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Miss Arkansas Pageant

The Miss Arkansas Pageant, which takes place yearly in Hot Springs (Garland County), officially began in 1939, though two competitions before that year set the stage for the pageant. The pageant is Arkansas’s preliminary for the Miss America Pageant, which began in 1921. Forty-five smaller pageants lead up to the crowning of Miss Arkansas. The competition is managed by a non-profit organization and co-sponsored by the Miss Arkansas Scholarship Foundation, Inc., the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission, the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Hot Springs.

Bob Wheeler, long associated with the pageant, is credited with beginning the competition in 1933. The first winner of the pageant was Vivian Ferguson. However, she was later disqualified for being married, and the competition was halted until 1938, when the winner was Lorene Bailey. The next year, for the first time, the winner of the pageant was sent to compete in the Miss America pageant, thus marking the official beginning of the Miss Arkansas competition as recognized by most journalists and historians. Although winners were chosen each year since 1938, the second Miss Arkansas to compete for the national title was Doris Love in 1943.

Dorathy Allen, later state senator from Monroe County, was the chaperone for Mineola Graham of Brinkley (Monroe County), crowned Miss Arkansas of 1944 and therefore becoming a contestant for Miss America in Atlantic City, New Jersey, that autumn. Allen compared the professional organization of the national contest to the amateur production of Arkansas and resolved to improve Arkansas’s pageant, giving the annual winners a better opportunity to compete on the national stage. At that time, the pageant was sponsored by the East Arkansas Young Businessmen’s Club and took place in various football and baseball stadiums in communities including Helena (Phillips County), Forrest City (St. Francis County), Newport (Jackson County), and Paragould (Greene County). The 1945 event, the first directed by Allen, was held at the football field in Brinkley. In 1958, the pageant was held at the Oaklawn Park Racetrack in Hot Springs (Garland County), where it remained each year until 1965, when it was held indoors at the newly built Hot Springs Convention Center. In its last years at the racetrack, the pageant drew up to 9,000 paying observers, but the seating of the convention center limited the number of guests to 4,600.

Arkansas has provided two winners of the national title: Donna Axum of El Dorado (Union County) in 1963 and Elizabeth Ward of Russellville (Pope County) in 1981. In 1980, Arkansas had its first African-American Miss Arkansas, Lencola Sullivan of Morrilton (Conway County); she became a runner-up at the Miss America competition, in which she was also the first African-American contestant to place in the top five.

Rhonda Oglesby, Miss Arkansas in 1965, created consternation when she quietly moved to California a few weeks after winning the title. Public expressions of concern eventually led her to return briefly to Arkansas and formally resign her crown. She went on to enjoy a moderately successful career as an actress and songwriter.

The contest has several components. During the pageant, the young women model swimsuits and evening gowns and perform in a talent competition; they are also interviewed by judges. One of the judges revealed in a newspaper interview in 1990 that the decision was based fifteen percent on swimsuit modeling, fifteen percent on evening gown modeling, and seventy percent on talent and interview skills. He also said the competition stresses poise and composure under pressure. Separate awards with different sponsors reward winners in each aspect of the contest, although the largest prize is given to the overall winner. As of 2008, more than $70,000 in scholarship awards were available to contestants.

After being crowned, each Miss Arkansas has a hectic schedule of public appearances. These consist of speaking at schools around the state, attending state sporting events, and visiting as many local or regional pageants as possible. Following this year of public service, many winners seek careers in modeling or in acting. Beth Anne Rankin, Miss Arkansas of 1994, became a motivational speaker, singer, and pianist. Donna Axum, Miss Arkansas and Miss America in 1963, has written several books and serves on boards such as the National Committee for the Performing Arts. Elizabeth Ward, Miss Arkansas and Miss America of 1981, modeled in the nude for Playboy magazine in 1992 and later became a successful actress.

NAME

YEAR WON

Ashton Campbell

2014

Amy Crain

2013

Sloane Roberts

2012

Kristen Glover

2011

Alyse Eady

2010

Sarah Slocum

2009

Ashlen Batson

2008

Katie Bailey

2007

Amber Bennett

2006

Eudora Mosby

2005

Lacy Fleming

2004

Whitney Kirk

2003

Lauren Davidson

2002

Jessie Ward

2001

Sara Harris

2000

Brandy Rhodes

1999

Erin Wheatley

1998

Stacy Freeman

1997

Melonie McGarrah

1996

Paula Montgomery

1995

Beth Anne Rankin

1994

Nicole Bethmann

1993

Shannon Boy

1992

Heather Hunnicutt

1991

Karissa Rushing

1990

Marci Lewallen

1989

Patti Thorn

1988

Carole Lawson

1987

Julie Russell

1986

Christi Taunton

1985

Lisa Stevens

1984

Regina Hopper

1983

Mary Stuart

1982

Elizabeth Ward
(replaced by Micki Peters Konecny)

1981

Lencola Sullivan

1980

Janet Holman

1979

Naylene Vuurens

1978

Bunnie Holbert

1977

Joyce McCormack

1976

Paula Roach

1975

Rhonda Pope

1974

Becky Hume

1973

Debbye Hazelwood

1972

Marilyn Morgan

1971

Donna Connelly

1970

Marilyn Allen

1969

Helen Gennings

1968

Sharon Evans

1967

Mary Craig

1966

Rhonda Oglesby
(replaced by Nita VanHook)

1965

Karen Carlson

1964

Donna Axum
(replaced by Pam Jackson)

1963

Edye Addington

1962

Frances Anderson

1961

Claudette Smith

1960

Susie Jackson

1959

Sally Miller

1958

Suzanne Scudder

1957

Barbara Banks

1956

Charlene Bowers

1955

Sarah Martin

1954

Helen Reed

1953

Bonnie Nicksic

1952

Charlotte Simmen

1951

Mary Jennings

1950

Barbara Brothers

1949

Van Louis McDaniel

1948

Pam Camp

1947

Rebecca McCall

1946

Leslie Hampton

1945

Mineola Graham

1944

Dorris Love

1943

Ferol Amelia Dumas

1941

Betty Benson

1940

Jean Thompson

1939

Lorene Bailey

1938

Vivian Ferguson

1933


For additional information:
Dean, Jerry. “Growing Glory: 50 Years of Miss Arkansas Pageants.” Arkansas Gazette. July 9, 1990, pp. 1E, 3E.

“Early Pageant Was No Preparation For National Event.” Arkansas Gazette. September 21, 1986, p. 1B.

Koon, David. “Crown Me.” Arkansas Times. November 15, 2007, pp. 14-16. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/crown-me/Content?oid=865633 (accessed December 6, 2011).

Miss Arkansas Pageant. http://www.missarkansas.org/ (accessed February 21, 2008).

“Miss Arkansas Pageant Will Be Last Outdoors, 22d Contest Since 1939.” Arkansas Gazette, July 14, 1963, p. 14A.

Portis, Charles. “‘Miss Arkansas’: This Annual Competition Is a Major Project—And Here’s How It Works.” Arkansas Gazette, July 17, 1960, p. 1E.

Megan Carty
Searcy, Arkansas

Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 6/23/2014

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