Bernard A. Drew: Martha Hick, Miss Pittsfield of 1926
GREAT BARRINGTON >> Though the Advertising Club, organizers of a Pittsfield competition for the Most Beautiful Girl in the City in 1926, bent over backwards to make their young contenders comfortable. Gladys L. Olsted managed the endeavor. But decisions nevertheless were mostly made by men. And the key word appears to have been beauty, not talent, not poise.
Judges were Chairman Clark J. Harding, cashier at Agricultural National Bank; William F. Retallick, advertising manager for Berkshire Loan & Trust; William C. Root, president of Eagle Printing & Binding; Harold E. May, conductor of May's Royal Orchestra; B. Clayton Hastings, foreman for Eagle Publishing; Leland C. Talbot, clerk of the district court; Frank B. White, Eaton, executive with Crane & Pike; George Anderson, manager of W.T. Grant; Harry A. Mominee, manager of Kinney Shoes; John I. Olney, advertising manager for Holden & Stone; and, to be sure there was no tie, an 11th member, Frank W. Couch, Advertising Club secretary.
The 14 contenders gathered at the armory were assigned the names of flowers, so as not to influence the judges. The proceedings were open only to the young women, their parents and the judges.
"The voting was by a process of elimination unknown to the contestants and arranged so as to cause the least possible embarrassment to the young women eliminated. This voting took more than one hour of audit of the previous votes and the ballots were carefully checked for any possible error," according to an Eagle story in October 1926. Hundreds gathered outside the armory, anxious to hear the result.
The winner proved to be Miss Lily, who edged out Miss Pansy and Miss Rose to become Miss Pittsfield. She was Martha E. Hick (1910-1996), 16, daughter of Ernest and Martha Hick of Bradford Street.
The whole endeavor was a stab in the dark. Miss Pittsfield, the Advertising Club hoped, would represent the city in the annual Miss America pageant in Atlantic City in 1927 — if, and it was a big if, the club could persuade the New Jerseyites to accept their nominee, club president Olney explained. In the meantime, Miss Hick could enjoy a bouquet of American Beauty roses from the Flower Shop and a genuine black leather fitted traveling case.
The Advertising Club in August 1927 prevailed in its plea to the Atlantic City pageant. "Director General Armand T. Nichols of the National Beauty tournament of the Atlantic City pageant personally telephoned to the president of the Advertising club of Pittsfield," The Berkshire Eagle reported, "and assured him over the phone that a great injustice had been done to Pittsfield." Miss Pittsfield would be welcome at the September competition. "You are fortunate to secure such a fine young woman, and I am very sorry that I did not more carefully consider your application before writing you." Hick had barely a month to purchase a gown and otherwise prepare.
She wrote this newspaper: "On my departure to Atlantic City as a representative of our beautiful city, I want to thank, through your columns, Mr. Frank W. Couch, the Advertising club, the Chamber of Commerce, the mayor, Mr. Harry G. West and city officials, and all who have helped me for the wonderful cooperation they have all give n me. I shall do all in my power to keep the name of our wonderful city in the high esteem it rightly deserves."
She wore blue velvet
Hick didn't win the event at Young's Million Dollar Pier auditorium, but of 60 competitors, she was in the final six for Miss America. Miss Illinois won. Hick was in the final 10 for "most beautiful girl in evening gown." According to the Boston Globe, she wore "a blue velvet, long dress of Colonial design."
Hick came home with blue and white ribbons and a silver cup. She had an offer from a vaudeville management company, which she turned down.
Hick received a rousing welcome when she stepped off the train at Union Station.
Hick wasn't quite through with pageants. She came in third in America's Physical Culture Venus event in 1928. In 1930 she was Miss Massachusetts in the Miami Bathing Beauty pageant in Miami to crown America's Sweetheart. After an Advertising Club of Pittsfield farewell dinner at the Wendell Hotel, the Pittsfield High School band and friends gave her a send-off at Union Station — by now standard operating procedure.
Hick buried herself in local amateur theatrical productions with the Town Players and the Women's Club performers, appearing in "Dark Victory," "The Petrified Forest" and "Little Foxes." Finally in autumn 1942, she was invited to a Warner Brothers audition. She traveled to Hollywood with her friend Mary F. Quirk, executive secretary of the Women's club. Alas, no callback.
She married Dr. Alexander Young (d. 1984) in 1949 and settled into family life.
The Miss America pageant, which started in 1921, obliged its competitors to be single, never pregnant and (until 1950) white. It added a talent aspect in 1938 and eventually accepted state, but no longer city, entries.
Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.
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