Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Life
Thelma Porter was the first black Miss Subways, in 1948.
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Miss Subways

Beauty pageants promote the fantasy of the ideal woman. But for 35 years, one contest in New York City celebrated the everyday working girl.

Each month starting in 1941, a young woman was elected “Miss Subways,” and her face gazed down on transit riders as they rode through the city. Her photo was accompanied by a short bio describing her hopes, dreams and aspirations. The public got to choose the winners – so Miss Subway represented the perfect New York miss. She was also a barometer of changing times.

Miss Subways was one of the first integrated beauty pageants in America. An African-American Miss Subways was selected in 1948 – more than thirty years before there was a black Miss America. By the 1950s there were Miss Subways who were black, Asian, Jewish, and Hispanic – the faces of New York’s female commuters.

At 14 years-old, Mona Freeman was the first winner of the Miss Subways beauty contest and her photo was splashed across the city’s transit system. Mona quickly became the most famous subway rider in New York City. Mona died earlier this year. We’re remembering her and all the Miss Subways that followed.


See more photos at NPR’s Picture Show blog.

Meet Miss Subways, a book by photographer Fiona Gardner and writer Amy Zimmer, is available from Seapoint Books. For more Meet Miss Subways news, join their Facebook fan page.

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