SEPTEMBER 6, 2008
In September of 1968, a group of radical feminists protested the Miss
America pageant in Atlantic City. The event would be one of the
earliest demonstrations of the Women's Liberation Movement. It was
also here that the term "bra burner" was coined, even though no bras
were, in fact, burned. In this segment of "This Weekend in 1968," we
talk with two of the protesters as well as Miss America 1968 about
their memories of the event and what it meant for the Women's
JACQUI CEBALLOS: My name is Jacqui Ceballos. I'm the founder and
President of Veteran Feminists of America. I went to college and I
majored in music. I went to New York and I married a dashing
Colombian and had a wonderful exciting life, lived in Columbia with
maids and started an opera company.
But when push came to shove, I was a woman and my husband was very
upset with what I was doing. A friend came and she just handed me
Betty Friedan's book "The Feminine Mystique." I read it, and that was
it. I started plotting my way back to New York to work in the movement.
CEBALLOS: 1967 NOW started, I joined NOW.
KATHIE AMATNIEK: National Organization for Women.
CEBALLOS: And then we started hearing about these radical feminists
AMATNIEK: I'm Kathie Sarachild. Back in 1968, I was Kathie Amatniek.
CEBALLOS: They were younger women who had come out of the SDS and the
young people's movement and they had fought with the guys who were
treating them like slaves.
AMATNIEK: We thought in terms of liberation.
CEBALLOS: They wanted to change the world. That's why they said, we
don't want women's rights. We want women's liberation, you know?
AMATNIEK: We used to have what were called consciousness-raising
sessions, and I think we were watching a movie about beauty contests…
TAPE: And now the time for the official judging has finally arrived.
AMATNIEK: Then we went around the room talking about how beauty
contests actually affected our lives.
TAPE: The judging is by points, so many points for appearance in an
evening gown, so many points for a bathing suit.
AMATNIEK: A very dear friend of mine, Carol Hanisch, in high school
and probably even earlier, watching the Miss America pageant on
television had been a very important part of her life. She used to
say, "I cried with the winner."
TAPE: There she is, Miss America
AMATNIEK: Carol had this idea. My gosh! That's the symbol of
everything! The Miss America Pageant! That should be our first symbol
of everything. Protesting the Miss America Pageant.
CEBALLOS: That whole idea of that Miss America who got up on the
stage and said, "All I want to be is a wife and mother." It just got
to me. And when I heard that they were going to the Miss America
Pageant, I wanted to be on board.
TAPE: And starring 50 of the country's loveliest young ladies, the
charming and talented girls competing for the title of Miss America 1968!
DEBRA SNODGRASS: My name is Debra Barnes Snodgrass…
TAPE: Debra Dean Barnes.
SNODGRASS: And I was Miss America 1968.
TAPE: Miss Kansas formally, now Miss America.
SNODGRASS: We were goal-oriented, education- oriented young women
that were there to get scholarship money. So for us, talent being 50
percent of the portion when we competed…
SNODGRASS: My own talent was to play my own arrangement of "Born
Free," a piano solo.
SNODGRASS: I actually didn't win the talent competition. Miss Indiana
won and she was an Olympic ice skater. They made and ice rink about
the size of my living room which is pretty small, and she did such
awesome tricks, but I won swimsuit, that's hard to believe.
TAPE: And what are the judges thinking?
SNODGRASS: I tried to forget what I was wearing and just look at the
people had have a good time. I was uncomfortable wearing a swimsuit.
The first week in September of 1968, I gave up my crown, which means
that I crowned my successor Judy Ford, my duties were to be available
for the contestants and also to make my going-away speech.
SNODGRASS: During that week, the women's liberation movement were
demonstrating outside the convention hall where Miss America pageant was held.
TAPE: Yesiree, boys step right up, how much am I offered for this
number one piece of prime American property? She sings in the kitchen…
AMATNIEK: Many of us had become conscious that beauty standards have
and dress codes how that cut into our daily lives and freedom.
CEBALLOS: Listen, let me tell you, I was considered very pretty in
college. And I want to tell you that the main thing in my day, which
don't forget, was the 1940's was who was the prettiest girl in the
family? Who was the prettiest girl in school? It was unbelievable!
AMATNIEK: We had something called the Freedom Trash Can.
CEBALLOS: I was told to bring something oppressive to women.
AMATNIEK: At first we were going to burn all these instruments of
CEBALLOS: But we were not allowed to make a fire. So the story that
we burned our bras is wrong. So what we did was, we walked around I
think there were 50, 75 of us.
AMATNIEK: Everybody was lined up to throw something in and explain
what they hated about it.
CEBALLOS: The young women had thrown away their bras. I never stopped
wearing a bra, by the way, because I'm a 36 something whatever. And a
bra is more comfortable.
AMATNIEK: And it wasn't just bras. Bras in a way were the least of
the problem. There were high heels that we were throwing in there.
CEBALLOS: And I threw my 16-year-old son's Playboy magazines in.
Playboy! With their boobs hanging out and I thought it was really
anti-woman really. I still do.
TAPE: Ain't she cute, walking in her bathing suit?
AMATNIEK: We have prepared songs.
CEBALLOS: Wonderful songs to other tunes you know.
AMATNIEK: Some songs we came to regard as anti woman, like--
"Ain't she sweet, making profit off her meat."
CEBALLOS: Beauty sells, she's told, so she's a plugging it, ain't she sweet.
SNODGRASS: Just the fact that this group of women would say to us who
were in the pageant competing that we were selling ourselves. And it
was almost verging upon prostitution. It did really hurt my feelings
because I felt that my femininity was something to be respected and
to be celebrated.
AMATNIEK: We also planned as part of the protest, going inside the pageant…
MOVIE: Live from the Convention Hall in Atlantic City the Miss
AMATNIEK: We all dressed up in high heels and gorgeous dresses to get inside,
AMATNIEK: We went up into the balcony,
TAPE: Now, let us give one last final salute of Miss America 1968.
CEBALLOS: And when Miss America was marching down to, "Oh, here she
is, Miss America," they unfurled this huge banner--
SNODGRASS: And then they started shouted during my going away speech.
AMATNIEK: --and shouted, "Women's Liberation, no more Miss America,"
SNODGRASS: Uh, I really didn't hear what they were saying.
CEBALLOS: For a split second, you could see the camera stop and
everybody look up.
AMATNIEK: You know, it was not as militant perhaps as it might have
been. We did not resist the police but we went along with them and
then they shoved us out the side door.
AMATNIEK: And that was it, they just let us go.
TAPE: Ain't gonna be Miss America no more…
SNODGRASS: I never know how to react to someone who finds out that
I've been Miss America, and they say "Oh, you've been Miss America."
I don't know whether they're saying, "Ewww, you've been Miss America
or "Oh wow! You've been Miss America." Because I don't know yet how
they feel about the pageant. know that some of the things that the
women's liberation movement accomplished have made for me to enjoy
what I'm enjoying now as a career women. I know that.
CEBALLOS: Male chauvinism started collapsing, like sand castles
falling apart you know.
AMATNIEK: But it's still the responsibility of family care is being
primarily on women, it's not being shared equally. That's not what we
meant by women's liberation, the double day. Like we now say, like
"Equal Free Time for women and men is as important as equal pay, you know."
CEBALLOS: So we still have a long ways to go!
TAPE: No Miss America, no more!