10 Unusual Mid-Century Pageant Queens

Beauty pageant contestants at the National Rice Festival in Crowley, Louisiana.
Beauty pageant contestants at the National Rice Festival in Crowley, Louisiana. / Russell Lee, Works Progress Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

It is a centuries-old tradition for communities to pick a pretty girl to be the “queen” of their seasonal festivals. The traditional selection of a May Day Queen evolved into the beauty pageants that we’re all familiar with. In the mid-20th century, businesses and communities began to see the huge commercial possibilities of holding a contest where girls would compete just for the honor of representing their product or main export, from sausage to doughnuts. Below are listed just a few. 

1. The Zion Meat Company's Sausage Queen

In 1955, the Zion Meat Company declared Geene Courtney the Sausage Queen of its National Hot Dog Week. Miss Courtney, who once appeared as a bathing beauty in a Three Stooges short, is reported to have been a staunch Catholic who refused to pose nude for Salvador Dalí. Because a girl has to keep her dignity.  

2. Jackson, Ohio's Apple Festival Queen

Although the identities of past Apple Festival Queens are not clear from the festival’s online history, each was part of the long tradition of Jackson, Ohio's Apple Festival Queens dating back to 1937 (interrupted only for WWII). The festival still produces sweet crisp apples and queens today. 

3. National Peanut Festival's Peanut Queen

The Alabama National Peanut Festival began in 1938 (featuring key speaker George Washington Carver, of course). The 1939 Peanut Queen, Dot McArthur, wore a peanut swimsuit and presented a prize to one lucky winner. 

4. Dark Shadows's Miss American Vampire

Dark Shadows was a bizarre 1960s and '70s TV soap opera about a centuries-old vampire named Barnabas Collins. In a tie-in with the show, a Miss American Vampire contest was held. Regional winner Christine Domaniecki of Belleville, New Jersey, was crowned by the original Barnabas, Jonathan Frid. The national winner—selected by a panel of judges that included Regis Philbin—was Sacheen Littlefeather, best known as the Native American woman who refused an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando.  

5. Circleville, Ohio's Pumpkin Queen

The Circleville Ohio Pumpkin Show began in 1903 when the city’s mayor decorated his office-front with a few jack-o-lanterns and corn shucks. It has grown considerably since then, and has crowned a Pumpkin Queen every year since 1933 (minus the years of WWII.)

6. Muller Brothers Automotive's Miss Polish Job 

The Muller Brothers Automotive on Sunset Boulevard, established in 1920, was a four-acre paradise for cars. The goal of this service station was to fill any automotive need a customer might have. By the time LIFE Magazine came to document the Mullers' 3 millionth car wash, there was no limit to what this piece of car heaven could provide. You could buy your car and get new tires, lube jobs, gas, a car wash—and a magnificent polish job. Miss Polish Job was one of many beauty queens the Mullers promoted, including Miss Infra-Red Paint Job, Miss Auto Accessory, and Miss Lube Rack.  

7. National Uranium Queen

Precious little information is available about the Uranium Queens and their radioactive achievements, which we sincerely hope have nothing to do with overexposure and internal irradiation. At least uranium isn’t absorbed through exposed skin.

8. National Donut Queen

Kris Nodland beat out 250 hopeful girls across America to be crowned Donut Queen of 1951. She posed with the Gingerbread Donut Boy to announce the opening of the 14th Annual National Donut Week, April 7-14, 1951. National Donut Day is still a holiday in America, claiming to have pre-WWII roots when women would bring donuts and coffee to wounded soldiers.

9. The Wool Bureau's Miss Sweater Girl

The Miss Sweater Girl contest was sponsored by the Wool Bureau and the Knitted Outerwear Foundation. Miss Jeanne Davis of Alabama was crowned Sweater Girl of 1952. A cute little junior miss was also crowned, and five years later a Mr. Sweater (“The Man We’d Most Like To Buy A Sweater For”) was added to the pantheon. Otherwise, it would have been a bosom-and-bullet-bra competition, which didn’t fit the family image of the sponsors. 

10. International Posture Queen

In the 1950s, chiropractors didn't get much respect. So they tried to promote the legitimacy of their profession by bringing on the pretty girls with the well-aligned spines. Girls who wanted to wear the Posture Queen crown would have to stand on scales, one under each foot. The goal was to have the same amount of weight distributed on each foot, proving perfect posture. Well-balanced Diane Stopky was chosen as the 1957 International Posture Queen. That girl has coccygeal vertebrae that just won’t quit!

This story has been updated from its original version.