Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Experience of a Lifetime: The Maid of Cotton Story, 1939-1993

Where: National Museum of American History

When: through March 25, 2011

I've written before about visiting the exhibits in the archives center of the American History museum - the one place you're guaranteed to get some "alone time," even in the summer. Frankly, these exhibits can be interesting or boring, and there is usually no media coverage to give you an idea of what you'll see.

The Maid of Cotton was the name of a beauty pageant that existed from the late 1930s through the early 1990s. Like most of these contests, the judges were looking for some model of virtuous young womanhood, never married, poised and pretty. (Pardon me while I roll my eyes and gag.) The point of this contest was to send this Southern belle around the world to act as a "goodwill ambassador" for the cotton industry. I noticed that none of the photos show an African-American contestant, not surprising for the early years of the contest, but pretty shabby for something that was run well into the modern era.

Some of the photos are interesting - the Maids traveled to Europe and Asia in order to promote cotton exports. Nixon appears more than once, smiling his creepy Nixon smile.

Verdict: If you're in the museum anyway, take a moment to have a look. Otherwise, you're not missing much if you skip it.

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