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Meet Miss Subways: New York's Beauty Queens 1941-1976

Text by Amy Zimmer

Photography by Fiona Gardner

Foreword by Kathy Weiss

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the arrogant leaderFor thirty years, New York City subway and bus riders were treated to more than 9,000 posters of 200 attractive young women, all dubbed "Miss Subways" for that month. The women on the posters were the faces of New York. There were wartime nurses in the 1940s, college girls studying to become teachers in the 1950s, and secretaries who dreamed of singing careers in the 1960s. The women were Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Latina. In 1948, Thelma Porter became the first black Miss Subways—a landmark event.

New York–based artist Fiona Gardner and journalist Amy Zimmer have tracked down 40 Miss Subways (sometimes using a private detective) to find out where their lives have taken them and whether they’ve lived up to their dreams. The project gives the women a new platform for their perspectives on their beauty queen days and the years in between.

With more than 100 vintage and recent photographs in black and white and in color, Meet Miss Subways takes you from the cheesecake glamour of the ‘40s to the groovy swinging ‘70s.

Publicity photographs, movie posters, book covers, artifacts and Fiona Gardner’s stunning contemporary portraits all make Meet Miss Subways a fascinating reading and visual experience.

The project, sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, will be the subject of a major exhibition in 2012 at the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn. Meet Miss Subways is a companion to the show.

This book unearths a magical, lost chapter of New York City history." – Paul Anka, Singer/Songwriter


Fiona Gardner is an artist/photographer working at The New York Times Magazine. Her work focuses on the lives and experiences of women. Her work has been exhibited in New York at the Black & White Gallery, Rush Art Gallery, and Sean Kelly Gallery, and has also been shown in the Young American Artists of Today show in Moscow. She has a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA from Columbia University.

Amy Zimmer is an award-winning New York-based journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Metro New York and on public radio. She contributed to The Suburbanization of New York (2007) and Pieces of a Decade: Brooklyn Rail Nonfiction 2000-2010 (2010). She is an editor and report for the hyperlocal news site New York. She has won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists' Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Independent Press Association. She received her BA from Yale and a Masters in Journalism from New York University.

Kathy Peiss is the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania. Peiss is the author of seven books, including Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (1986). Her book Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture (1998) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and named one of Amazon's 1999 top ten books in Women's Studies. Her articles have appeared in Daedalus, Business History Review, Enterprise and Society, Genders, American Literary History, and Social Problems. In addition to writing and teaching, she has served as a consultant to museums, archives, public history projects, and films. In recent years she has appeared in the documentaries "New York," "Miss America," and "Beauty in a Jar."