Derry woman to help shape the future of Miss America

Union Leader Correspondent
September 30. 2018 9:38PM

Miss New Hampshire Marisa Moorhouse competed in Miss America earlier this month. The former beauty pageant is undergoing a number of changes. (Courtesy Photo)

BRENDA KEITH ... Appointed to the Miss America Board of Trustees

DERRY — As the Miss America competition continues to make changes in the coming year New Hampshire will have a say in what direction the former beauty pageant takes.

Brenda Keith, of Derry, has been appointed to the Miss America Board of Trustees. She served as the board president and executive director of Miss New Hampshire for a number of years.

Keith, who is an attorney, said Friday she has committed to work on the national level for one year.

“I’m excited. I think my legal experience and my years of volunteering for the nonprofit world will be an asset to the organization,” Keith said.

The Miss America Organization has been in the spotlight since December, when HuffPost published an article exposing derogatory emails sent and received between 2014 and 2017 where former Miss America winners were targeted by leadership.

Keith said people in the system turned to Miss America 1989 Gretchen Carlson. In January, Carlson became the first winner elected chairwoman of the organization.

Starting in June, a number of controversial changes were announced. Miss America candidates are no longer to be judged on their physical appearance. The swimsuit competition was replaced with a live interactive session with judges.

Instead of an evening gown, candidates could choose to wear something that expresses their personal style and shows how they hope to advance the role of Miss America.

Talent is now 50 percent of a candidate’s preliminary score.

Keith welcomes the changes.

“It’s got to change with the times or they’re not going to keep up. They’re not going to survive,” Keith said of the 97-year-old organization which started in 1921 when nine East Coast newspapers decided to hold a photographic popularity contest to increase circulations.

Winners received an all-expenses paid trip to Atlantic City in New Jersey.

Jumping on the media attention the newspaper Inter-City Beauty contests elicited, organizers of the annual fall event arranged for a contest on the Atlantic City Boardwalk to be held Sept. 7. It was judged on 50 percent audience applause and 50 percent on the decision from judges.

Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman, Miss Washington D.C., won, according to the Miss America website.

Keith said over the years Miss America has weathered a number of storms as the role of women in society continues to change. In 1968, feminists staged a protest outside Boardwalk Hall, drawing national attention.

When Vanessa Williams won the title in 1983, she was the first African American woman to be named Miss America. Williams was the target of death threats and eventually was forced to resign after an unauthorized publication of nude photos in Penthouse magazine.

As for this year’s competition, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, candidates did not show off their physical fitness in swimsuits, the word “Miss” was stripped from their sashes, and when introducing themselves on stage during the final night of competition Sept. 9 most of the women highlighted where they were attending college.

Miss New Hampshire Marisa Moorhouse told the crowd she was a recent graduate of Manchester Memorial High School and plans to study aviation.

Last week, Moorhouse described the Miss America experience as “amazing.” Candidates still spend time in Atlantic City prior to the competition.

“I had such a fun time with all of my sisters. We got to go to cool restaurants, have dance parties and even go on rollercoasters,” Moorhouse said. “Walking the red carpet on the Miss America stage was something I will never forget.”

Keith said during her time on the Board of Trustees she wants to expand local competitions in states which have the population to support them but do not, such as Colorado. Last year, New Hampshire locals provided candidates $85,000 in scholarships.

“Every time they compete, they develop unique speaking and leadership skills,” Keith said of the women who participate in local pageants on their way to the Miss New Hampshire competition.

Bill Haggerty has been named the Miss New Hampshire Scholarship Program Board of Directors president. He is also serving as a co-executive director with Claudette Jolin and Lynne Ulaky.

Haggerty said a lot of work needs to be done so state and national leaders trust each other again after a year of scrutiny followed by what he considered to be a boring telecast that lacked glamour.

“Brenda will have her hands full as a member of the Board of Trustees, but if there is anyone up to the task, I think it’s Brenda,” Haggerty said.

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