Bathing beauty pageants have long island tradition
Imagine you’re standing near the beach in Galveston. World War I has just ended, and Americans are ready for rest, recreation and healing. That’s just what Galveston gives them as the Roaring ’20s begins. Women gain the right to vote, and beauty pageants are all the rage. The International Pageant of Pulchritude, organized by C.E. Barfield, has come to Galveston, and it attracts women competitors from all across the United States and Europe.
Coast Monthly travels back in time to explore the present revival of the bathing beauty pageant tradition.
1920s: Bathing suits are more like costumes than swimsuits. Flapper-styled bathing beauties carried pinstriped parasols and see knee-high stockings, flat hats and Egyptian headdresses.
1928: Pageant judges say the ideal height of a bathing beauty is 5 feet 7½ inches; weight is 125 pounds. This year marks the birth of what later becomes the Miss Universe contest. The winner, Lisl Goldarbeiter of Austria, steps up to receive the grand prize and $2,000. That’s about $21,233 today.
1929: The event triples the island’s population while it occurs. Parents and chaperones from across the nation surround 16- to 25-year-old contestants who represent the hope of their small towns and the pride of their states. Ocean liners deliver European beauties to Galveston’s shore for the contest.
1932: Sadly, we say goodbye to the last pulchritude pageant. The Great Depression takes its toll.
1937: Although some lament bygone days of the pageant’s fun and frivolity, a new type of crowd-pleasing pageant emerges on Galveston’s shore.
It’s Aug. 14, and the Galveston Daily News reports that 10,000 people are attending Galveston’s Most Perfect Back contest. This national event is organized locally by Island chiropractor M.M. “Doc” Mihovil and sponsored by the Galveston Beach Association with the Texas Chiropractic Association.
Crowds pack into Menard Park, edging toward the runway to view the 27 young women in backless, formal evening costumes. Reporters from Paramount, Pathé and Universal Studios are producing newsreels that will appear in theaters nationwide. They crowd under rigged floodlights pointing cameras at contestants. They focus a few minutes on chiropractic judges who are evaluating these 18- to 30-year-old contestants for general physical health, perfect back formation and posture. Participants compete for $300 and a silver trophy. After all the fanfare, Ms. Palerma Drain of San Antonio steps up to receive her trophy.
2009: At the Mechanic Street offices of Islander by Choice, a local company dedicated to promoting Galveston pride, living locally and the spirit of the island, co-owner Adrienne Culpepper and her colleagues are developing a resurrection of the bathing beauties contest called the Galveston Island Beach Revue. They’re intertwining the pageantry of the beach revue competitions with favorite bygone era pastimes into a contemporary two-day, family-friendly event. Like its pageant predecessor from the 1920s, the Galveston Island Beach Revue heralds summer’s arrival and attracts locals and tourists of all ages for a glimpse of vintage swimsuits, parasols and bathing beauties.
2012: With the Galveston Island Beach Revue, another rebirth is taking place in the office of HealthMatters Chiropractic. Dr. Mary Brechtel was inspired to follow in the steps of “Doc” Mihovil to revive the famous back contest.
“One of our local residents, Claudia Stevens, told me her mother participated in the 1937 back contest,” Brechtel said.
“Discussing the contest with Claudia inspired me to once again bring attention to spinal health by reviving the contest, so we started the Most Beautiful Back competition as a category during the Galveston Beach Revue.”
The Most Beautiful Back contestants are judged on posture, symmetry, fitness and vitality — all parts of the chiropractic lifestyle.
2015: Now in its fourth year, the Most Beautiful Back contest again merges with the Beach Revue, which is in its seventh year. Brechtel tells us that each year’s winner receives a trophy, sash and monthly chiropractic adjustments for the year. In essence, the winners become ambassadors for chiropractic health by participating in public events with the clinic.
The Galveston Island Beach Revue, sponsored by the historic Hotel Galvez & Spa in conjunction with Islander by Choice, is May 15-16 at Beach Central, 2102 Seawall Blvd. This year’s revue expands on its programming with a new dance contest and classic car and vintage trailer show in addition to a full weekend of activities, headlined by the Bathing Beauties contest. Admission is free both days of the festival. Visit www.galvestonbeachrevue.com.