THE ACCIDENTAL MISS AMERICA (REPOST)

The 2015 Miss America Pageant is this month, and the contestants are in Atlantic City right now, participating in pageant festivities.

It might surprise you to know that Centenary University had its own Miss America! Her name was Bette Cooper, and she was Miss America in 1937. The story of her reign is an interesting one.

BETTE COOPER

Bette Cooper in costume while performing at Centenary Junior College.

Bette Cooper and three fellow students in a nativity scene at Centenary Junior College

Bette Cooper and three fellow students in a nativity scene at Centenary Junior College.

Life was uncomplicated for this girl from Hackettstown, New Jersey. She attended Centenary University when it was called Centenary Junior College1. She excelled in school, loved to play sports, and enjoyed participating in theater productions. In the summer of 1937, she went to Lake Hopatcong’s Bertrand Island Amusement Park with some friends. As a joke, the girls dared Cooper to enter the park’s beauty pageant. She entered for fun but got the shock of her life when she won! Winning this title also guaranteed her a place as a contestant at the Miss America Pageant.

This is where the story starts to get complicated. Cooper had entered that first pageant on a lark. She didn’t expect to win, and she certainly didn’t want to compete for Miss America. Her family was humble and religious; they didn’t approve of beauty pageants. Although her family was reluctant to support something they considered distasteful, they chose to travel to Atlantic City for the pageant, expecting nothing more than a nice vacation.

BETTE COOPER 3

Bette Cooper with all the adornments of a proper Miss America.

Upon arrival, Bette Cooper met Louis Off, a young man who had signed up to be a bachelor escort. Each Miss America contestant had been paired with a gentleman who would accompany her to and from pageant festivities. When the contestants were given an afternoon off, Cooper and her escort took a drive. Cooper confided in Off, telling him that she hadn’t anticipated winning the first pageant, and didn’t want to compete for Miss America. Off, who had already seen the other contestants, accurately guessed that she stood a good chance of winning.

Bette Cooper won Miss America that night. She sang a song (A Star-Ledger article states that she sang “So There”, but internet sources state that the song was called “When The Poppies Bloom Again”) while wearing an evening gown purchased for her by a female chaperone. The excitement of winning wore off very quickly, and by the next day Cooper and Off had disappeared, leading many to believe the two had run away and eloped.

Bette Cooper and Louis Off walk the boardwalk in a publicity shot. Cooper's fur coat was one of the prizes from the Miss America Pageant. She refused the coat and the other prizes when she decided to return to school

Bette Cooper and Louis Off on the boardwalk in a publicity shot. Cooper’s fur coat was one of the prizes from the Miss America Pageant. She refused the coat and the other prizes when she decided to return to school.

In truth, Bette Cooper was a 17-year-old high school student and panicked at the thought of leaving school to perform her Miss America duties. Photo shoots, public appearances, screen tests, and interviews held no appeal for her. Cooper called Off in the middle of the night distraught over winning, and he and a friend hid her on a boat until after pageant crowds scattered.  She slept while the gentlemen fished, and after returning to shore, the men drove Cooper back to Hackettstown.

Bette Cooper decided that to remain in school, and was able to strike a deal with red-faced pageant officials that entitled her to “all of the benefits, none of the negatives” of being Miss America, according to Louis Off. She kept her title and stayed in school, participating in only a fraction of the expected duties. Off escorted her to appearances and guarded her from the press. The events of the 1937 Miss America Pageant prompted officials to institute new rules: They created a hostess program and prohibited contestants from spending time alone with any man during pageant week. They also started requiring contestants to sign agreements acknowledging their understanding of the duties of Miss America.

After Bette Cooper’s reign ended, she distanced herself from the pageant and focused on her schooling. She graduated from Centenary Junior College’s Academy in 1938 and then from C.J.C. in 1940. She was a dedicated student, participating in several school activities.

From the 1940 Hack Yearbook:

Bette Cooper's senior year photo. [note: The Kin Klub is mentioned on a later page of the yearbook as the Kin Club. The club was comprised of members of the student body who were relatives of former students.]

Bette Cooper’s senior year photo. [note: The Kin Klub is mentioned on a later page of the yearbook as the Kin Club. The club was comprised of members of the student body who were relatives of former students.]

After graduation, she married and moved to Connecticut, where she still resides. In 1953, she attended Hackettstown’s Centennial Celebration to crown the Centennial Queen, but that may have been the closest she’ll ever get to acknowledging her involvement in beauty pageants. She does not publicly discuss her time as Miss America.

The story of Bette Cooper’s reign as Miss America was recently featured in a segment of the Travel Channel show Mysteries at the Museum. We were so excited to have the crew come film, and we think they did a great job telling her story.

Bette Cooper at the Hackettstown Centennial Celebration

Bette Cooper at the Hackettstown Centennial Celebration in 1953.


1 At this time in Centenary’s history, the college educated two distinct student populations: the Academy, which was the equivalent of the latter years of high school, and the College, which provided more traditional college instruction. Both ‘schools’ were two-year programs. Freshmen and Sophomore classes attended the Academy and Juniors and Seniors attended the College. You’ll see two graduation dates for Bette Cooper, one for each school.

Braun, Jenifer. “The night Miss America ran away from the throne.”
Star-Ledger [Newark] Sept. 1997: 1+. Print.

“On Campus.” The Bulletin of Centenary Junior College Winter 1953: 5. Print.

Pageant Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Sept. 2014. <http://pageantcenter.com/pageant%20results/Miss_America_Pageant/1937_miss_america_pageant.html#.VA3v9YKJ3E8&gt;.

Advertisements

ALL-COLLEGE WEEKEND

Centenary’s students have already finished their semester, but in years past the students were gearing up for (or winding down from) All-College Weekend.

All College Weekend 6

The Country Trio perform at the Hootenanny.

The All-College Weekend was a popular event for students back when the school was all-girls. Dancing was the main event – there were two (a semiformal and an informal)! There was also musical entertainment. Performers included singing groups or men’s university choral groups.

 

All College Weekend 2

The Princeton Nassoons.

Centenary held several All-College events throughout the year where students from every class could join in on the fun. Normally, dances were held by individual classes (for example, before the Winter All-College Weekend was created, there was a Senior-hosted dance in December and a Freshman-hosted dance in January), so All-College events were a time where all students could socialize together. There was also Dad’s Day, where students and their dads teamed up to win relay races, egg tosses, and other fun carnival-type games. Other All-College events were the song contest and the trophy contest – where sororities competed against one another for best song and best essay, respectively.

The December All-College Weekend wasn’t about competition, though. It was purely a winter themed weekend of fun and flirting. Buses of young men from area colleges and universities all swarmed the campus for the weekend. They had a separate dormitory reserved for them or rooms in private homes or hotels.

From the 1964 Hack Yearbook:

All College Weekend 5All-college weekend, a yuletide affair
Contained music, dancing and entertainment to spare.
A movie was shown “An Affair to Remember,”
Which warmed students’ hearts in the cold of December.
There was a casual dance and a semiformal one,
Which afforded the students and faculty fun.
For added amusement was a hootenanny show
With entertainment that was raring to go.
Snowed Inn, the theme, was played to the hilt;
Even in Reeves a ski lodge was built :
A fantasy erected before students’ eyes
Beheld a weekend memory never to disguise.

 

LIBGUIDES FACELIFT

The library’s website got a bit of a facelift recently! Well, just the Archives page, but still, it’s pretty exciting! We’ve added images of archival materials and expanded our digital media – now you can interact with a map of the trees on Centenary’s campus and check out our newest feature, digital exhibits! We’ll be highlighting some of the collections we have that you might not be familiar with – should we do that on the blog, too?

digital exhibits

digital collections.jpg

It’s not much, but it’s ours.

 

SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN

Commencement speeches should be thought-provoking and inspiring. The graduating students, thinking their days of education are now behind them, hopefully realize there are a myriad of opportunities to learn, teach, and grow ahead of them.

Biden.jpg

Centenary has had many commencement speakers over the years that have talked about the future, self-reflection, and the quest for knowledge. Although the Library Archives don’t have the text of the speech given on May 17th, 1975, we can expect that it was inspiring and funny, especially with a title like “You Can Bet Your Sweet Life!”

That speech was given by The Honorable Senator Joseph R. Biden, who went on to become the 47th Vice President of the United States under Barack Obama. At the time of his commencement speech, he was a senator from Delaware serving his first term. Here is his biography from the student newspaper, Spilled Ink:

“Senator Biden, who was elected to the United States Senate in 1972 for a six-year term, is a member of the Senate Democratic Steering Committee. His senatorial activities include membership on the committees of Foreign Relations, Budget, National Ocean Study Policy Group for the Senate and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs as well as the subcommittees on Consumer Credit, International Finance, Securities, Production and Stabilization. In 1974 he was selected as one of ten ”Outstanding Young Men of the Year” by the U.S.

Joe Biden 1

Senator Biden with President Seay

National Jaycees and was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal for Outstanding Achievement by Syracuse University, New York. Since 1973 he has been honorary chairman of the Leukemia Society of Delaware. A native of Scranton, Pa., Senator Biden is an alumnus of Archmere Academy in Delaware, graduated from the University of Delaware at Newark with a B.A. degree in 1965 and three years later received a J.D. from Syracuse University College of Law. Before his election to the Senate he practiced as a trial lawyer for four years and served as a member of the New Castle (Del.) County Council from 1970-72.”

Senator Biden is scheduled for 100th commencement. (1975, April 30). Spilled Ink. p. 1.

 

ALUMNI REUNIONS

Our students have so many ways of keeping in touch with each other after graduation – social media and texting are probably among the most common. In the 1880s and 90s, though, it was much more difficult to stay as connected. Alumni could keep in touch with letters or an occasional visit, but it just doesn’t compare to the speed with which we communicate today. School reunions became a popular event for former classmates, a time when they would get to see one another and catch everyone up with what they were doing.

The first Centenary Alumni Reunion was held in 1878, in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Dr Whitney, first president of Centenary Collegiate Institute, took a yearly vacation to the town and wanted to share his love of the place with others. He was inspired to create a reunion ‘by the sea’. It was held in July 1878 at the Sheldon House in Ocean Grove, and was the first seaside reunion ever assembled by any education institution in America.

There were in excess of 2000 people in attendance at that first reunion – alumni from Centenary’s first four years, plus family, friends, and other students were invited. The evening was such a success, and was enjoyed by so many, that it was decided to hold seaside reunions every five years.

Whitney_3

The reunion of 1883

 

Centenary’s first Alumni Association was also conceived in 1878, and is still going strong today. Alumni reunions are held yearly now and the school schedules several fun events over the span of one weekend for alumni, students, and their family to enjoy on the Hackettstown campus. [Side note: We’d love for Centenary alum to come visit the Library – they wouldn’t recognize it now!]

WHITNEY 1898 REUNION

The 1898 C.C.I. Reunion

 

THE NEW PRESIDENT’S HOUSE

The President’s House, which tragically burned down in January 2015, has been rebuilt! President Haney and his wife, Lisa Baldwin, wanted one of the first events held in the new home to be a thank you party for everyone involved in trying to save the old house and in building the new one.

The First New Pres Res 5Responders’ Party welcomed members of all 22 agencies who worked to save the house and contain the fire that raged three years ago, as well as everyone involved in the construction of the new house. Dr. Haney and Lisa Baldwin thanked the firefighters and construction workers for all their hard work, and invited the attendants to tour the new house.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dr. Raymond Frey and Library Archivist Colleen Bain, experts on Centenary history, were on hand to guide tours and answer questions. Guests enjoyed seeing the archival pictures of the house displayed throughout the new residence.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We’re glad tNew Pres Res 4o have been able to provide the archival photos and the expertise of our archivist to the First Responders’ Party, and we are forever grateful for all the work that’s been done to bring the President’s House back to life!

 

 

Photos of the new President’s House and First Responder’s Party graciously provided by Erbach Communications Group.

THE PRESIDENT’S RIGHT-HAND MAN

The success of any school is due in large part to its faculty and staff. The faculty will teach students what they’ll need to know to succeed, and staff will help them navigate their way through college. Hopefully, in the process they will help students feel comfortable and confident. Centenary employees have always served the school admirably in this way, starting back in 1874, when the school first opened.

Whitney, Edward A

Prof. Edward A. Whitney

Dr Whitney, Centenary Collegiate Institute’s first president, recognized the importance of a strong faculty, and took great care in hiring devoted individuals to help the school flourish. Though there were many faithful employees, the president relied on one person more than anyone else: his younger brother, Edward A. Whitney. Professor Whitney served Centenary for 21 years, from 1874 – 1895, and was not only a member of the faculty, but held many staff positions as well. He was principal and instructor of the Commercial Department and the Institute’s cashier, bookkeeper, and librarian! Additionally, in 1889, with the president in extremely poor health, Professor Whitney took to helping him run the school. He was an invaluable member of the faculty and staff until his death in 1895.

Other original faculty members include:

Miss Stella Waldo, 1874 – 1892

1874 – 1881: Piano and Organ

1881 – 1888: Voice and Piano

1888 – 1892: Vocal Music

Miss Anna Nicholl, 1874 – 1886

1874 – 1882: History, Painting, and Drawing

1882 – 1886: History and Mathematics

L. H. Batchelder, 1874 – 1882

1874 – 1877: Natural Science and Mathematics

1877 – 1882: Chemistry and Mathematics

Fanny Gulick, 1874 – 1882 (left to marry Professor Batchelder!)

1874 – 1878: English Literature and German

1878 – 1882: Belles-Lettres and German

 

The 1892 school publication, “The Hackettstonian”, had this to say about the faculty:

“The marked attainments and high reputation on the world of education maintained by Centenary Collegiate Institute is in no small measure due to the constant endeavor and untiring zeal of its Faculty. Their position is, indeed, an unselfish one, and one that is seldom fully appreciated; and we have deemed it eminently fitting that they should be represented in this number. It is, then, with just pride that we present our readers with a brief summary of the lives which have been helpful to so many in their school career, and for whom we have the highest regard.”