An Old Tradition: Miss United Way

An Old Tradition: Miss United Way Image

During campaign time in the 1970s, United Way held competitions to choose female representatives from participating businesses. Typically, 50-100 business women would apply for the position, and the selected candidates were crowned “Miss United Way.” Their job was to represent United Way at all public campaign functions, such as luncheons and the Victory Dinner.

The Miss United Way competition was a little reminiscent of a beauty pageant (in 1975, a woman from the June II Modeling Agency was on the panel of judges, and it was not uncommon to see winners with a modeling background). In this day and age, that would never fly. However, if you look beyond the “beauty” criteria, you will see that the applicants were indeed professional women who filled important roles in the campaign.

Miss United Way spoke for the business division as a whole, and her “Court” (assistants) consisted of women representing other divisions – i.e. Corporate Gifts, General Industries, Public and Service, Schools & Colleges, and Professional.

As you might already know, since the start of United Way in 1917, there was a separate Women’s Division from the general campaign. This still existed in the 70s, but the Miss United Way competition showed crossover: women were gaining better access to campaigning in the business world, which was a very positive step. Eventually, you would have women like Trudy Mollenberg moving from the neighborhood block campaigns to the small business campaign division, and the progress opened up from there.