History of the Miss Georgia Scholarship Competition
The Miss Georgia Scholarship Competition, known earlier as the Miss Georgia Pageant, dates back to the 1940s. In 1944, B. Ed Johnson, President of the Columbus Jaycees, was a judge for an Atlanta pageant that was associated with the Southern Fair Association. Attending the pageant also was Lenora Slaughter, the Executive Director of the Miss America Pageant. At that time there was a movement of awarding the state pageant licenses to community groups, such as a Jaycee chapter, and away from state fairs. Ms. Slaughter asked Mr. Johnson if he thought Columbus could handle hosting the Miss Georgia Pageant. She looked at her watch and said: “it is 10:15 pm right now; I’ve got to catch a plane at 11:00 pm. Can Columbus handle it?” To commit the city and the Columbus Jaycees to host the Miss Georgia Pageant, Mr. Johnson needed the approval of the Columbus Jaycees Board of Directors. But here was! Ms. Slaughter waiting for “yes” or “no” and constantly looking at her watch. He told her that the Columbus Jaycees would coordinate the competition and he committed the city of Columbus, Georgia to hosting the pageant. B. Ed Johnson signed the contract with Miss America at that moment. Upon returning to Columbus and three days later a special meeting of the Columbus Jaycees Board of Directors was called. Mr. Johnson presented the idea of hosting the Miss Georgia Pageant to the board and they approved it. Many years later B. Ed Johnson would be elected Mayor of Columbus, Georgia.
According to B. Ed Johnson, the Jaycees biggest challenge, with producing the first Miss Georgia Pageant, was finding the women to compete in the pageant. The first pageant was held in the outdoor Memorial Stadium, now the A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium, and they prayed that the pageant would not be rained out. The crowd for the first pageant numbered 2,500 and the winner that year was Doris Coker, of Columbus, and she was crowned Miss Georgia 1945.
Jaycees Chapters across the state started pageants in Albany, Thomasville, Atlanta, Macon, Savannah and etc. and by 1958 all parts of the state were represented. In 1964, the Miss America Pageant informed the Columbus Jaycees that they would lose their state Miss Georgia license unless they formed a separate Pageant Corporation. A small group of Columbus Jaycees, who had worked with the pageant several years and loved all the hard work associated with it, formed the Miss Georgia Corporation. Initially, the Board of Trustees of the Miss Georgia Pageant Corporation consisted of past and present Jaycees and interested Columbus civic leaders with a maximum forty-five membership. Eventually the board membership included individuals from across Georgia. In December of 2018, the Miss America Organization awarded the state license to Trina Pruitt and the state organization is headquartered in La Grange, Georgia. The name of the organization was changed to the Miss Georgia Scholarship Competition and its board is made up of members from across the state.
Miss Georgia has changed Columbus venues multiple times throughout it’s history. The production has blossomed from a single night, outdoor, performance at the Memorial Stadium in 1945 to a multiple night event at the Columbus Municipal Auditorium, to the Three Arts Theatre and presently in the spectacular Bill Heard Theatre of the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts in Columbus. In 2002, the Miss Georgia Organization created and produced the Miss Teen Georgia-America Pageant for high school young ladies across the state. Today that program is affiliated with the Miss America Organization and is known as Miss Georgia’s Outstanding Teen. The titleholder represents the state in the annual Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Competition. In 2014, Miss Georgia’s Outstanding Teen, Olivia McMillan of Warner Robins, was crowned Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2015.
Every Miss Georgia has made many exciting appearances throughout her title year. They have appeared at many regional and national trade shows, parades, fairs, sporting events, state and national Inaugural Events, Rattlesnake Roundup, telethons, regional and national television, and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH) events and served as Goodwill Ambassadors regionally, nationally and internationally. They have performed with the Miss America USO Troupe, celebrated entertainers, regional symphonies, the State Theatre of Georgia; Springer Opera House, Georgia’s Governor’s Mansion and before the President of the United States at the White House.
Prior to the present organization, four women were awarded the title of Miss Georgia and represented the state at Miss America. They were in 1936, Hilda Veale of Watkinsville; in 1937, Mary Durrance of Glennville; in 1941, Esther Bette Shepard of Griffin and in 1944, Trudie Hayward of Atlanta.
At Miss America, Miss Georgia has won many preliminaries, recognitions, finalist and runner-up placements. The organization is especially proud to have had two titleholders to be named Miss America. They are in 1953, Neva Jane Langley of Macon and in 2016, Betty Cantrell of Warner Robins.