Who organized the first bathing beauty contest?
The first BATHING BEAUTY CONTEST in which competitors were judged in swimsuits was organized in Sydney, Australia by the city’s Sunday Times newspaper and held at Maroubra Beach on 18 February 1920. The winner, who received £ 25 and a gold medal, was 14-year-old Edith Pickup of Manly, who wore a bathing costume sufficiently brief to reveal her thighs, and an exotic slave bangle on her upper right arm. The Sunday Times declared that ‘she moves naturally daintily, winsomely, modestly’ and waxed lyrical about ‘the true charm of fresh girlishness that you will seek in vain among the Sennet bathing beauties and all such professional types’.
The paper explained that the reason for holding the contest in swimsuits was to promote the idea of the one-piece bathing costume, which they were confident ‘no sane person could take exception to’. (A lot of people, whether sane or not, were taking grave exception to such scanty attire in 1920). The runners up were Miss Ethel Warren and Miss Dorothy Wooley. The latter, the Sunday Times was at pains to explain, could not have been allowed first place as she had but recently `emerged from childhood’. Given that the winner was only 14, this casts an interesting sidelight on the age at which girls matured 75 years ago—photographs of Miss Pickup portray a young lady who might have been in her twenties. Australia does not appear to have been exceptional in this respect—the first Miss America, elected the following year, was 15.