Friday, December 12, 2008

friday flashback: when beauty reigned in the subways


From 1941 to 1977, little girls rattling underground on their way to school or to Grandma's uptown, dreamed of being Miss Subways. The contest was sponsored by an ad agency set up for the purpose, called (what else) New York Subways Advertising. Applicants had to be aged 14 to 30, New York City residents and subway riders themselves. They sent their photos and bios to John Powers, a top modeling agent. The lucky winner had her face, along with a blurb about her life and ambitions, plastered in every car of the IND, IRT and BMT for a month. 

Interestingly, the posters reflected the rise and fall of women in the workplace. When civilian women were critical to the work force during WW2, December 1942's Miss Subways "aims to be a doctor as good as her dad" but by June 1950, her "fondest hope is a trip to Bermuda." Then the 60s came along and Miss Subways (pictured) is described as "young, beautiful, and expert with a rifle." 

Ellen Sturm, Miss Subways in 1959, owns Ellen's Stardust Diner where many of the posters are preserved and displayed. (It's where I found this one.) Would that these vintage cards still hung in trains to provide respite from ads hawking cures for bunions or hemorrhoids.

Are you, by chance, a former Miss Subways? If so, Fiona Gardner wants to picture you in her forthcoming book.

2 comments:

auntie christ said...

I'd much rather ponder these beauties than Dr. Zizmor and his acne treatments. Although 14 might be pushing it today. Wasn't Gene Kelly in love with Miss Subway in 'On the Town?'

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@auntie christ But have you checked out 14 year olds lately? They look 20! Yes, Gene Kelly had a crush on Miss Subways, but (they wouldn't pay placement?) the name was changed to Miss Turnstiles. Lawrence Ferlinghetti used the real name in a poem called Meet Miss Subways. (Don't u love wikipedia?)