Beauty and Power
Crossposted on JVoices
You may have noticed a former beauty queen in the news lately, but I'm not going to write about her. Instead, I'd like to focus on Bess Myerson, the first and only Jewish Miss American, who won her title on September 8, 1945, just four months after V-E Day. Ms. Myerson's victory was seen as a symbol of America's post-war rejection of Europe's anti-Semitic horrors.
Ironically, on the post-crown speaking circuit traditionally undertaken by Misses America, Myerson was ignored (and once disinvited from a country club) because she was Jewish. She filled her time instead by partnering with the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and speaking at schools and other venues about prejudice and discrimination.
What's really cool about Bess Myerson, though, is that she became involved in local and national politics. She was appointed Commissioner of Consumer Affairs for New York City and pushed through some of the strongest consumer protection legislation of the time. Later, she served as the City's Cultural Affairs Commissioner. I did a little research on other former Miss America title holders, and while many of them had successful careers (predominantly in media), Myerson was the only one to hold such prominent public office. She is also, as far as I know, the only former Miss America to have spoken at the Women's Strike for Equality in 1970.
In a culture so focused on women's appearance (notice the media attention paid to what is worn by female political candidates and the wives of male candidates, among other things), beauty is power. Bess Myerson's ability to use that power to create social and political change is unique - and the kind of thing we might think about emulating.
To learn more about Bess Myerson's victory in Atlantic City, please visit This Week in History. To learn how to incorporate Bess into your classroom, visit our Go and Learn lesson plan, "Costumes, Identity, and Jewish Women's History."