Yolande Betbeze's Miss America Crown

Crown of controversy

In 1951, Yolande Betbeze (1928–2016), a dark-haired beauty of French Basque descent, was crowned Miss America with this rhinestone tiara. The 23-year-old won the pageant by unanimous vote, but if the judges thought they had chosen just a pretty face, they were quickly proved wrong. A decidedly modern example of Miss America, Betbeze supported equal rights for women and minorities, joining NAACP protestors during civil rights demonstrations and criticizing the Miss America pageant for its lack of diversity.

Miss America Crown

Object Details

Date made
Yolande Betbeze, "the Basque spitfire," surprised Atlantic City and the nation in 1951 when she was named Miss America. The former Miss Alabama beat out over forty fair-haired, fair-skinned state champions with her dramatic singing performance and her undeniable Iberian beauty. Of Basque heritage, Betbeze tested the limits of a system that in the 1950s was still basing its standards on an ethnically and racially narrow definition of feminine beauty.
Betbeze would go on to continue testing the Miss America institution with her refusal to parade in a bathing suit and, after her reign, with her advocacy of women's and minority rights, her political activism, and ultimately her generous donation of this, her original 1951 crown, to the Smithsonian Institution in 2005.
Currently on loan
related event
Miss America Pageant
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National Museum of American History. Treasures of American History online exhibition
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National Museum of American History
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accession number
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Object Name
crown, worn by Yolande B.Betbee (Fox) , Miss America 1951
Physical Description
glass (overall material)
copper alloy (overall material)
metal (overall material)
rhinestones (overall material)
overall: 3 3/4 in x 6 in x 7 1/2 in; 9.525 cm x 15.24 cm x 19.05 cm
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