National Museum of American History Acquires National Cotton Council and “Maid of Cotton” Program Documents

November 30, 2009

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History recently acquired archival materials from the Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange. The collection includes photos, films and slides that depict cotton production, as well as the complete archives from the “Maid of Cotton” beauty pageant program that the National Cotton Council operated from 1939-1993. The collection also includes photos of every aspect of cotton farming and more than 200 films produced by the NCC, from the 1960s to the 1980s, demonstrating cotton’s versatility and use in consumer goods; it will be housed in the museum’s Archives Center.

The NCC, founded in 1939, is the central trade association of the American cotton industry. The “Maid of Cotton” pageant was held each December in Memphis, Tenn., as part of the city’s Cotton Carnival festivities. The Maid of Cotton, the winner of the pageant, served as a goodwill and fashion ambassador to promote the versatility and value of cotton to consumers. The archive of this 54-year pageant program includes administrative files, scrapbooks, photos, slides and videotapes, and it documents beauty programs and their relationship to American culture and the American advertising industry. In 2007, the NCC donated the entire collection to the Cotton Museum. Founded in 2006, the Cotton Museum is dedicated to sharing the story of the cotton industry and its many influences on daily life, the arts and the development of the Mid-South region with students, residents and visitors.

“Cotton has played a vital role in the development of American agriculture and in shaping American industry,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History. “Through these documents, the museum can preserve the history of cotton and the long-standing traditions dedicated to it.”

“We are delighted to have an opportunity to donate these materials to the National Museum of American History for preservation,” said Calvin Turley, president of the board of the Cotton Museum. “We hope this is the beginning of a long-standing relationship with the Smithsonian and its museums.”

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. After a two-year renovation and a dramatic transformation, the museum shines new light on American history, both in Washington and online. To learn more about the museum, check http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).