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From the New York Times: Sunday, October 24, 2004

For three decades, New York women had an icon of beauty that was ethnic,
real and even covertly feminist. Now, she is set to reign again.


Riding the D train to Sheepshead Bay in the 1970’s, I knew I would never be Miss America. Not just because I was short, Jewish and nerdily bespectacled by the time I was 8. No, it was something more enigmatic than that, and even less changeable: Even as an 8-year old. I sensed the complete and irrevocable impossibility of anyone who rode the D train ever becoming Miss America. Burdened — tainted — with intimate knowledge of the D train, I could never grow up into that ideal of disinterested equanimity all Miss Americas should embody.
    But so what? I could become Miss Subway.
    From 1941 to 1977, a company called New York Subways Advertising sponsored the Miss Subways contest. Applicants, ranging in age from 14 to 30, all purportedly riders of the subway, sent their photos and biographies to John Robert Powers, a top modeling agent. The lucky winner had her face, along with a blurb about her life and ambitions, plastered in every car of the IND, IRT and BMT for one month.
    The contest has been revived and Miss Suways' daughters, making their debut as Ms. Subways on a system that celebrates its 100th anniversary this week, will no doubt maintain their forerunners' pedigree. Unlike Miss America, these queens represented the full spectrum of their consistency, mainly Irish, Italian, Latina and Jewish. The first black winner reigned on the trains in 1947 (36 years before a black Miss America), the first Asian in 1949.
    Dressed up and itching between my parents on thoses rush-hour D trains to Grandma's shabbles dinner, I gazed into Miss Subways' calm, confident eyes. Would my sisters aatian the goals their blurbs so assertively stated, though they, too, had the mark of the subway upon them? Was this just another dumb beauty contest? And what did it all mean for me?
    Thirty years later, I paid a visit to the old Miss Subways posters at Ellen's Stardust Diner. Ellen Hart Strum, Miss Subways of March 1959, told me that Miss Subways was created to "put a little glamour in the subways, something to cheer people up." Bernard Spaulding, who supervised the contest in its last 14 years, claimed that the contest was simply a ploy by Subways Advertising to "increase he eye traffic for adjoining ads."


     
   
   
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