Jo Carroll Dennison: A Progressive Pageant Queen


Molly Moore, Writer

As a little kid, I aspired to look like a participant in the Miss America pageant. They always seemed so put-together and satisfied with their complexion. I remember watching clips from previous Miss America pageants, wishing I would look like them when I was older. My mom would constantly tell me that Miss America participants were unrealistic and underwent lots of surgery to look the way they do, but I didn’t care. To me, they were the pinnacle of beauty, and my five-year-old self was willing to do whatever it took to look like them. However, that feeling eventually went away as I matured in age. I hadn’t thought much about beauty pageants until I heard of the death of Jo-Carroll Dennison, a legend in the pageant industry.


Jo-Carroll Dennison, an American actress and Miss America 1942 passed away on October 18th, 2021. She was the oldest surviving winner of the Miss America Pageant, dying at the age of 97. Ms. Dennison passed away in her home in California, says Evan Mills, a friend of the former pageant winner. Dennison significantly influenced the aggressive competition by breaking societal norms and not wearing a swimsuit onstage. Dennison first began performing while traveling with her parents in medicine shows.  Dennison stated that she would not perform for an audience again but changed her mind when she agreed to compete for the title of Miss Tyler, only being promised she would receive an expensive swimsuit if she won. After winning the Miss Tyler pageant, Dennison competed in the  Miss East Texas and Miss Texas pageants, eventually competing in the Miss America pageant at the age of 18.


Although Dennison won the swimsuit category of the competition, she refused to wear a swimsuit while serving as Miss America. Dennison believed she won the pageant because of how confident she felt in the swimsuit compared to how she looked. Dennison is a role model to all young girls regarding body image. You shouldn’t feel self-conscious about yourself just because other people don’t look exactly how you do. Whatever type of clothing you wear should make you comfortable, and it only matters how you feel in the piece. Dennison did a fabulous job at enforcing this concept, and she will be missed dearly.