OVERVIEW OF THE COLLECTION
Title: Papers of Yolande Betbeze: Miss America 1951
Collection Date(s): 1910-2003, undated
Extent and Forms of Materials: 4 cubic feet, including photographs (12 boxes, 1 oversize folder)
Creator: Yolande Betbeze
Abstract: Yolande Betbeze was crowned Miss America in September, 1950. During and after her reign she was influential in both the Civil Rights and Feminist movements. Her papers document her reign as Miss America, her life after Miss America, and the Miss America pageant itself.
Collection Number: AC0888
Processing Note: Processed by Craig Orr, archivist and Abigail Fine (volunteer), 2006; supervised by Vanessa Broussard Simmons, archivist.
INFORMATION FOR USERS OF THE COLLECTION
Conditions Governing Access: The collection is open for research use.
Physical Access: Researchers must handle unprotected photographs with gloves.
Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use: Copyright held by the Smithsonian Institution. Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: fees for commercial use. All duplication requests must be reviewed and approved by Archives Center staff.
Preferred Citation: Title and date of item, Papers ofYolande Betbeze: Miss America 1951, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, box number X, folder number XX, digital file number XXXXXXXX
IN-DEPTH INFORMATION ABOUT THE COLLECTION
Biographical History: Yolande Betbeze, born in 1929 in Mobile, Alabama, rose to fame in 1951 when she won the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September, 1950. She created controversy when she refused to pose in a swimsuit after being named Miss America, or to go on a “swimsuit tour” for Catalina Swimwear, then a major sponsor of the Miss America Pageant. Betbeze contended that she entered the pageant for scholarship money to pursue an opera career and that she won the contest not for her beauty alone but because of her talent. She said she would be seen in a swimsuit only when she intended to swim and not for “cheesecake” poses. This action caused Catalina Swimwear to withdraw its sponsorship of the Miss America pageant and to create the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, both of which focused heavily on physical beauty and crowned their winners in swimsuits. After Betbeze’s reign, the Miss America pageant became a scholarship pageant.
During her reign, Betbeze traveled through much of the United States and to international locales. She visited military installations, greeted returning soldiers, poured a jar of the Hudson River into the Seine River, and impressed congressmen on Capitol Hill, but she was most beloved in her hometown of Mobile. Behind the media image, she kept up personal correspondence with friends (and fans), kept her own life in admirable order, and, most importantly, kept a sense of humor.
After her reign, Betbeze briefly pursued a career in opera, but she was more concerned with the racism she found in the Miss America Pageant and in women’s rights. She married movie tycoon Matthew Fox in 1954, and they had one daughter. After his death in 1964, she moved to Georgetown in Washington D.C, where she was part of a fun-loving, elite crowd known as “The Swing Set.” She was romantically linked to Cherif Guellal, an Algerian ambassador, but after Algeria broke diplomatic relations with the United States in 1967, Guellal returned to Algeria. In 1966 she considered moving back to Mobile and running for Congress. She lives in Georgetown, Washington D.C.
Scope and Content: This collection documents the life of Yolande Betbeze who reigned as Miss America 1951. Though the collection focuses heavily on the year of her reign from September 1950 to September 1951, it also includes information about her life before winning the Miss America pageant, the Miss Alabama and Miss America pageants of 1950, and her life post-Miss America. Visual imagery in the collection documents life and fashion in the 1950s through 2000. Newspaper articles offer evidence of the culture of the 1950s. This collection contains newspaper clippings, magazine articles, photographs, awards, and memorabilia of Miss America pageants throughout the twentieth century in the form of booklets, brochures, and paper dolls.
Series 1, Miss America Reign, 1950-1951, 1994, undated, includes newspaper articles, magazine articles, and awards from the House of Representatives, programs and brochures relating to Ms. Betbeze’s activities as Miss America. All publicity articles—whether promotional or editorial-are included in this series. Betbeze traveled extensively during her reign, and her trips are documented here. Also included in this series are her visits to military installations, promotion of Miss America pageant sponsors, promotion of her own opera career, and most importantly her verbal attacks against the objectification of women in pageants while she wore the Miss America crown.
Subseries 1, Newspaper Clippings and Magazine Articles, 1950-1951, undated, includes newspaper clippings about Betbeze during her reign as Miss America, documenting nearly every event she attended and delving into her love life and home life. The clippings are arranged by month and year from September 1950 through September 1951. The newspaper articles from Betbeze’s reign that are without a date are arranged by topic behind the dated clippings. This subseries also includes several articles published in magazines about Betbeze during her reign. The articles are arranged in chronological order by year behind the newspaper clippings.
Subseries 2, Awards, 1950, includes awards given to Betbeze by the House of Representatives after she was named Miss America in Atlantic City, as well as an award by the town of Chickasaw naming Betbeze an honorary citizen.
Subseries 3, Programs and Brochures, 1950-1951, includes mini-photo books of Betbeze from her reign as Miss America, as well as pageant programs from pageants she attended as Miss America. It also includes programs and brochures of events she attended and participated in as Miss America, such as her Coronation Ball and a Symphony in Fashion runway show. The materials are arranged with the photograph books first, followed by pageant programs, then programs from various events.
Subseries 4, Promotional Advertisements, 1950-1951, includes promotional advertisements for Nash Automobile, the Official Car Company of Miss America, and Everglaze Fabric. These advertisements are arranged in chronological order.
Subseries 5, Materials Related to Miss America Reign, 1950-1951, 1994, includes material relevant to Betbeze’s reign as Miss America, such as her schedule book from September 1950 to September 1951 and a 1994 interview regarding her life, her reign, and her beliefs. The materials are arranged in chronological order by year.
Series 2, Post-Miss America Reign, 1951-2001, undated, documents Betbeze’s life after her reign as Miss America through newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and Betbeze’s copy of pageant judging guidelines for Miss America 1957. It also documents the changing view of women from the 1950s through the turn of the twenty-first century. Betbeze pursued a career in opera after Miss America, but this career ended with her marriage to Matthew Fox. Materials also relate to her marriage to Matthew Fox, her relationship with Cherif Guellal, her life in Georgetown in Washington D.C in the 1960s, and her participation in later Miss America pageants.
Subseries 1, Newspaper Clippings and Magazine Articles, 1952-2001, undated, includes newspaper clippings and magazine articles about Betbeze after her reign as Miss America. They document her relationships, lifestyle, causes, and career. The clippings are arranged chronologically by year. The magazine articles are arranged chronologically by decade behind the newspaper clippings.
Subseries 2, Miss America Activities, 1957, comprises of Betbeze’s copy of judging guidelines from the 1957 Miss America Pageant. It includes a schedule of events and the judging criteria for each woman, illustrating the changing perception of women in the United States of America from the 1950s through the twenty-first century.
Series 3, Photographs, 1950-2000, undated, documents Betbeze’s life from the 1940s to the turn of the twenty-first century. It includes several photographs from her childhood and teen years. The majority of the series focuses on her reign as Miss America, including photos of her travels, glamour photos, publicity photos, and candid shots. It also includes photographs of Betbeze after her reign. There are negatives for several of the photographs. Photographs are arranged by topic.
Subseries 1, Pre-Miss America Reign, 1949-1950, contains Betbeze’s life as a teenager and the Miss Alabama pageant. The photographs are arranged by topic.
Subseries 2, Miss America Reign, 1950-1951, undated, provides visual evidence enhancing the printed materials in the other series. It includes photographs of Betbeze’s travels throughout the United States, Europe, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It also includes glamour photographs, candid shots, and publicity events that she attended as Miss America. There are a few photographs of her in a swimsuit. The photographs are arranged by topic.
Subseries 3, Post-Miss America Reign, 1951-2001, includes photographs of Betbeze in later life, especially at Miss America pageants in the 1990s. The photographs are arranged by topic.
Series 4, Materials Related to Miss America Pageants, 1910-2003, undated, documents the institution of the Miss America Pageant and its development throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. It includes memorabilia from Atlantic City, the pageants, and Miss America advertisements. It includes official pageant yearbooks and correspondence to Betbeze regarding the seventy-fifth anniversary of Miss America, including a booklet about the pageant. It also includes Miss America Through the Looking Glass (1985), a book documenting the Miss America Pageant from its inception to the 1980s.
Subseries 1, Official Pageant Yearbooks, 1946-2003, comprises of Official Pageant Yearbooks. They illustrate the changing fashions and culture surrounding the pageant. They are arranged in chronological order by year.
Subseries 2, Miss America Memorabilia, 1910-2001, undated, consists of memorabilia of the Miss America Pageant and Atlantic City. The materials include a package for a hairnet from the 1920s, advertisements using the Miss America label for Lucky Strike cigarettes, sheet music for the Miss America and Miss Alabama official songs, Miss America Through the Looking Glass, various stickers advertising the pageant and Atlantic City, Miss America paper dolls, cards and postcards. The memorabilia is arranged in chronological order by year.
Subseries 3, Seventy-fifth Anniversary of Miss America, 1995, includes correspondence between pageant directors and Betbeze regarding the seventy-fifth Anniversary of the Miss America Pageant, as well as a brochure about the pageant. The materials are arranged by type; first is the correspondence regarding the seventy-fifth anniversary, then the brochure advertising Miss America.
Series 5, Yolande Betbeze Personal Papers, 1949-1999, undated, documents life behind-the-scenes through telegrams and letters from friends and fans, invitations and Betbeze’s schedule book as Miss America. It includes magazine articles and newspaper clippings from her pre-Miss America years, and the layout of an interview she gave in 1994.
Subseries 1, Personal Correspondence, 1950-1995, undated, consists of personal letters between Betbeze and her friends, including Lenora Slaughter, the head of the Miss America Pageant when Betbeze was Miss America. It also includes fan-mail and autograph requests. The correspondence is arranged chronologically by year.
Subseries 2, Telegrams, 1950-1951, consists of telegrams that Betbeze received as Miss America. They consist of well wishes for her reign, birthday, and Christmas. The telegrams are arranged chronologically by year.
Subseries 3, Newspaper Clippings and Magazine Articles, 1949-1950, consists of newspaper clippings and magazine articles saved by Betbeze. They include reviews of her performance as Musetta in La Boheme in Mobile in 1949 and articles about Matthew Fox. The clippings are arranged chronologically by month and year. The magazine articles are arranged by year behind the newspaper clippings.
System of Arrangement: The collection is arranged in five series.
Acquisition Information: Collection donated by Yolande Betbeze in 2005.
Existence and Location of Originals: The original newspaper clippings were copied and returned to the donor.
Related Archival Materials: The Archives Center also holds collection # 902, the Miss America 1943 [Jean Bartel] Photographs, 1943-1944.
Related Artifacts: The Division of Work and Industry holds artifacts related to this collection: the Miss America crown, scepter, and sash of 1950-1951, worn by the donor, and the Miss Alabama sash and Miss America ribbon of 1950-1951.