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History of the Miss Wadena Scholarship Pageant

Contests and competitions have been around for centuries, but the first truly American beauty pageant began in Atlantic City in 1921 as a way to extend the tourist season past Labor Day. It included a competition on the beach to select "the most beautiful bathing beauty in America."[1] It was suggested that the winner be called 'Miss America' and in this way a tradition was born. That first year, eight communities provided contestants. Now the contestants come from all 50 states and the event itself has achieved epic proportions.

Every year at least 7,500 beauty pageants in the United States are franchised by either the Miss America Scholarship program or the Miss USA pageant. Several thousand other beauty pageants are produced on a small-scale at the local level. So what is a beauty pageant? Though pageants vary there is a familiar format: female contestants enter a competitive event where they are judged on beauty, personality, talent and poise. A panel of judges evaluates each contestant, and the woman who garners the most points in the various events wins and is crowned queen. [2]

In 2008, the Wadena Pioneer Journal interviewed former winners of the Miss Wadena Pageant as part of the 25th anniversary celebration. They were asked the question: How has being in the pageant influenced your life? Their answers are remarkably similar.

1985 It helped me gain grace under pressure, poise, self-confidence.

1987 It encouraged my confidence and helped me to think on my feet.

1989 It helped me gain a lot of confidence—being in front of large crowds.

1990 It made me stronger in my convictions to be myself and not try to fit into someone else's mold.

1991 It gave me a lot of experience in public speaking and vocal performance, skills I still use today.

1992 The time spent practicing for the interview portion of the pageant helped me to learn the skills needed for job interviews.

1993 It helped build my confidence and has played a strong role in the successes that I have achieved in my life.

1994 It helped me gain self-confidence, learn how to carry myself and learn stage presence. It especially helped me train for interviewing in my career.

1998 It taught me to never give up and to work hard for your dreams.

2002 I have more confidence in public settings and I have dramatically improved my public speaking abilities.

2003 It has shown me how important it is to have positive role models for young girls today.

The first Wadena pageant was in 1983. It was called "The Wild West Roundup and Little Miss Roundup" and was done in collaboration with the Jaycees. When it joined with Miss Minnesota, the name was changed to Miss Wadena. Bonnie Kingsley has been a volunteer with the event since 2002, when her daughter was crowned Miss Wadena. She said that the format, which closely resembles the formats of the national competitions, has remained pretty much the same. The contestants are judged on talent, evening gown, casual wear and on an interview with the judges that takes place before the event which takes place on stage before an audience. In 1999, the committee decided to no longer participate at the Miss Minnesota level and made it a closed local pageant with scholarship funds going to Wadena High School junior and senior contestants.

Since then, it has been called the Miss Wadena Scholarship Pageant, and like the Miss America pageant on which it was modeled, it provides scholarships for the winners. Now in its 31st year, the Miss Wadena Pageant continues to instill confidence in the contestants, leaving them with public speaking skills and poise they can use for the rest of their lives.

As a special feature, each year a young girl between the ages of 5 and 7 is selected by each of the contestants to be their attendant. The Miss Wadena Little Attendants accompany the contestants to parades and public events, undoubtedly picking up some of those skills as well.

The 2014 Miss Wadena Scholarship Pageant will be held Saturday, June 21 at 7:00 at the Memorial Auditorium in Wadena. This year's theme features the Swing music of the 1920s and 30s. You may even see the contestants dressed in flapper dresses, reminiscent of that first beauty pageant in Atlantic City, over 90 years ago.

Information from various sources including articles in the Wadena Pioneer Journal. Lina Belar is the interim executive director of the Wadena County Historical Society.