If you've ever been to Ellen's Stardust Diner in the Theater District, you may have noticed a collection of black and white posters proclaiming "Meet Miss Subways," with photos of attractive young women and a few sentences about their jobs. The vintage ads celebrate the Miss Subways contest winners, New York City's working class beauty queens, all young female straphangers. The contest ran for 35 years, ending in 1976, but now these lovely ladies are being honored with a new book and upcoming exhibition at the Transit Museum. No records of the contest remain, but artist Fiona Gardner tracked down dozens of the 200 Miss Subways, 40 of whom agreed to be photographed and interviewed for the project.
Miss Subways ranged from a secretary at ad agencies to an FBI clerk who was "young beautiful, and expert with a rifle." The portraits offer a unique look at the women of New York, as well as the changing gender roles in American life, civil rights struggles (the first black Miss Subways came 37 years before the first black Miss America), and even the changes in the subway system.
The exhibit is sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, but additional funds are needed to publish the accompanying book, so the artists have taken to Kickstarter.
· Meet Miss Subways: New York's Beauty Queens 1941-1976 [Kickstarter]