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The Story of Miss Subways: Queens of the New York Commute

From 1941 and 1976, dozens of young women and high school girls were bestowed the honor of Miss Subways with her smiling photograph hanging within the cars of the New York subway system.

This was not a beauty pageant, but rather an advertising campaign which promoted the subway and drew the eyes of commuters to the train car’s many advertisements for cod liver oil, cigarettes and frozen foods.

The women who were chosen for Miss Subways became overnight local celebrities, aspirational figures for thousands of subway riders.

The program was overseen by modeling agent guru John Robert Powers whose work for mail order catalogs and newspapers would help define the ‘girl-next-door’ image of the mid 20th century.

However this blonde Midwestern template soon looked out of place promoting the subway system of one of the most diverse cities in the world. By the 1960s, winners of this fleeting title began to reflect the many types of women who commuted and used the subway.

Listen in as Greg tells the story of the Miss Subways pageant then participates as a judge for a brand new Miss Subways competition, held in Coney Island in April. But what does this title mean in 2023?

FEATURING A visit to the New York Transit Museum, the City Reliquary, Coney Island USA’s Seashore Theater and Ellen’s Stardust Diner


Photograph courtesy Ellen’s Stardust Diner/Miss Subways

My thanks to:

Jodi Shapiro and everybody at the New York Transit Museum
Ellen Hart Shurm and the whole gang at Ellen’s Stardust Diner
Dave Herman at the City Reliquary

And the reigning Miss Subways — Harmony Hardcore! And also to all the contestants who participated.

In 1948, Thelma Porter became the first African-American Miss Subways.

Ellen’s Stardust Diner. More information about their Miss Subways collection here.

New York Transit Museum

Seashore Theater at Coney Island USA

Harmony Hardcore and the contestants of the 2023 Miss Subways pageant
The glorious Maggie McMuffin
The final three contestants — Lena HornĂ©, Chantelle and Harmony Hardcore

From an article in Collier’s WeeklySeptember 25, 1943, “Miss Subways: A new kind of beauty brightens the life of New York’s underground commuters,” in a photograph highly influenced by the pin-up photos of Betty Grable and other wartime beauties:


After listening to this podcast, head back into our back catalog and listen to these shows with similar themes


3 replies on “The Story of Miss Subways: Queens of the New York Commute”

Love it! Another book for those interested is the novel I wrote on the topic called THE SUBWAY GIRLS — a dual storyline narrative that tells the story of a Miss Subways winner from 1949 and an advertising exec in modern day who is pitching the MTA and comes across the Miss Subways program. Eventually their storylines intersect! A fun read with lots of great Miss Subways history. –Susie Orman Schnall

I remember the Miss Subway advertisements well, when I traveled the subways as a child and then as a teenager. To be honest, I don’t remember thinking much about the contest, when I looked up at the subway cards, other than “How did they select a Miss Subway?”

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