This week for Georgetown Time Machine, GM is visiting a young Georgetown woman who was world famous in her youth, yet has largely fallen from common knowledge. She’s Margaret Gorman, and she was the first Miss America.
The photo above is of Gorman standing in front of her home at 3015 Cambridge Place. It’s from 1921, the year she was crowned. According to her 1995 obituary:
At 5 feet 1 inch and 108 pounds, she remains the smallest Miss America, and with a 30-25-32 figure that was close to the flapper era ideal, the slimmest…But Mrs. Cahill had a certain advantage. When she won in 1921, she was only 16 years old, and by some accounts, only 15…Whatever her age was at the time — Mrs. Cahill would never discuss the matter — when reporters from The Washington Herald came to her Georgetown home in the summer of 1921 to notify Margee Gorman that on the basis of a photograph submitted by her parents she had been selected to represent the newspaper in the Atlantic City contest, they found her in a nearby park shooting marbles in the dirt.
To think she went from dusty Montrose Park to this scene:
The original contest was a ploy by Atlantic City businessmen to extend the summer season past Labor Day. newspapers up and down the Atlantic coast were asked to submit photos of their chosen bathing beauty. Gorman was sponsored by the Washington Herald and was crowned the Golden Mermaid and won $100 (that’s about $1,500 in today’s dollars).
She lived on Cambridge Place with her parents, Michael and Margaret (yes, another Margaret), her brothers, John and William, and sister Elizabeth. They were part of the large Irish community in the neighborhood. (Also living at the same address was Estelle Henson, a 22 year old black woman who worked as a clerk for the federal government. Chances are she was living in a basement apartment.) Her father was also a clerk for the federal government.
As mentioned above, there was apparently have been some questions as to how old she was when named Miss America. Her wikipedia article states that she was born on Aug. 18, 1905, which would make her just over 16 for the first contest in 1921. And indeed, the census record records her as being 14 as of January 1920. So unless her birthday was actually after Labor Day, then she was in fact 16 when she won.
Gorman competed again in 1922 to retain her crown, but fell to Miss Ohio. By 1930, her family had purchased a home at 1500 Emerson St. The census records indicate that Margaret’s parents rented the home on Cambridge, but earlier census records indicated that the home was owned by Margaret’s (i.e., the mother’s) parents, John and (you’ve got to be kidding…) Margaret McCarthy. Margaret (the Miss America one) had moved out by the time her parents bought their own place. She had married Victor Cahill, a stock broker, and moved to 2700 Connecticut Ave. They never had any children, sparing her from having to decide to name yet another daughter Margaret. She continued to live locally until her death in 1995.
Quite the life for a little Georgetown girl shooting marbles in the park.