In the summer of 1921, the “Washington Herald” held a popularity contest in which one thousand girls submitted their photos. Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman was chosen as the first “Miss Washington, D.C.” Margaret and the runner ups traveled to Atlantic City to participate in the “Inter-City Beauty” Contest. It was judged by a judging panel and the public, both of whom shared 50 percent of the final score. Margaret was very popular among the crowd. It also helped that she bore a striking resemblance to Mary Pickford, a popular screen actress.
On September 8th, 1921, over 100,000 people gathered on the boardwalk to watch the pageant. Margaret won the titles “Inter-City Beauty, Amateur” and “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America” in addition to the Golden Mermaid trophy – the grand prize.
The next year she returned to defend her positions, but pageant officials did not know what title to give her since the “Washington Herald” already selected a new “Miss Washington, D.C.” and her other titles were too awkward. They decided to call Margaret “Miss America” instead. She is still the only Miss America to receive a crown at the end of her year.
Later in life Margaret said, “I’ve lived a charmed life. I’ve been very lucky. God has been very kind to me.” As she grew older she also distanced herself from her role in the pageant. Margaret did not like the beauty queen label. “My husband hated it,” she once remarked. “I did, too.” She lived to be 90-years-old and passed away in October 1995.
Robert McG. Thomas Jr. “Margaret G. Cahill, 90, Is Dead; Was First Miss America, in 1921,” New York Times, October 5, 1995.