First international Beauty Contest
Not content with giving the world most of the sports worth playing, Britain in 1908 extended its mania for competition into another field – the beauty pageant.
Edwardian Folkestone was a place determined to make its mark on the world of entertainment in order to attract more visitors: there were theatres; the racecourse that opened in 1898; and of course bathing. The entrepreneur behind many of the town’s events was Robert Forsyth, the man in charge of Folkestone’s pier, and it was he who came up with the idea of a beauty pageant – not in itself new, but with a new angle in that this one was to be international. Publicity was arranged, invitations sent out.
Thus the Pier Hippodrome in Folkestone on August 14 1908 was the site of a historic first. As well as English maidens the competition featured an Austrian Fraulein, an Irish colleen, three French demoiselles, and an American girl. As with the judging of all beauty pageants there was of course no fixing or favour, and the relatively local 18-year-old Nellie Jarman, an East Molesey girl, swept to victory on merit.
A sign of the times was that large numbers of suffragettes, the feminists of their day, turned up to the event, sporting ‘Votes for Women’ hat bands and deriding the very nature of the competition. Plus ca change.
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