WILLIAMSBURG — Pageants are a staple of American culture — from the dresses, the gowns and the participants. But in Williamsburg, that culture is gone.
“It’s important to have these pageant girls because they represent an area and collective people,” said Emily Huff, business director for Miss Virginia and former local executor of the Miss Williamsburg pageant. “You see these girls on TV and feel proud to know they represent you.”
It has been almost a decade since the last Miss Williamsburg pageant. After the first iteration of the pageant ended nearly 20 years before, Huff restarted the local pageant in 2007 and ran it for about four years, until she gave birth to her daughter and had to step down from the role.
Since then, young women wanting to participate in pageants have to compete in areas such as Norfolk or Chesapeake. While those pageants all filter into the same pool of Miss America competitions, the lack of representation for the Historic Triangle leaves something to be desired for locals, said Huff.
“For a lot of people it is all about the local flair,” said M.C. Gravely, executive director and business manager for the Miss Virginia pageant. “People in local areas will respect the pageant and support it.”
Huff said that her experience definitely reflected that idea, and she found there was a lot of community support for the Miss Williamsburg pageant through sponsorships and attendance.
The problem, however, is finding someone to run the pageant. After Huff had to give up her position to raise her daughter, there hasn’t been anyone else who has shown interest in starting the pageant again. The difficulty is that putting on a local pageant takes a lot of work, according to Huff.
“It will take someone who is willing to do a thankless job,” Huff said. “There is no income, there’s no salary. All of the money comes from what you raise.”
For her, the experience involved staging an entire production. She didn’t want the Miss Williamsburg pageant to be something small and outdated, she wanted it to be a night of entertainment that made the young women proud to be a part of.
Huff still works for the Miss Virginia organization, but as a single mother she said she just can’t give the time and dedication that a local pageant, and the girls involved, deserve.
Each year, not only does the pageant executor have to put together the pageant, but for the following 12 months they have to stay with the winner and prepare her for the Miss Virginia competition, as well as take her to local speaking engagements and promotional events. Huff said that helping these women after winning the pageant was almost just as much work as having a child, but that was what she loved.
“Miss Williamsburg isn’t just a crown, it’s a job,” Huff said. “These pageants aren’t just designed to have pretty women go around and cut ribbons. She has a purpose.”
Starting a pageant, Huff said, begins with an application. Then comes the tough part: raising money.
All of the money for the production and scholarship awards has to be raised through sponsorships from local organizations. When Huff was first starting out, she was able to put the pageant together with a lot of help from TowneBank, she said.
For Huff, money for scholarships was the most important part of fundraising. That was what attracted her to the organization, and it is what she believes makes the organizations so special. Huff’s first Miss Williamsburg winner was a law student at William & Mary whose scholarship money helped her pay for her tuition.
Local pageants are important, according to Huff, because it helps women from an area thrive and be successful.
“This pageant wasn’t just pretty gowns and bathing-suit bodies,” Huff said. “It showed what it meant to be a 21st century woman in Williamsburg.”