Fifty years ago this month, hundreds of feminist activists, most of them from the political-resistance group New York Radical Women, arrived in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to protest the Miss America pageant. Marching along the boardwalk, the activists expressed their dissatisfaction with the pageant’s objectification and sexualization of its contestants—and, by extension, of women more generally—with signs bearing slogans such as, “Let’s Judge Ourselves as People,” “All Women Are Beautiful,” and “If You Want Meat, Go to the Butcher.” A sash-wearing sheep accompanied the marchers, as did a carnivalesque Miss America puppet, its face frozen in a rictus grin, and a “freedom trash can” into which women were encouraged to toss implements of feminine oppression: girdles, makeup, high-heeled shoes. Later, protesters stormed the pageant hall and unfurled a “Women’s Liberation” banner, after which several of them were arrested.
One of the protest’s attendees was Bev Grant, a twenty-six-year-old member of New York Radical Women, who not only participated in the action but also captured its unfolding in photographs. “Until 1967, I was leading a very conventional life, in terms of the role of women,” Grant, who is now a vibrant seventy-six, told me when I spoke to her recently. Originally from Portland, Oregon, she married young, and moved with her husband, a jazz musician, to New York, where she did “the cooking, the cleaning, and working at the same time,” holding a day job as a secretary. Joining a feminist consciousness-raising group that later merged into New York Radical Women proved decisive. “The women’s movement was life-changing for me,” Grant said, a bit wistfully. “I started to discover who I was—that I was worthy.” She separated from her husband and, in a move that she modestly describes as “happenstance,” learned how to take and develop pictures.