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The Rosenberg Library Collection - Pageant of Pulchritude (1931)

Galveston and Texas History Center - Rosenberg Library

Silent | 1931

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  •  Jean and George Sealy, the children of Galveston businessman George Sealy Jr. 
  •  The pageant begins on the grounds of Open Gates, the luxurious home of Galveston entrepreneur George Sealy and his wife, Magnolia (the parents of George Sealy Jr.) 
  •  Miss Germany, Daisy D’Ora, also worked briefly as a silent film actress. She made her debut in Pandora’s Box (1929), which received international success. 
  •  Miss Dallas 
  •  Beachside luncheon at what is possibly the Sportsman’s Club, a short-lived local attraction 
  •  Anita Netta Duchateau of Belgium took home the crown of Miss Universe, while Ann Lee Patterson of Northern Kentucky was awarded the title of Miss United States. 
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  • About the video
  • Pageant of Pulchritude Pageant of Pulchritude
  • George Sealy Jr. George Sealy Jr.
  • Open Gates Open Gates
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Held annually from 1920 to 1931, the Pageant of Pulchritude (previously known as the Bathing Girl Revue) signaled the beginning of the summer tourist season in Galveston. This home movie captures many of the contestants in what was to be the final pageant in 1931. Young ladies from all over the globe pose for pictures in their swimsuits before attending a beachside luncheon. While the footage appears black and white to the human eye, the film is actually shot in color on a film stock called Kodacolor. Accessing the color hidden on the film, however, requires specialized technology that most films laboratories do not possess. TAMI hopes to raise the necessary funds to outsource the process of decoding the color information and thereby preserve the film as it was originally shot.
Touted as the precursor to the Miss Universe Pageant and a Galveston tradition from 1920 to 1932, the Bathing Girl Revue (later known as the International Pageant of Pulchritude) signaled the beginning of the summer tourist season. 
To strengthen its tourism industry following the devastating Hurricane of 1900, the city of Galveston looked to organize regular waterfront events. In 1920, local promoter C. E. Barfield established the annual Splash Day event, with the Bathing Girl Revue competition as its main attraction. By 1926, the revue became an international contest known as the Pageant of Pulchritude. The following year, the event was split into two separate contests held over two days, awarding the title of “Miss United States” and “Miss Universe.” At its height, the pageant attracted so many spectators that it tripled the island’s population during the weekend when it ran.
Galveston stopped hosting the Pageant of Pulchritude after the 1931 event as a result of the Great Depression. Aside from a pair of contests held in Belgium in the 1930s, international beauty competitions were discontinued until 1952, when the modern Miss Universe contest began in California.
Born on December 13, 1880, in Galveston, George Sealy Jr. was the eldest son of George and Magnolia Wallis Sealy, one of Galveston's wealthiest families. After serving in World War I, he married Eugenia Polk Taylor of San Antonio on November 10, 1923. The couple had three children. 
Sealy followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a prominent businessman in Galveston, serving as an executive or board member of countless corporations, from the Galveston Cotton Concentration Company to Hutchings-Sealy Bank to the Gulf Transfer Company. He also was the commissioner of finance for the city of Galveston. Among his many civic contributions to the city, however, Sealy is perhaps best remembered for his work to establish Galveston as "The Oleander City." In addition to cultivating more some 60 different varieties himself, Sealy also shipped more than 800,000 plants to the island during World War II, and proceeded to give them out for free to residents, visitors, and servicemen stationed at Fort Crockett. He also sponsored an oleander festival and parade. 
Sealy died of pneumonia on November 4, 1944, while on a trip to New York.
According to family legend, upon giving birth to the couple’s fifth child in 1885, Magnolia Sealy told her husband, leading Galveston businessman George Sealy, that she would bear him a second son if he built her the finest home in the city. Reality or not, the following year, Magnolia traveled to New York and enlisted the services of McKim, Mead, and White. Construction of the neo-Renaissance home, believed to be the only building in the South designed by nationally renowned architect Stanford White, ran from 1887 to 1889. Architect Nicholas Clayton—responsible for many of the public, commercial, and residential buildings in Galveston—served as supervisor of the project as well as designed a carriage house, on which construction finished in 1891. Home to one of Galveston’s most prominent families, Open Gates quickly became a center of commercial and social life. In 1900, the mansion also served as an emergency shelter, protecting as many as 400 people seeking refuge from the great hurricane. The Sealy family conveyed the furnished mansion to the University of Texas Medical Branch in 1979. The building is now known as the Open Gates Conference Center.