1933. The Queen and Ladies-in-Waiting will be announced at dinner, the night of May 26th. The schedule was moved up when President Roosevelt announced he would open the Exposition on May 27th instead of June 1st. This resulted in the transportation of the girls from American cities and Europe to be moved up, and the fittings of the gowns to be done in one day instead of four, so the selection of the Queen could be on May 26th instead of the 29th as planned. That night, on the eve of the fair opening, the coronation dinner will be held with appropriate ceremony. Escorting each girl will be an honor student from Northwestern or the University of Chicago.

This is the week that has the two Miss America contestants among the ranks: Vivian Ferguson, 1305 Cumberland, North Little Rock, AR and Lucille Rader of Berea, KY -- their addresses are listed in a special box and they are pictured second row third from left and third row left respectively. The other eight contestants are from MA, CA, OR, VA, MO, IL, PA and IL.

May 21, 1933. The final 51 contestants included a woman from London and one from Paris, according to the May 21st San Antonio newspaper article about San Antonio contestant Billy Cochran. In the May 21 newspaper it also gave details on how the Queen would be chosen: "On the night of May 26th the 51 members of the Court of Honor will promenade in the BalTabarin of the Hotel Sherman before the eight judges of the contest. All the girls will be dressed in white taffeta and will be identified only by numbers worn on the arms. They will be judges for poise, carriage, speaking voice, beauty and figure." This newspaper featured the pictures, names and addresses of the third set of ten winners (see below).

May 28, 1933. The Sunday San Antonio newspaper, which originally was supposed to be before the judging, now featured the last 21 winners, plus named the Queen and the two Ladies-in-Waiting (see below). Originally, the Fair was to open June 1st, and the Queen was to be crowned on May 30th. The winner was a Racine Wisconsin woman Lillian Anderson; Lorraine Nevens of Evanston IL was second and third-place went to Ruth Joyce Hardie of Chicago IL (May 29th San Antonio newspaper clipping).

A picture of the Court of Honor at the Fair
After all the last-minute schedule changes to accommodate the opening of the Fair three days early, on May 27 instead of June 1st, it turns out that President Roosevelt could not attend after all, according to the article in the Chicago Daily News. But Queen Lillian and her court were featured at the opening ceremony. No picture of this opening with the Queen has been located; although this picture is titled "Court of Honor", there was a section of the Fair grounds also called "Court of Honor" so it is not certain that the women in the front are the Queen's Court.

It should be noted that there were many beauty contest winners who were feted at the Chicago Fair, including even a "Miss America," but the Court of Honor contest was definitely the most prestigious, especially since it was supposed to involve President Roosevelt presiding over the opening.

The 51 winners and their cities (the names in bold are the Queen and her two Ladies-in-Waiting):

Elizabeth Morris, Richmond VA Ida Rittenberg, New Orleans, LA Claire Vested, Chicago, IL
Elinor Kirby, Indianapolis, IN Helen Abney, Evanston, IL Mary Carney, Chicago, IL
Lila Hammond, Thomasville, GA Juanita McCuistion, Oklahoma City, OK          Harriette Lundren, Chicago, IL
Patricia Gettins, Akron, OH Janie Payzans, Dorchester MA Thora Merchant, San Francisco, CA
Wanda Staer, Portland, OR Christine Hughes, North Holstein, VA Vivian Ferguson, Little Rock, AR
Julia Wiedenmann, Kansas City, MO          Belle Saper, Chicago, IL Hazel Groninger, Philadelphia, PA
Lucille Rader, Berea, KY Viola Dell, Chicago, IL Lyette Tappaz, Paris, France
Gerladine Sprague, Milwaukee, WI Kay Schaeffer, Beardstown, IL Margaret Dolan, Chicago, IL
Billy Cochran, San Antonio, TX (article) Grace Babcock, Eureka, CA Francis Knowlton, Boston, MA
Jane Taylor, New Orleans, LA Vera Fleck, London, England Helen Jeffries, Davienport, IA
Mary Johnson, Chicago, IL Frida Dalhstedt, La Grange, IL Caroline Robinson, Boswell, IN
Dorothy Knight, Marcellus, MI Ruth Hardie, Chicago, IL Jeanne Gabriel, Clinton, IL
Marybeth Kemp, Battle Creek, MI Julia MacPheison, Springfield, IL Elsie Sundberg, Matthews, KY
Mariwyn Brennan, Lafayette, IN Lorraine Nevens, Evanston, IL Lillian Anderson, Racine, WI
Ann Landon, Richmond, VA Helene Brown, Waterloo, IA Ruth Kunz, Madison, WI
Betty Schwartz, Washington, D.C. Muriel Tobelman, Villa Park, IL Elsie Oleson, Portland, OR
Leanore Beckett, Decatur, IL Alice Lewis, Bethelem, PA Isabelle Perry, Kansas City, KS

May 7th - First set of 10 winners in the Court of Honor competition May 14th - Second set of 10 winners in the Court of Honor competition, including Vivian and Lucille May 21st - Third set of 10 winners in the Court of Honor competition May 28th - Final set of 21 winners, and names of Queen and Ladies-in-Waiting

Standard ad in many newspapers in January - this one in Madison, Wisconsin. These ads were large but not massive -- usually 1/8-1/4 of a page
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Note: Lucille Rader's sons reported that Lucille was chosen as Miss Kentucky for the Miss America pageant at this Court of Honor contest in Chicago. It therefore seems likely that the "MidWest organizer" of the Miss America pageant, Jimmy Carrier, went to this event, and approached both Vivian and Lucille about the Miss America contest, and may even have allayed any concerns they had about qualification (it is unknown if Vivian was already newly married and if Lucille was concerned that she was only 14). It would have been a pretty easy "sell" to two current pageant-goers. But with all the women contestants who were undoubtedly there from Illinois, it is curious that he then went on to convince Lillian from Missouri to be Miss Illinois. And, there has been no article found yet that confirms Spokane resident Margaret Wittman being a part of this Court of Honor contest, or even going to the Worlds Fair at this time, and her local newspaper was not listed as being one of the cooperating newspapers -- these were Boston MA, Philadelphia PA, Washington DC, Richmond CA, Louisville KY, Atlanta GA, New Orleans LA, Little Rock AR, Kansas City MO, Oklahoma City OK, San Francisco CA and Portland OR, which does include the local newspaper for Vivian (Little Rock) and one 100 miles away for Lucille (Louisville). It is assumed that the entries were predominately from the MidWest, since the contest was promoted heavily in San Antonio, Texas and Chicago, Illinois, with daily ads and large weekly spreads of pictures, and only sporadically in other cities, perhaps primarily in the end of January. This underscores the difference in newspaper promotion for this contest as compared to the Miss America contest -- the Miss America contest followed by just three months and would have been promoted at the same time. Since the newspapers were sponsoring this contest, it had huge newspaper advertising, compared to almost non-existent newspaper advertising for the Miss America Pageant, likely due to its lack of newspaper sponsorship. It is also interesting that these "standard" ads, such as the one at right, found in many newspapers in January, took pains to say this was not a beauty contest -- the contestants here would be chosen for charm, as defined as loveliness, gracefulness and character.

Finally, it is most curious that the two main states for this contest -- Illinois and Texas -- ended up with no qualified entry in Atlantic City. The Illinois entry was from Missouri and the Texas entry did not go to Atlantic City at the last minute. Perhaps the differences between this contest and the Miss America Pageant were too clear -- newspaper ads versus radio, newspaper sponsorship versus carnivals, Worlds Fair versus beauty pageant, huge money prizes versus vague promises. This all underscores how different the Miss America Pageant was then versus the icon it turned into.
Please email DonnaLHay@gmail.com with any corrections or additions.