This Weekend in 1968: Miss AmericaJANUARY 24, 2009
- Debra Barnes Snodgrass
- (Missy Belote)
- View the Slideshow
In Las Vegas this weekend it's the 88th annual Miss America pageant. The pageant used to take place in Atlantic City. It also used to emphasize swimsuits and cheesecake. Now it's supposedly all about scholarships - but let's be honest, it's still kind of about cheesecake. The point is, it evolves. It's changed, just like America. At the 1968 competition, outside Atlantic City's Convention Hall, a group of women gathered on the boardwalk. They held signs that read "Women's Liberation." Their demonstration caught the attention of the nation, and was a window into the emergence of a movement that would gain considerable strength in the decade to come.
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JACQUI CEBALLOS: My name is Jacqui Ceballos. I'm the founder and President of Veteran Feminists of America. I went to college and I majored in music. I went to New York and I married a dashing Colombian and had a wonderful exciting life, lived in Columbia with maids and started an opera company.
But when push came to shove, I was a woman and my husband was very upset with what I was doing. A friend came and she just handed me Betty Friedan's book "The Feminine Mystique." I read it, and that was it. I started plotting my way back to New York to work in the movement.
CEBALLOS: 1967 NOW started, I joined NOW.
KATHIE AMATNIEK: National Organization for Women.
CEBALLOS: And then we started hearing about these radical feminists across town.
AMATNIEK: I'm Kathie Sarachild. Back in 1968, I was Kathie Amatniek.
CEBALLOS: They were younger women who had come out of the SDS and the young people's movement and they had fought with the guys who were treating them like slaves.
AMATNIEK: We thought in terms of liberation.
CEBALLOS: They wanted to change the world. That's why they said, we don't want women's rights. We want women's liberation, you know?
AMATNIEK: We used to have what were called consciousness-raising sessions, and I think we were watching a movie about beauty contests…
TAPE: And now the time for the official judging has finally arrived.
AMATNIEK: Then we went around the room talking about how beauty contests actually affected our lives.
TAPE: The judging is by points, so many points for appearance in an evening gown, so many points for a bathing suit.
AMATNIEK: A very dear friend of mine, Carol Hanisch, in high school and probably even earlier, watching the Miss America pageant on television had been a very important part of her life. She used to say, "I cried with the winner."
TAPE: There she is, Miss America
AMATNIEK: Carol had this idea. My gosh! That's the symbol of everything! The Miss America Pageant! That should be our first symbol of everything. Protesting the Miss America Pageant.
CEBALLOS: That whole idea of that Miss America who got up on the stage and said, "All I want to be is a wife and mother." It just got to me. And when I heard that they were going to the Miss America Pageant, I wanted to be on board.
TAPE: And starring 50 of the country's loveliest young ladies, the charming and talented girls competing for the title of Miss America 1968!
DEBRA SNODGRASS: My name is Debra Barnes Snodgrass…
TAPE: Debra Dean Barnes.
SNODGRASS: And I was Miss America 1968.
TAPE: Miss Kansas formally, now Miss America.
SNODGRASS: We were goal-oriented, education- oriented young women that were there to get scholarship money. So for us, talent being 50 percent of the portion when we competed…
SNODGRASS: My own talent was to play my own arrangement of "Born Free," a piano solo.
SNODGRASS: I actually didn't win the talent competition. Miss Indiana won and she was an Olympic ice skater. They made and ice rink about the size of my living room which is pretty small, and she did such awesome tricks, but I won swimsuit, that's hard to believe.
TAPE: And what are the judges thinking?
SNODGRASS: I tried to forget what I was wearing and just look at the people had have a good time. I was uncomfortable wearing a swimsuit. The first week in September of 1968, I gave up my crown, which means that I crowned my successor Judy Ford, my duties were to be available for the contestants and also to make my going-away speech.
SNODGRASS: During that week, the women's liberation movement were demonstrating outside the convention hall where Miss America pageant was held.
TAPE: Yesiree, boys step right up, how much am I offered for this number one piece of prime American property? She sings in the kitchen…
AMATNIEK: Many of us had become conscious that beauty standards have and dress codes how that cut into our daily lives and freedom.
CEBALLOS: Listen, let me tell you, I was considered very pretty in college. And I want to tell you that the main thing in my day, which don't forget, was the 1940's was who was the prettiest girl in the family? Who was the prettiest girl in school? It was unbelievable!
AMATNIEK: We had something called the Freedom Trash Can.
CEBALLOS: I was told to bring something oppressive to women.
AMATNIEK: At first we were going to burn all these instruments of female torture.
CEBALLOS: But we were not allowed to make a fire. So the story that we burned our bras is wrong. So what we did was, we walked around I think there were 50, 75 of us.
AMATNIEK: Everybody was lined up to throw something in and explain what they hated about it.
CEBALLOS: The young women had thrown away their bras. I never stopped wearing a bra, by the way, because I'm a 36 something whatever. And a bra is more comfortable.
AMATNIEK: And it wasn't just bras. Bras in a way were the least of the problem. There were high heels that we were throwing in there.
CEBALLOS: And I threw my 16-year-old son's Playboy magazines in. Playboy! With their boobs hanging out and I thought it was really anti-woman really. I still do.
TAPE: Ain't she cute, walking in her bathing suit?
AMATNIEK: We have prepared songs.
CEBALLOS: Wonderful songs to other tunes you know.
AMATNIEK: Some songs we came to regard as anti woman, like--
"Ain't she sweet, making profit off her meat."
CEBALLOS: Beauty sells, she's told, so she's a plugging it, ain't she sweet.
SNODGRASS: Just the fact that this group of women would say to us who were in the pageant competing that we were selling ourselves. And it was almost verging upon prostitution. It did really hurt my feelings because I felt that my femininity was something to be respected and to be celebrated.
AMATNIEK: We also planned as part of the protest, going inside the pageant…
MOVIE: Live from the Convention Hall in Atlantic City the Miss America pageant!!!
AMATNIEK: We all dressed up in high heels and gorgeous dresses to get inside,
AMATNIEK: We went up into the balcony,
TAPE: Now, let us give one last final salute of Miss America 1968.
CEBALLOS: And when Miss America was marching down to, "Oh, here she is, Miss America," they unfurled this huge banner--
SNODGRASS: And then they started shouted during my going away speech.
AMATNIEK: --and shouted, "Women's Liberation, no more Miss America,"
SNODGRASS: Uh, I really didn't hear what they were saying.
CEBALLOS: For a split second, you could see the camera stop and everybody look up.
AMATNIEK: You know, it was not as militant perhaps as it might have been. We did not resist the police but we went along with them and then they shoved us out the side door.
AMATNIEK: And that was it, they just let us go.
TAPE: Ain't gonna be Miss America no more…
SNODGRASS: I never know how to react to someone who finds out that I've been Miss America, and they say "Oh, you've been Miss America." I don't know whether they're saying, "Ewww, you've been Miss America or "Oh wow! You've been Miss America." Because I don't know yet how they feel about the pageant. know that some of the things that the women's liberation movement accomplished have made for me to enjoy what I'm enjoying now as a career women. I know that.
CEBALLOS: Male chauvinism started collapsing, like sand castles falling apart you know.
AMATNIEK: But it's still the responsibility of family care is being primarily on women, it's not being shared equally. That's not what we meant by women's liberation, the double day. Like we now say, like "Equal Free Time for women and men is as important as equal pay, you know."
CEBALLOS: So we still have a long ways to go!
TAPE: No Miss America, no more!
- Music Bridge:
- Doctor Honoris Causa
- Artist: Elephant9
- CD: Dodovoodoo (Rune Grammofon)