Nearly 20 million households were watching the Miss America pageant live on national television Sept. 8, 1962, as Burt Parks sang “There She Is, Miss America” and Jackie Mayer of Sandusky, Ohio, walked the runway after being crowned Miss America 1963.
Miss Vacationland 1962
To become eligible to compete in the Miss America pageant, Mayer had first won the local Miss Vacationland pageant in May 1962, then the statewide Miss Ohio competition in July 1962. The Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., was a major television event. It aired live to a huge audience and the instant that Mayer was crowned, she became a national celebrity.
Red Helped Her Win
Mayer used a thoughtful strategy to win the Miss America pageant. During the swimsuit and talent competitions, she wore a suit and dress that were the same color, a bright “Spanish Red” that helped her stand out for the judges. Mayer’s talent was singing, dancing, and a stirring patriotic monologue of The White Cliffs of Dover written by her mother. Although she did not win any of the preliminary competitions of the Miss America pageant, her total points led her to take the title.
Gown on Exhibit
The white silk taffeta, sleeveless gown with a full, floor-length skirt that Mayer wore when she was crowned Miss America 1963 will be on display at the Ohio History Center from Sept. 11, 2013, through March 30, 2014, as the part of the new exhibit Transformation.
Mayer donated the dress to the Ohio Historical Society in 2003, along with other designer clothes and a large collection of memorabilia documenting her reign as Miss America. She recalls that because the pageant aired on black-and-white TV, all of the contestants wore white dresses for the final portion of it. Her Spanish Red chiffon competition dress is also part of the Ohio Historical Society’s costume collection.
Parade Welcomed Her Home
After Mayer was crowned Miss America, Sandusky welcomed her back with a parade in November 1962, although she saw little of it because she was busy filming a television commercial. She had just enough time to change clothes, get to the parade route and climb on her float before it started rolling through Sandusky’s streets.
During her year-long reign as Miss America, Mayer traveled extensively, making countless public appearances, participating in parades and advertising major brands like The Toni Company, Ohio Bell, Oldsmobile, Pepsi-Cola and Philco. She even got to christen the Goodyear blimp Columbia.
Advocate for Stroke Survivors
In 1970, Mayer suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed and unable to speak. Today she considers herself mostly recovered and travels the country as a motivational speaker to advocate for stroke survivors.
Among her many awards and recognitions, she has been inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame; dedicated the Jackie Mayer Rehab and Skilled Nursing Center at Providence Hospital in Sandusky; received the Ohio Hospital Association's Meritorious Service Award; and was the inaugural recipient of the Gallery of Achievers Award in Erie County; and received an honorary doctorate degree from Lourdes College in Sylvania and Chatfield College in St. Martin, Ohio. State Route 2 in Erie County has been named the Jackie Mayer Miss America Highway.
More Miss Americas from Ohio
Jacquelyn Mayer was not the first or last Ohio woman to reign as Miss America. She was preceded by Mary Katherine Campbell of Columbus, Miss America 1922 and 1923, the first and only contestant to win two years in a row; and Marilyn Meseke, who competed and won in 1938, the first year that a talent competition was featured in the pageant. Mayer was succeeded by Laurel Lea Schaefer of Bexley, Miss America 1972; and Susan Perkins of Columbus, Miss America 1978.