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Bess Myerson

When Bess Myerson encountered anti-Semitism as the first Jewish Miss America, she used her new-found fame to fight hatred through the Anti-Defamation League. Myerson won the Miss America Pageant in 1945 but dealt with significant anti-Semitism, from Southern country clubs that would not admit her as a Jew to pageant sponsors who declined to have her advertise their products as contracted. She became a spokesperson and eventually national commissioner for the Anti-Defamation League. She also began a television career on game shows like The Big Payoff, and hosted several Miss America pageants. In 1969, she was appointed commissioner of New York’s Department of Consumer Affairs, setting up a consumer hotline and conducting daily surprise raids at businesses with high numbers of complaints. She wrote two books, The Complete Consumer, and The I Love New York Diet, which made the New York Times Book Review bestseller list. In 1980, she became commissioner of cultural affairs for New York, doubling the budget for the city’s cultural institutions. She also helped found the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York and in 1998 she endowed a student journalism award for the ADL.

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Former "Miss America" Bess Myerson has maintained the emphasis on communal affairs that began with her year as a public figure. She ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate in 1980 and then served as New York City Commissioner for Cultural Affairs.

Institution: The Miss America Organization

Date of Birth
July 16, 1924
Place of Birth
Bronx, New York

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Bess Myerson." (Viewed on December 19, 2014) <http://jwa.org/people/myerson-bess>.

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