First Active-Duty Service Member to Take Miss America Crown


Madison Marsh recently made history as the first active-duty military service member to be crowned Miss America. The 24-year-old Air Force captain stunned the pageant world by winning the title.

Marsh’s win signals an important milestone for the pageant, which has come under criticism in recent decades for an outdated focus on physical appearance. Marsh is shattering stereotypes as an accomplished pilot and officer who also happens to be a beauty queen.

The History and Evolution of the Miss America Pageant

The Miss America pageant has been an American tradition for nearly 100 years. Since its inception in 1921 as a bathing beauty contest, the pageant has evolved to become a scholarship program that aims to empower young women to achieve their personal and professional goals.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

While the pageant has received criticism over the years for its focus on physical appearance, it continues to adapt to highlight the talent, communication skills, and community service of contestants.

Controversy and Criticism Lead to Major Changes

The Miss America Pageant has faced significant controversy and criticism over its nearly 100-year history. Beginning in the late 1960s, the pageant was frequently criticized by feminists who argued that the event promoted narrow beauty standards and objectified women.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Despite facing ongoing criticism, the Miss America Pageant has endured and evolved. Major changes were implemented to address concerns, though some argue more progress is still needed.

Scholarships, Diversity and Modernization

The Miss America pageant has evolved greatly since its inception in 1921. Originally focused primarily on physical attractiveness, the pageant now emphasizes the well-roundedness of contestants through the inclusion of talent performances, interviews, and social impact platforms.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The pageant has worked to increase diversity and inclusiveness. The pageant also now allows contestants of any marital status and with dependents to compete.

Notable Winners Over the Years

In 1955, Lee Meriwether became the first winner. Another pioneering winner was Phyllis George, who crowned Miss America in 1971. Vanessa Williams made history in 1983 as the first African American woman to win the Miss America title.

Source: Flickr/Hollywood Branded

Gretchen Carlson, Miss America 1989, graduated from Stanford University before embarking on a career as a journalist and news anchor. Other notable titleholders include opera singer Debbye Turner Bell, Olympic gymnast Shawntel Smith Poole, and actress Kira Kazantsev.

Eligibility and Competition Details for Aspiring Miss Americas

To qualify as a contestant in the Miss America pageant, applicants must meet specific eligibility criteria. Candidates for Miss America must be between the ages of 19 and 25, while contestants for Miss America’s Teen are between 15 and 18 years of age.

Source: Flickr

All contestants must be citizens of the United States and meet residency requirements for the state they wish to represent.

Competition Details

The Miss America pageant consists of four categories: talent, interview, evening wear, and lifestyle and fitness. In the talent portion, contestants demonstrate their skills in artistic areas like music, dance, drama or public speaking.

Source: Flickr

The interview category allows judges to evaluate candidates’ communication skills, personality, and social awareness. For the evening wear segment, contestants’ model formal evening gowns.

Making History: Madison Marsh Becomes First Military Member Crowned Miss America

In 2024, Second Lieutenant Madison Marsh made history as the first active-duty military member to be crowned Miss America. As reported by multiple media outlets, the 22-year-old Marsh, who represents Colorado, was named the 98th Miss America pageant winner on January 15.

Source: Instagram/ Madi Marsh

According to Stars and Stripes, Marsh enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2020 to become an astronaut. Her platform issue is raising awareness of pancreatic cancer in honor of her late mother, Whitney, who passed away from the disease when Marsh was 17.

Early Life and Education: From Arkansas to the Air Force Academy

As a young girl growing up in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Madison Marsh discovered her passion for space, flight, and community service at an early age. She earned her pilot’s license when she was 16, fueling her dream of attending the Air Force Academy.

Source: Facebook/Madison Marsh

At Southside High School, Madison excelled in her studies, especially physics and math, while participating in various school clubs and volunteering. She participated in space camps during the summer to learn more about aerospace engineering and astronomy.

Air Force Academy

As a cadet at the Air Force Academy, Madison majored in astrophysics, one of the most demanding majors. She also continued her dedication to service by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and at a local animal shelter.

Source: William R. Lewis/USAF/SWNS

In 2023, Madison’s commitment to excellence was recognized when she was crowned Miss Academy, becoming the first pageant contestant on active military duty. That same year, Madison achieved another first when she was crowned Miss Colorado, allowing her to compete for the title of Miss America.

Pageantry Success: From Miss Academy to Miss America

It took three attempts, but Madison Marsh finally achieved her pageantry dream, becoming Miss Colorado 2023. This milestone marked the first time an active-duty military officer won the title, showcasing Marsh’s perseverance and dedication.

Source: Wikipedia/SWNS

Marsh earned the right to compete for the Miss America 2024 crown as Miss Colorado. Despite facing 50 talented contestants, Marsh prevailed, taking home the title on her first attempt. Her win made history, as she became the first member of the Armed Forces to capture the Miss America title.

Miss America Pageant

CNN reported that the pageant was held over three nights at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The 11 semi finalists competed in four areas: fitness, talent, evening gown, and a discussion round called “hot topics”.

Source: Instagram/Madison Marsh/SWNS

Marsh succeeds the 2023 Miss America, Grace Stanke of Wisconsin. Her achievement is a historic moment for the U.S. armed forces and an inspiration to women everywhere that they can achieve their dreams.

Marsh’s Journey from Space Camp to Air Force Pilot to Pageantry

Madison Marsh’s journey to becoming Miss America 2024 has been inspiring. As an officer in the U.S. Air Force and a pilot, Marsh has already accomplished extraordinary feats in her young life. However, her path was not always clear.

Source: Instagram/Madison Marsh

Marsh became interested in space and aviation at 13 after attending Space Camp. Around this time, she learned about the opportunity to study at the prestigious Air Force Academy. As Marsh told a reporter, “I heard it was a great institution to not only get a stellar undergraduate education but also put you on the track to become a pilot or maybe an astronaut.”

Marsh Successful History

While at the Academy, Marsh participated in pageants as an extracurricular activity. She found that the focus on community service and public speaking aligned well with her values and interests.

Source: Instagram/Madison Marsh

After graduating from the Academy, Marsh earned her pilot’s license at 16. Tragically, she lost her mother to pancreatic cancer in 2018. To honor her mother’s memory, Marsh and her family established the Whitney Marsh Foundation to help guide federal funding for cancer research.

Honoring Her Mother’s Memory Through Activism and Public Service

Second Lieutenant Madison Marsh has dedicated herself to public service and activism to honor her late mother’s memory.

Source: whitneysrace

In 2019, Marsh established the Whitney Marsh Foundation, a nonprofit organization named in her mother’s honor, which raises funds for pancreatic cancer research. The foundation aims to guide federal funding toward improved treatment options and, ultimately, a cure for the disease.

An Inspiration to Others

Marsh sees her dual role as a beauty pageant winner and military officer as an opportunity to empower other young women.

Source: Unsplash/ Prateek Katyal

Upon being crowned Miss America 2024, Marsh said she hoped to be a role model, especially for young girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math. Her love of science was sparked at a young age when she attended Space Camp at 13.

What’s Next for Madison Marsh After the Crown?

As the newly crowned Miss America 2024, Second Lieutenant Madison Marsh has a busy year ahead of her. According to Stars and Stripes, Marsh will spend the next 12 months traveling around the country to promote her social impact initiative and the Miss America Organization as part of her duties as Miss America.

Source: William R. Lewis/USA/SWNS

In addition to her responsibilities as Miss America, Marsh continues her graduate studies in public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, reported Stars and Stripes.

Marsh is a Role Model for Young Women Interested in STEM and the Military

Marsh’s passion for STEM began at a young age. A trip to Space Camp at age 13 sparked her interest in physics and astronomy. This interest led her to apply and be accepted to the prestigious United States Air Force Academy, where she earned her undergraduate degree.

Source: Unsplash/ Brooke Cagle

While at the Academy, Marsh participated in an internship with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), gaining valuable experience that fueled her desire to become a pilot or astronaut.

A Trailblazer for Women in the Military

In addition to inspiring young girls, Marsh serves as a pioneer for women in the military. Her achievement as the first active-duty military officer to be crowned Miss America highlights the expanding opportunities for women in fields that have traditionally been closed to them.

Source: SA JM Tamondong/USAF/SWNS

Marsh’s dual roles as an Air Force officer and Miss America demonstrate that women do not have to limit themselves to traditional gender roles.

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Charlotte Clad

Written by Charlotte Clad

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