Yolande Betbeze, "the Basque spitfire," surprised Atlantic City and the nation in 1951 when she was named Miss America. The former Miss Alabama beat out over forty fair-haired, fair-skinned state champions with her dramatic singing performance and her undeniable Iberian beauty. Of Basque heritage, Betbeze tested the limits of a system that in the 1950s was still basing its standards on an ethnically and racially narrow definition of feminine beauty.
Betbeze would go on to continue testing the Miss America institution with her refusal to parade in a bathing suit and, after her reign, with her advocacy of women's and minority rights, her political activism, and ultimately her generous donation of this, her original 1951 crown, to the Smithsonian Institution in 2005.
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