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‘Medford’s Fair Beauties’

Even in 1908 there wasn’t a man in Medford brave enough to choose the most beautiful woman in town.

The answer was a self-nominating contest that would let the ladies and their friends and relatives decide for themselves.

Members of the Portland Rose Festival Committee had invited Medford to enter a float in their June parade. In response, the local Commercial Club (yesterday’s Chamber of Commerce) wanted three of “Medford’s Fair Beauties,” a queen and two maids of honor, to ride the town’s elegantly decorated float.

To ensure fairness in the selection process, and with some fear for their lives if they made an unpopular decision, club members found the perfect way to avoid any self-inflicted pain — let the people decide.

“The difficult and delicate question of the selection of the young lady from the many who are fitting candidates for this honor,” said the club’s spokesperson, “is to be solved by the inauguration of a voting contest.”

It was simple. “The pretty girl receiving the highest number of votes will be declared carnival queen, and the next two highest will go as maids of honor.”

To secure the votes against tampering, five ballot boxes were placed in local stores, each locked with a key that was deposited in a local bank vault for the duration of the contest.

The voting would also be a fundraiser that would pay for float construction and for all of the winning women’s expenses. Voters were allowed to buy as many voting tickets as they wanted at 10 cents a vote. If they bought 100 votes at one time, they received a 25% discount.

To keep merchants happy, and perhaps increase voting participation, merchants were allowed to keep 25 cents out of every $1 of tickets sold. To boost profits even more, volunteer school children could also keep 25 cents of every dollar’s worth of tickets they sold.

The elaborate scheme quickly ran into problems. Not only were some of the merchants not tallying all of their tickets, the community wasn’t participating. The club members were surprised to find there was “but little interest taken in the matter.” However, they vowed, if necessary, to pay for the float and the women’s expenses themselves.

The Medford Daily Tribune newspaper stepped in to help, agreeing to donate all transportation costs for the queen and her court.

On May 27, the ballot boxes opened to reveal that Hazel Tice, waitress at the Hotel Nash cafe, had been voted queen by an overwhelming majority of over 800 votes. Anna Danielson, daughter of one of Medford’s clothing store merchants, was second, and Maud Allen was third.

On June 4, 1908, the procession, Portland’s second official Rose Parade, stretched over three miles, “banked in humanity,” said the Tribune.

Medford’s float cost $475 to construct. It carried a huge papier-mache Comice pear surrounded by pear and apple blossoms, and a large papier-mache Spizen and Newtown apple at each corner. It led the third division of the parade that honored the “enterprising cities of Oregon.” Hood River was the only other city to enter in that division.

“From all reports,” said a reporter, “our float was the finest in the parade,” also noting that the “girls represented Medford in very good style.”

With the parade over, the Commercial Club spokesperson admitted that he was “obliged to report a financial failure.” Barely $115 in votes and donations had been received, against $235 in costs, not including the cost of the float.

Ironically, the only people able to enjoy the parade were those three most popular women — “Medford’s Fair Beauties.”

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.