There were no bigger celebrities here in 1947 than Jean and Jane Cunningham, identical twins sisters from Chattanooga who both made it to the Miss America pageant.
The pair, who came to be known nationally as the "Chattanooga twins," won the hearts of judges at the city and state level and later competed separately in the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Jean finished among 15 finalists in the national competition, while Jane was not chosen in the top group. Meanwhile, the two were eclipsed at the national pageant by Barbara Jo Walker, Miss Memphis, who became the first woman from the South to be crowned Miss America. In those days, multiple contestants from a state could qualify for the Miss America pageant.
The twins are pictured here upon their return to Chattanooga on Sept. 13, 1947, riding in the back of a Chevrolet Fleetmaster convertible. The photo is one of a number of images in the EPB collection archived at ChattanoogaHistory.com, a website devoted to preserving historic photographs.
A Sept. 8, 1947, Chattanooga newspaper report carried the front-page headline: "Twins Win Big Share of Pageant Glory." The report noted that Jean won $1,000 for her Top 15 finish, and Walker, of Memphis, won $5,000 for taking the crown.
The newspaper report also noted that the twins were crowd favorites in Atlantic City.
Chattanooga Times writer Charles Bartlett, reporting from the pageant, wrote: "Blonde Miss Tennessee Jean Cunningham of Chattanooga became the winning half of the city's unprecedented twin entry and clinched a $1,000 college scholarship before an audience of 20,000 in the 26-year-old top beauty pageant of the world. Her sister, Jane sobbed audibly as they were separated but later applauded warmly with a big smile breaking through the tears."
ChattanoogaHistory.comLaunched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014, ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available.If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives, or original non-digital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.
The article noted that for her talent presentation, Jean danced to an arrangement of the "Hawaiian War Chant." Both sisters wore black ballerina dresses and purple orchids for their solo dance routines, the paper reported. Later, back in Chattanooga, the sisters taught dance at the Elizabeth School of Dancing on Walnut Street, according to press reports.
Jean Cunningham Sterchi died on Oct. 20, 2010, in Pearland Texas. According to her obituary, she married John William Staley in 1949 and the couple built a wholesale office supply company in Nashville.
Jane Cunningham married Chattanooga (City) High School classmate James Browning, an engineer, and worked at points in her life as a chicken farmer and antique dealer, according to James Browning's obituary, also published in Pearland.
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Remember When is published on Saturdays. Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.