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Miss North Dakota Pageant and Cara Mund

The annual Miss North Dakota Pageant is held in early June. It is the official preliminary contest for the Miss America Pageant that takes place in early September. Although it is traditionally known as a “beauty pageant,” physical beauty is not the reason this contest remains relevant to young women in the 21st century. Rather, it is the substantial scholarships awarded.  

In fact, the state organization is formally known as the “Miss North Dakota Scholarship Organization.” In 2017, over $43,000 was awarded to the 19 Miss North Dakota contestants. Additionally, the national pageant claims to be the “the world’s leading provider of scholarships to young women.”

The history of women’s beauty pageants in the US can be traced back to the 1880s. They were generally held in seaside, tourist towns of the East Coast. The events were not greatly popular, and even regarded as distasteful by many at the time.

However, this changed with the zeitgeist of female empowerment that accompanied women winning the right to vote 1920. Perhaps unexpectedly, the beauty pageant rose in popularity at the same time as women’s social liberation. In 1921, a seaside hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey staged the first “bathing beauty” contest that would become the Miss America Pageant. Held the first weekend after Labor Day, the first pageant was a ploy to keep tourists in town after the summer season.

The pageant was a success, and in coming years, contestants from across the country were encouraged to compete. Today, each state in the union sends a representative to compete for the crown.

The first Miss North Dakota was Kitty G. Page in 1949. The first Miss North Dakota to win the Miss America title was Cara Mund in 2017. Mund grew up in Williston, and since has graduated with honors from Brown University, and has interned with Senator John Hoeven in Washington.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation was her platform during the competition. She expressed plans to attend law school and become the first female elected Governor of North Dakota. That would continue a family legacy, as Mund is related to Victoria Claflin Woodhull — “the first woman to run for U.S. President, the first woman to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street, and one of the first females to found a newspaper.”

Although the Miss America Pageant has been met with protesters as well as supporters and fans, North Dakota’s Cara Mund is a good example of the strong, confident and community-minded individuals the contest proclaims to support.

Dakota Datebook by Maria Witham






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