1925 Miss New England Hazel Houghton of Lowell, Massachusetts (l) and second place winner Dorothy Dobbins of Methuen, Massachusetts (r). (Haverhill Gazette).
In 1924, more than two decades before the advent of the now-iconic Miss Hampton Beach beauty pageant, the Hampton Beach Board of Trade sponsored a photo contest to determine who was the “most beautiful bathing girl” at the beach. Stationed in front of the Casino, local photographer Dave Colt snapped photos (none of which seem to have survived) of a reported 150 girls and women, from ages “six to sixty.” After a local judging committee trimmed the field of contestants to twelve, the final judge, E. Wyatt Kimball of Concord, New Hampshire, an artist then employed restoring portraits in the New Hampshire State House, selected the winner, 17-year-old Bernice Rand of Exeter, New Hampshire. She was awarded the title of Miss New England and a silver “Neptune’s Loving Cup” at a parade event billed as the “August Festival of Mermaids.”
In 1925 the contest was part of the 11th annual Labor Day Carnival festivities. Kimball again judged the contest, awarding first prize to Hazel Houghton of Lowell, Massachusetts and second prize to Dorothy Dobbins of Methuen, Massachusetts. In the junior category, 8-year-old Virginia Rose Calnan of Lowell won the top prize.
These contests seemed an auspicious start to a new Beach tradition, but the idea of a Miss New England beauty contest, or of beauty contests in general, didn’t catch on right away, and after 1925 the contest was canceled. The first Miss Hampton Beach contest, called “Miss Cover Girl” for the first two years of its existence, debuted in 1946. Then in 1957, during the glamorous Golden Age of beauty pageants, the Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce reintroduced the Miss New England contest, held in the Casino Ballroom as a prelude to the Miss Hampton Beach pageant (which was still held outside on the beach, but would join Miss New England in the Ballroom in 1959). The judges’ favorite was Maureen Burke of Methuen, who also won first runner-up in the Miss Hampton Beach pageant that year. For local residents, a memorable event in the pageant occurred in 1963, when sixteen-year-old Frances Houlihan of Seabrook won the title. As it turned out, she was one of only nine girls to wear the Miss New England crown, as the pageant was permanently closed after the 1965 season.
Originally published in the Hampton Union, July 26, 2019.
History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “The Queens of Hampton Beach,” a history of the Hampton Beach Carnival Queens and Miss Hampton Beach, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at firstname.lastname@example.org or lassitergang.com.