History of the Miss Georgia Pageant
B. Ed Johnson, President of the Columbus Jaycees in 1944, was a judge for a beauty contest held in Atlanta in connection with the Southern Fair Association. Mrs. Lenora Slaughter, the Executive Director of the Miss America Pageant, was also there and at the time there was a general swing away from awarding franchises to state fairs in favor of Jaycee groups. She asked if Columbus could handle the show. She looked at her watch and said: “It’s 10:15 right now; I’ve got to catch a plane at 11:00 p.m. Can you handle it?” To commit the Columbus Jaycees to take over the Miss Georgia Pageant, he needed the approval of the Jaycees Board of Directors. But here he was, Mrs. Lenora Slaughter saying, “yes or no?” and looking at her watch. He told her that the Jaycees would do the show and signed the agreement.
This all happened on Friday and on Monday a special Meeting of the Columbus Jaycees Board of Directors was called the Johnson laid it on the line for them. Since an agreement had been made, the board approved it. B. Ed Johnson, Robert David, Tom Starling, Jim Woodruff, Jr., and a few others got to work.
“The big job was to find women who would compete. Our efforts were more of a comedy than anything else, “ says Johnson. “We had our pageant in Memorial Stadium and prayed that it would not rain. It wasn’t until we had our first rehearsal that we discovered that none of the girls had any talent and we even had to teach some of them how to walk.” Th crowd for the first show unbered 2,500. When asked about that year’s winner. Doris Coker (‘45), Mr. Johnson said, “that she was a very pretty women and a real standout and fine representative of Georgia”.
Jaycees started similar local pageants in Albany, Thomasville, Atlanta, etc. By 1947, there were contestants from about fifteen towns. By 1958, the pageants were really big time. The Miss America Pageant informed the Columbus Jaycees that they would lose the Miss Georgia franchise unless they formed a separate corporation. The reason for this was, they felt that the Jaycees were using the pageant as a training field, and they wanted more experienced people running the pageant. The Jaycees were not too happy about this at first. They even considered a franchise with the Miss Universe Pageant, but they liked the Miss America program and decided to do as suggested. So, a small group of Jaycees, who had worked with the pageant several years and loved all the hard work that goes with it, formed the Miss Georgia Corporation in 1964. It has grown into one of the top pageants in the Miss America program.
This corporation was formed with the full approval of the Columbus Jaycees Board of Directors. If it had not been handled this way, a Miss Georgia organization would have been formed by someone else and the group would have lost the franchise anyway.
The Board of Trustees of the Miss Georgia Pageant Corporation consists of past and present Jaycees and interested members of the community (maximum number: 45). The officers are: Chairman of the Board, President, Vice-President and Treasurer. Since the corporation was formed, the Jaycees have been called on to help with the manpower needed to produce the annual events.
Prior to the present franchise, four young ladies wore the title of “Miss Georgia” in Atlantic City. They were in 1936; Hilda Veale (Watkinsville), 1937; Mary Durrance (Glennville), 1941; Esther Bette Shepard (Griffin) and 1944; Trudie Hayward (Atlanta)
The Miss Georgia Pageant is a nonprofit business, but a business it is. After Miss Georgia is crowned, the rest of the year is aimed at booking appearances for her and helping with local pageants for the next year. Miss Georgia makes three to five appearances per week and her fees are available upon request.
The Miss Georgia Organization has been on the move and has bettered itself each year. The scholarship program, which has been incorporated, is one of the largest in the country and the production has blossomed from a single performance at Memorial Stadium to a four night event at the Three Arts Theatre. In recent time, the pageant moved to the Bill Heard Theatre of the Columbus RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.
The outstanding scholarship program has added many college franchises and almost every contestant is a college student. In 2002, the organization formed Miss Teen Georgia America for high school students across the state.
Miss Georgias have made many exciting appearances. They have been to rattlesnake roundups, to the Rose Bowl, to Vietnam with the Miss America USO Troupe, the Mexico and Japan as goodwill ambassadors, to March of the Dimes’ Telethons, to entertaining hundreds of specials needs children at the Springer Opera House, to State Theatre of Georgia, to the Governor’s Mansion, to the White House and to sing for the President of the United States.
The Miss Georgia Organization is proud of its Miss Georgias and the accomplishments each has done during her year as Miss Georgia and her efforts as Miss America.