From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Decades of Beauty Contests

History of beauty pageants at the Hopkinsville Fair


Links in this article go to Kentucky New Era articles from years past, as found in Google's newspaper archives.

In 1988, Hopkinsville's newspaper, the Kentucky New Era, published a history of the Western Kentucky State Fair, written by historian William Turner. Turner wrote that the first agricultural fairs in Hopkinsville were held annually from 1857 to 1860. After the War Between the States, the fairs continued from 1869-1886. A property in the area of lst and Vine Streets was used as the fairgrounds.

After that fair folded, several other associations held fairs in or near Hopkinsville, according to Turner. None of the fairs had a run of more than five years, until the Pennyroyal Fair began in 1913 and carried on through 1926. Some of our older citizens probably remember this fair from their childhood days. It was held on a property on the Palmyra Road (now South Virginia Street).

Turner wrote that a "Miss Pennyroyal Fair queen" was crowned each year. If so, the chosen ladies were probably the first fair queens in Hopkinsville. I haven't been able to find any newspaper articles of the period to verify the selection of a fair queen in those years, but I take the word of our well-respected and much-beloved county historian.  He has many documents and other resources available to him, and he has spent his life acquiring an extensive knowledge of our local history.

After the Pennyroyal Fair died out in the mid-1920s, Hopkinsville went without a fair for over a decade. (There may have been street markets or other sorts of festivals, but no fairs were held where people exhibited plants and animals they had raised.)

Then, from 1938 to 1941, an annual agricultural fair was sponsored by the Hopkinsville Chamber of Congress. It was held in a large tobacco facility on Young Street. Mr. Turner does not mention any queens of this fair, and I did not find any mention of fair queens in the newspapers of those years. But who needed a beauty pageant, anyway, when the fair's local talent contest featured jitterbuggers, hillbilly musicians, and more?

The first Hopkinsville fairs after World War II -- 1946, 1947, 1948, and 1949 --were held at the Blue Lantern Farm, just west of Hopkinsville. Popularity queens were crowned at the fairs in 1948 (see page 7 for a photo of the contestants) and 1949. Apparently, the contestant with the most votes won the title of Queen. I am not sure how the elections were conducted.

In 1951, the Pennyroyal Fair, predecessor of today's Western Kentucky State Fair, was held for the first time. The festivities included a beauty contest won by Jo Nell Turner of Pembroke, the first of many beauty queens at the fair.  In the Kentucky New Era report from the fair of 1952, the winner is titled a  "Beauty Queen". The first few Pennyroyal Fairs of the 1950s (and their beauty contests) were held at tobacco loose floors in Hopkinsville, until the Fire Marshall ruled out such locations.  A large site on Richards Street was purchased in 1954 as a home for future fairs.

The beauty contests at the fairs of the early fifties established an unbroken tradition of beauty contests at Hopkinsville fairs. However, beauty contests were not new when the fair started having them. Many beauty contests were held in Hopkinsville and around Christian County in the 1930s, including a mock beauty contest for men, held at Hopkinsville's Alhambra Theater.

The Pennyroyal Fair was reorganized as the Western Kentucky State Fair in the early 1960s, and the title of the beauty queens was changed to "Miss Western Kentucky State Fair" (often shortened to Miss WKSF, when written). I didn't find any mention of the Mrs. Western Kentucky State Fair competitionin the Kentucky New Era until the 1980s. However, mother/daughter and father/son look-alike contests were held at earlier fairs. The Mrs. contest may have been an outgrowth of the look-alike contests, or it may have been related to the national Mrs. America contest.

In 1977, the Pioneers Club of Hopkinsville (a civic-minded local fraternity of mostly black men) sponsored the first Miss Black Western Kentucky pageant. The winner represented the Pioneers later that year in the Miss Western Kentucky State Fair contest. The Pioneers' annual competitions for Miss Black Western Kentucky continued through 2004.

For the youngest of beauties, a "baby contest" was held at the fair as early as 1913 -- a baby health contest, that is. The article suggested that the beauty of the baby might affect the decision of the judges because healthy babies are naturally beautiful. It also stated that the baby show was "an old story at state and county fairs", so the 1913 contest was probably not the first one in Christian County.  That tradition is still carried on, nearly 100 years later, at the Western Kentucky State Fair where there are baby pageants every year.

It may be 2010, but people are still asking, "Who's the fairest of them all?" And the answer is different every year.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.