Published on December 12, 2013 by Amy
Norma Descygne Smallwood, an art major in her sophomore year at Oklahoma State College, was the first Native American (Cherokee) to capture the Miss America title.
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Norma was the first Miss America to also win the award for “the most beautiful girl in evening gown” at the highly promoted National Beauty Tournament held during pageant week of the twenties. She proved to be an enormously popular selection.
Upon victory, she stated she “might leave college for a year” and looked at her tenure as Miss America from a financial standpoint. She became the poster girl for Meadows Washing Machines and Westinghouse Electric, in addition to many others. It was said she made approximately $100,000 during her year.
Since 1925, winners were “under agreement” to return the following year to headline the event. In 1927, Norma created headlines when she left the pageant before Lois Delander was handed the title. She had booked herself an appearance at a North Carolina event. Ironically, her duties at the end of pageant week were handed to another woman of Native America heritage, Alice Garry, who was making an appearance at the pageant as “Princess America”. Norma claimed director Armand T. Nichols scheduled Alice to host the event, but the reports of the day painted Norma as ungrateful.
She entered into marriage with millionaire art collector and oilman, Thomas Gilcrease of Pawhuska, Oklahoma on September 3, 1928. Together they had a daughter named Des Cygnes L’Amour Gilcrease in 1930. Their marriage was dissolved on October 3, 1933.
A few years later, Norma married George H. Bruce, president of Aladdin Petroleum Corporation, Wichita. She spent the rest of her life quietly and became quite involved with charitable work through St. James Episcopal Church in Wichita before her passing in May 1966 at age 57.