The Norman Transcript

Headlines

October 14, 2012

Decades of Miss Subways smiled on NYC straphangers

NEW YORK — It was an ad campaign conceived as eye candy to bring attention to other advertisements in New York’s transit system. But the “Meet Miss Subways” beauty contest posters of pretty young New York women and their aspirations quickly evolved into a popular and even groundbreaking fixture that ran for 35 years, from 1941 to 1976.

When photographer Fiona Gardner first learned about it she “immediately wanted to know what happened to all the women.”

She set out to find out.

The result is “Meet Miss Subways: New York’s Beauty Queens 1941-76,” an exhibition at the New York Transit Museum running Oct. 23-March 25, and a companion book of the same name.

The contest reflected an evolving America. When it was launched, the war already was changing the role of women. From 1952 to 1962, the contest featured schoolteachers, stewardesses and suburban housewives; the next 10 years saw secretaries and airplane pilots.

The first African-American was crowned Miss Subways in 1948 — long before Vanessa Williams was named Miss America in 1984 — and the first Asian-American was honored in 1949.

“It was the first integrated and ethnically diverse beauty contest in America,” representing working-class women, said Gardner, who was born the year the contest ended. “I realized I had stumbled on a piece of forgotten New York history.”

Her interest was piqued in 2004 after seeing some of the original posters on the walls of Ellen’s Stardust Diner, whose owner Ellen Hart Sturm was crowned Miss Subways in 1959. The winners’ future dreams were listed along with their headshots; many wanted to be models or singers, while others yearned to travel — “Europe four times, no less,” read the Miss Subways poster of Maureen Walsh Roaldsen in 1968. The first Miss Subways, Mona Freeman, even went on to become a movie star after being discovered by Howard Hughes.

But for most, the subway placard was their only moment in the spotlight, and finding the former winners was a challenge for Gardner. The contest archives were lost. Many of the women had married and changed their names, some had moved, still others had died.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Headlines
  • Body 1 Police identify woman found dead Monday

    Norman police have identified a woman found dead in her home at 2202 Donna Drive Monday afternoon. Police responded at 1:25 p.m. to the residence of Cassandra Thompson, 30, after receiving a report that she had not shown up for work ...

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Residents speak out about document regarding shelter photos

    Norman and metro-area residents showed up in overwhelming numbers, many in red shirts, for an Animal Shelter Oversight Board meeting Monday night demanding for their opinions to be heard....

    July 29, 2014

  • Mixon’s attorney says athlete acted in self-defense

    The attorney for Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon says the incident that left a 20-year-old female OU student with multiple facial fractures was a case of self-defense. “This past Friday morning, Joe Mixon found himself in a situation ...

    July 29, 2014

  • Cool snap brings heat relief to Oklahoma, Arkansas

    OKLAHOMA CITY — The dog days of summer are coming in with a whimper. Weather forecasters say a cold front headed for Oklahoma and Arkansas will bring unseasonably cool temperatures and a chance of rain through next week....

    July 29, 2014

  • Be ready for ‘prolonged’ Gaza war, prime minister says

    GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Signaling an escalation of Israel’s Gaza operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis Monday to be ready for a “prolonged” war, and the military warned Palestinians in three large neighborhoods to ...

    July 29, 2014

  • FBI defends search for Oklahoma City bombing video

    SALT LAKE CITY — The FBI thoroughly searched its archives and found no evidence that more videos of the Oklahoma City bombing exist, agency employees told a judge Monday in a trial that has rekindled questions about whether any others were ...

    July 29, 2014

  • County moves forward on nursing home bonds

    Cleveland County commissioners on Monday approved a resolution authoring a county trust to issue up to $15 million for a nursing home on the site of the former Whispering Pines nursing home at 501 E. Robinson St....

    July 29, 2014

  • Deal to improve health care costs $17B

    WASHINGTON — A bipartisan deal announced Monday would authorize about $17 billion to help veterans avoid long waits for health care, hire more doctors and nurses to treat veterans and make it easier to fire executives at the Department of ...

    July 29, 2014

  • Breast Care Center will relocate to HealthPlex

    The Norman Regional Health System will move its Breast Care Center to the HealthPlex campus, making it more accessible for patients, hospital officials said Monday. At its monthly board meeting, the Norman Regional Hospital Authority ...

    July 29, 2014

  • Little Axe Health Center hosting blood drive

    Norman-area blood donors this summer will not only save lives when they donate with Oklahoma Blood Institute (OBI), they’ll also get “Feel Cool” T-shirts and two tickets to the Oklahoma City Zoo....

    July 29, 2014