Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan, who’s not just pretty, but pretty smart, epitomizes why the Miss America Pageant has value for young women. She was in Washington D.C. recently spreading the message of the Miss America Organization’s advocacy for higher education for all women.  Turns out The Miss America Organization is the largest provider of scholarships to women, $45 million every year (yes, you read that right).  Teresa explains why the Miss America pageant has been so important to her in her op-ed which appeared in The Hill.

 

Young though she may be, 17 when she won this past January, she is wise beyond her years. Following a meeting with the Nebraska (her home state) delegation on Capitol Hill, Teresa had a substantive discussion with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, did an interview with The Hill newspaper, and then met with Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) who is the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

She rounded out the Congressional visits by attending the Congressional Correspondents Dinner, which honors journalists who cover Capitol Hill, where she was the guest of The Hill newspaper. Seated with Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), she received a round of applause after a shout out from the podium.

She spoke with Jenny Yeager Kaplan, Deputy Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, about the historical significance of the Miss America Organization as the largest provider of college scholarships and Miss America’s advocacy to encourage all young women to pursue college education, specifically those interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

Tuesday, Miss America took her message directly to the children in a visit with students from Washington’s Martin Luther King Elementary School. As Teresa concluded her events on Capitol Hill, she emphasized that the Miss America Organization is eager to work with Congress and the Obama Administration to help promote education initiatives nationally. Teresa believes that being Miss America means being a role model to young women across America, and advancing affordable and high-quality education for young women is a priority for her.

Jean Bartel, whose death was recently announced, was the first Miss America I interviewed for my book, Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas. I didn’t know what to expect.  I had my story prepared, my questions on index cards and a hope that it would go well. 

Me with Gretchen Carlson, MA 1989, Lee Meriwether, MA 1955 & Jean Bartel, MA 1943

I first met her in Los Angeles, when she invited me to her home. She was tall and very slender.  Dressed all in black, a refined string of pearls around her neck, she had wrapped her hair in a leopard print turban.  The first thing she did after greeting me was to apologize for her appearance.  But she looked elegant and cool, so no apologies were accepted. 

I felt like I was in the presence of a true lady.  She told me stories and made me laugh.  I found myself impressed with her forthrightness and warmth.   I saw her three more times at the Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas, January 2008 – 2010.  She always showed up in her high heels and strapless dress, even well into her 80’s.

 Here’s a little history about this grand dame – Jean Bartel, Miss America 1943

Jean entered the Miss America pageant to satisfy her burning hunger to appear on Broadway. She was notable during her reign for raising more money in war bonds than anyone else ever before. As the first college girl to win the crown, she encouraged the Miss America Organization to start awarding scholarships, which it did in 1945. She was the first Miss America to refuse to model swimsuits during her reign. Jean was always an independent woman.

Jean as Miss America 1943

The entertainment industry recognized her talent and professionalism at an early age. With an actor’s equity card in her pocket as a precocious fourteen year old, she joined the Civic Light Opera of Los Angeles. The pageant then opened doors to a world she had been pursuing for several years. She took her exceptional voice and trademark smile around the world on tours to the Middle East, Europe, Canada, South American and every state of the Union except Maine. Ultimately, her Broadway dream became a reality when she became the first Miss America to star in a musical, “Of Thee I Sing.” Through the next several decades she continued to appear on television, stage and in film, performing well into her seventies. Every year she still dons an evening gown, puts on her lipstick and heads to the Miss America pageant.

Jean was a single professional woman at a time when most women were homemakers. Her love for travel was sparked by her globe-trotting touring schedule when she was performing. She took that passion and started her own travel agency, Jean Bartel & Associates, which she ran well into her seventies. Jean didn’t marry until twenty years after she was crowned. She met the man who would become her husband on one of her trips to Japan. Married for thirty-one years until he passed away in 2001, this grand dame, with her trusty dog Teddy, followed her dream all the way to the finish line.

Jean and her faithful companion, Teddy

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