Miss Illinois Through the Years
By Daryl Schabinger
The Miss Illinois Pageant began in 1927, and was sponsored by The Great States Theater Corporation. While the first contest was held 73 years ago, 2001 marked the 62nd annual pageant to actually be held. The pageant was discontinued in 1928 due to the Depression and revived in 1936 for one year. Since 1942, the Miss Illinois pageant has been an annual event.
Let's take a look back:
The 1920's and 1930's:
Lois Delander (Miss Joliet) was selected as the very first Miss Illinois on August 7 at the Oriental Theater in Chicago. She was selected from 10 contestants who had won their local titles at theaters across Illinois during the summer of 1927. Lois was awarded a complete wardrobe for her trip to Atlantic City and a five-week vaudeville contract valued at five-hundred dollars. Illinois was honored for the first time when Lois was crowned Miss America 1927. The 16-year-old Joliet High School student was deluged with offers from motion picture and stage producers.
As worldwide financial panic and economic depression swept across America in the late 1920's, the Miss America and Miss Illinois Pageants were considered to be extravagances that could no longer be afforded. The Miss Illinois Pageant was revived for a short time starting in 1936. At the conclusion of the Illinois State Fair, Illinois Governor Horner awarded the title to Virginia Moeller (Miss Springfield) from the 86 contestants that competed that year. The crowds were so exuberant at the contest that Virginia needed the assistance of police to escort her home!
The War Years
Many state competitions were canceled for the duration of World War II, and the Miss Illinois Pageant was re-established in 1942. Patricia Hayes (Miss Rochelle) was named Miss Illinois 1942 at the Hub Theater in Rochelle. The talent competition became part of the competition in 1942. Patricia presented a dramatic reading "Patterns" to help her earn the state title. She was selected as one of the ten finalists in Atlantic City.
Illinois experienced a severe gasoline shortage in 1943 due to World
War II. The state pageant was held in LaSalle, and only contestants from the northern part of the state competed. Dorothy Kohrt of Ottawa won the title. In 1944, Betty King of Bloomington captured the Miss Illinois honors in LaSalle and Illinois once again was honored when Betty placed among the ten finalists in Atlantic City.
By the mid-1940's, the Illinois Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) began their involvement with the Miss Illinois Pageant. Many Illinois communities from Rockford to Cairo would host the Miss Illinois Pageant. The Joliet chapter hosted the Miss Illinois competition from 1945 to 1947. In 1946, Patricia Frye of Pekin became the first Miss Illinois to return from the Miss America Pageant with a college scholarship. As a semi-finalist in Atlantic City, Patricia earned a $1,000 scholarship that she utilized at Bradley University in Peoria. By the end of the 1940's, the Miss America Pageant was no longer just a "beauty pageant." The scholarship foundation began to attract even more talented and career-oriented young women from across Illinois.
By 1950, all contestants competing at the state level had won their local titles at competitions sponsored by the Illinois Junior Chamber of Commerce. In 1951, Doris King (Miss Harvey) was awarded a Nash Rambler as part of her prize package as Miss Illinois. Miss Illinois 1954 Patsy Bruce (Miss Carbondale), became the first Miss Illinois to compete on live television as the Miss America finals were televised coast-to-coast on ABC-TV. Patsy was selected as Miss Congeniality and was awarded a $1,000 scholarship.
The Sixties and Seventies
In the beginning of the 60's, Miss Vandalia Vicki Nutter proved you didn't have to be a vocalist or instrumentalist in order to become Miss Illinois. For the talent segment, she presented fashions she had designed.
By 1961, the Miss Illinois Pageant had become a four-night event, with contestants divided into preliminary groups. For the first time, preliminary talent and swimsuit winners were named at the conclusion of each night of preliminaries; a tradition that continues today.
Miss Illinois 1962 (Miss Carbondale) Pam Gilbert was crowned in a giant tent that was erected in Elk Grove Village for the 1962 competition. She was a awarded a preliminary swimsuit award in Atlantic City. The Miss Illinois Pageant made its home in Aurora from 1967 to 1980. By 1967, the Miss lllinois Pageant was televised in color by WGN-TV as the naming of Miss Illinois 1967 (Miss Fox Valley Park) Kathryn Myers was seen by thousands in homes all across America!
In 1968, a blonde trampolinist named Judith Anne Ford (Miss Boone County) was awarded the Miss Illinois title. Judi went on to become a double preliminary winner in Atlantic City, and for the second time in history, brought the Miss America title home to Illinois! She would not be the last!
CLICK HERE to view our Miss Illinois history scrapbook! CLICK HERE to meet our titleholders from 1927 through now!