The keys to Miss America's past rest with students at Rowan University

Matteo Iadonisi Image
Thursday, December 9, 2021
The keys to Miss America's past rest with students at Rowan University
The faded photographs and decades-old oil paintings might be lost to history if not for the Miss America Archives Project.

GLASSBORO, New Jersey (WPVI) -- "Just being able to see 100 years of history laid out right in front of me is just really fascinating," said Abigail Hummell.

Hummell is a student of American Studies at Rowan University. She fell more in love with history during her various classes and became involved with the Miss America Archive project.

"Photographs, books, newspapers, there's so much," said Hummell. "And we are digitizing these items so that they'll be accessible to people all around the country and the world."

Students use a lab at Campbell Library to scan items and categorize them in digital folders. Every entry will require special keywords to make it searchable in the database. Eventually, the public will be able to browse the collection to learn how the picture of womanhood in America has evolved over the last century.

"It's a several-year process," said Katie Turner, a professor and manager of the massive project. "Figuring out what is in the physical collection, what we want to, you know, include from that and then creating the online archive that everyone can access."

Last year, Turner was contacted by Miss America and the deal was sealed. Starting in Spring 2021, they were delivered boxes of precious photos and documents. Other archived items included crowns, capes, and program booklets detailing contestant statistics and local advertisements.

"We're not just getting history of this national event, but very much a local event that meant a lot to Atlantic City," said Turner. "Rowan is a major university in South Jersey and so we're very well-positioned to take on this legacy."

In 2019, Miss America moved away from its home in Atlantic City to Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut. There, the 100th anniversary competition will take place on Thursday, December 16, 2021. Students involved with the archiving process at Rowan will have the chance to attend the event and display some artifacts. In addition, a recent Rowan University graduate, Alyssa Sullivan, will be representing the Garden State on stage as Miss New Jersey.

"We'll be standing at the tables and talking to everyone about this history," said Turner. "It's a chance to really get Rowan on the national stage."

Another Rowan student, Grace Fox, an English major, is thankful for the opportunity to be involved. Coming from a family of librarians, she believes libraries are adapting to a changing educational environment.

"I check out books occasionally physically, but all the online resources is really what's been useful to me," she said. "It's very exciting to think that, once we get this stuff online, that there'll be people who will get to look at this material and use it in their projects."

The Miss America Archive is still seeking internal and external funding to see the project to completion. To learn more about Rowan University's College of Humanities and Social Sciences, visit their website.

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