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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


At the turn of the twenty-first century six Oklahomans had claimed the Miss America title. During the Roaring Twenties the five-foot-four, eighteen-year-old Norma Smallwood from Bristow won the Miss America crown. In September 1926, with her long brunette hair worn in buns over her ears, she won the bathing suit competition and the "Best Evening Gown Award," wearing a delft-blue, velvet gown designed by Paul Nemzer. Amid a King Neptune theme, she received a five-thousand-dollar gold cup, a vaudeville contract, a thousand-dollar watch, a thousand-dollar wardrobe, and a mermaid statue. In 1928 she married Thomas Gilcrease, Tulsa oilman and art collector. The marriage ended in divorce, and she married George Bruce, a Kansas oilman. She died in 1966.

By the 1960s talent had become an important element of the pageant. In 1966 Jane Anne Jayroe of Laverne caused an uproar. She had studied music since childhood and aspired to become a conductor. At the pageant she led the orchestra in a novelty tune, "One, Two, Three," while she sang and danced. Other state pageant officials considered it a gimmick; thereafter, conducting the orchestra was eliminated as a talent selection. Although pageant officials did not recommend the travel, during her reign Jayroe performed in Vietnam USO shows. From 1984 to 1992 Jayroe worked as a television news anchor. In 1996 the former vice president of the Presbyterian Health Foundation was elected as the first woman to serve on the Oklahoma Academy for State Goals, a statewide public-policy organization. At the beginning of the twenty-first century Jayroe served as cabinet secretary for tourism and recreation, as executive director of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, and as executive producer of the Discover Oklahoma television series. Married to Gerald Gamble, she had one son.

In September 1980 Susan Powell of Elk City claimed the 1981 Miss America title, receiving a twenty-thousand-dollar scholarship. The twenty-one-year-old, a vocal-music major at Oklahoma City University, performed an expressive rendition of "Lucy's Aria" from Gian Carlo Menotti's opera The Telephone. Since winning the title, Powell has pursued an opera career and sung with the Boston Pops and the New York City Opera. She has also performed at the Oklahoma City Lyric Theater. In September 2001 Powell sang with the New Japan Philharmonic at a pops concert in Tokyo. At the end of the twentieth century she was host of the Discovery Channel series Home Matters, featuring cooking, gardening, and decorating segments. She lived in New York.

By the mid-1990s emphasis shifted from talent to the interview, with questions based on personal goals and social issues. In 1995 twenty-four-year-old Shawntel Smith of Muldrow won the title and a forty-thousand-dollar scholarship. Smith chose the "School to Work Education" program as her pageant platform. The U.S. Departments of Education and Labor appointed her as the National School to Work Ambassador to America's Youth. At the end of the twentieth century Smith cohosted with Jim Buratti on the Discover Oklahoma series. Smith married Ryan Wuerch, and their marriage produced a son.

In 2006 twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Berry from Tulsa, Oklahoma, served as Miss America. She graduated from Jenks High School and attended the University of Oklahoma where she majored in elementary education and enrolled in the University School of Dance. Berry won the preliminary Miss America talent award for her ballet en pointe performed to pianist and composer William Joseph's Within. Her platform issue was "Building Intolerance to Drunk Driving and Underage Drinking." During her reign Berry worked as a national spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). On April 28, 2007, she married Nathan Gooden in Tulsa. They and their son live in Raleigh, North Carolina.

As Oklahoma's sixth pageant winner, twenty-year-old Lauren Paige Nelson from Lawton, Oklahoma, served as Miss America in 2007. An aspiring Broadway performer, she appeared in musicals while attending Lawton's MacArthur High School and the University of Central Oklahoma. During the pageant she won the preliminary swimsuit contest and sang "You'll Be in My Heart" for the talent contest. Nelson chose "Internet Safety, Be NetSmart: Protecting Kids Online" as her platform issue. In 2007 she was named Oklahoma Hall of Fame Ambassador of Goodwill. The following year the United States Junior Chamber Organization recognized her as one of the "Ten Outstanding Young Americans." On October 24, 2009, Nelson married Randael "Randy" Joel Faram in Edmond. The following year she joined the CBS affiliate KWTV in Oklahoma City as co-anchor on the 4:00 p.m. broadcast. After working three years, she quit her job to await the birth of a son in October 2013.

Linda D. Wilson


Ann-Marie Bivans, Miss America: In Pursuit of the Crown: The Complete Guide to the Miss America Pageant (New York: MasterMedia, 1991).

Connie Cronley, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Oklahoma Monthly 7 (May 1981).

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 12 September 1966, 8 September 1980, 17 September 1995, 28 October 2001.

"Miss Oklahoma" and "Miss Oklahoma City," Vertical Files, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 23–24 January 2006, 30–31 January 2007, 17 March 2007, 2 August 2007, 21 October 2009, and 24 June 2010.

Angela Saulino Osborne, Miss America: The Dream Lives On: A 75-Year Celebration (Dallas: Taylor Publishing Co., 1995).

Tulsa (Oklahoma) Tribune, 10 September 1926.

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Linda D. Wilson, “Miss America,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=MI044.

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