Friday, May 3, 2013

Miss Subways

From Life Magazine - April 23, 1945

The girls shown on these pages are all New Yorkers who have achieved the local glory of being "Miss Subways" for a whole month. Each of them competed against an average of 250 other New Yorkers and was finally selected by John Robert Powers, who runs the big Powers' model agency. Each winner had her picture posted in New York's subway cars for a month and, according to Elmo Roper, was stared at by 5,638,800 people, have of whom saw her twice a day. 

The Miss Subways campaign, which is 4 years old this month, is a publicity stunt dreamed up by the New York Subways Advertising Company to help attract the subways riders' attention to the paid advertising in the car. It also helped a few of the winning Miss Subways to become successful models. It even landed a few in Hollywood. The only substantial movie success has been Mona Freedman, who was the second Miss Subways and who has since appeared in four movie parts. But most of the real Miss Subways are still riding New York subways.











Who was your favorite? Mine were Cecile Woodley, or Rosemary Gregory. I wonder what they ended up doing! Apparently, there is a book called Meet Miss Subways: New York's Beauty Queens, that tracked many of these women down & interviewed them years later.. Maybe I could find out? 

On the surface, I thought of the whole concept kinda creepy (strangers staring at you), and rather sexist (beauty competitions in general). On the other hand, I ended up reading this poignant article in the New York Times from 2004, by Melanie Bush: Miss Subways, Subversive & Sublime. It's short, and she certainly addresses what bothers me about the program initially. But she also touches on the progressive aspects of the campaign as well - feminist inclinations, multiculturalism, and questioning the beauty myth.

"What was actually going on here, I saw, was women, real New York women, talking to each other about their intentions and transmitting these messages through the medium of some men's advertising campaign. And where were they doing it? Underground!"

Something to ponder. What do you guys think?

7 comments:

  1. This is completely wonderful, I'd not heard of the Miss Subway series before. What beautiful women one and all, it's hard to pick a favourite gal. Helen is a classic, regal kind of beauty; Rita has a certain air of glamour to her; Mona is so sweet (very girl next-door) - I just I adore them all.

    Thank you very much for sharing this intriguing slice of history with us.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Helen was a favorite too. I wonder if she did become a lawyer! I also love her mention of "distinctive hats" - i bet she had some amazing ones. Mona did continue on in Hollywood, at least through the 50s. I've never heard of any of the movies, I should try to see some!

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  2. I think there was an exhibit recently in NYC about Miss Subways where some of them showed up and talked about themselves.

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    1. Oh wow, that would've been such a pleasure to go to!

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  3. Very interesting, I heard about them first on NPR I think...I have a fondness for the beauty pageants of yesterday, so very interesting. I love that these were just real women! Fun post!

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    1. Yeah there was totally a thing on NPR... But I only know that from googling it today;)

      I also love the old beauty pageants... But my favs are always the "miss legs" where they have to wear sacks over their heads, or "miss eyes" where they wear creepy masks that only show their eyes. So surreal and hilarious! Keep your eyes peeled, I've been hoarding stacks of preposterous beauty contests for your viewing pleasure;)

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  4. Great post! I also never heard of this and it's really neat to see. I definitely agree with Bush's quote. What makes it stand out is the bit of text where the women were able to speak which is so completely lacking in most advertising. It's a beauty contest, but it also humanized them. I also love the commentary by the person making the ads. Like Helen, probably my fav because I too like distinctive hats, but also because of the "P.S." So funny! "I'd appreciate your comments" it's like a blog post!

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