Bess Myerson, first and only Jewish Miss America, dies at 90

Bess Myerson

Bess Myerson, the woman who struck a decisive blow against anti-semitism in America, unfortunately passed away last month at the age of 90.

The loss of the one and only Jewish Miss America winner has brought many of our minds to her contribution. Although she has lived in obscurity for many years, her accomplishments helped change hatred towards Jews in this country during a critical time. She was certainly more than just a beauty.

Myerson was the daughter of a poor Semitic family living in New York City. She desperately wanted a piano to pursue her musical interests, but being of a poor family, that wasn’t possible. The large sum of money was simply not there to invest in a piano. A sum that large was unimaginable for the daughter of a house painter.

To purchase the piano herself, she decided to enter the Miss New York Pageant. The winner of the pageant was to be awarded $5,000 dollars. That was more than enough to pursue her musical dream. Her ambition paid off. She won the pageant and the money.

This, in its own right, was a large win for Jews. It helped change beauty standards. It labeled a Jew as beautiful during the 1940’s when hatred and stereotypes were high. Bess, being hardworking and determined, then decided to enter the Miss America Pageant.

With her attractive, undeniably Jewish appearance and her rendition of “Summertime” by Gershwin, she snatched the crown. She won the pageant becoming the first and only Jewish Miss America.

Following her crown, she embarked on a campaign against hatred and stereotypes. She was a large part of the “You can’t be beautiful and hate” tour. Later, she got into politics and eventually fell into the dark void of obscurity because of a political scandal.

It is hard to fully understand the significance of this today to the same degree as the past. Most of us simply lack the experience of anti-semitism during and after World War II. It, however, is because of people like Bess Myerson that we can say that.

Myerson once said “You have to understand. I cannot change my name. I live in a building with 250 Jewish families. If I should win, I want everybody to know that I’m the daughter of Louie and Bella Myerson.” Indeed, everyone today knows that. With her passing, we are left lamenting her. She will be missed, but she certainly did remarkable things with her life.


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