Remember when, Chattanooga? Miniskirt marchers took to the streets

Contributed Photo by S. Parks Hall through ChattanoogaHistory.com
In September 1970, a group of women marched through downtown Chattanooga wearing miniskirts as part of a WFLI radio station promotion that also drew hundreds of men, most of them carrying cameras to photograph the marchers.
Contributed Photo by S. Parks Hall through ChattanoogaHistory.com In September 1970, a group of women marched through downtown Chattanooga wearing miniskirts as part of a WFLI radio station promotion that also drew hundreds of men, most of them carrying cameras to photograph the marchers.

In the summer of 1970, the miniskirt fashion trend hit Chattanooga in full stride.

The accompanying photo, taken Saturday, Sept. 19, 1970, shows the so-called Miniskirt March, a one-off publicity event drummed up by personalities at local radio station WFLI.

The photo was taken by retired radio engineer and amateur photographer S. Parks Hall and is archived at ChattanoogaHistory.com.

The radio station offered an award for the "shortest mini skirt," and the contest attracted scores of women in miniskirts — and even more men wielding cameras.

The gathering began in the parking lot of the former Zayre department store in the Golden Gateway shopping center and proceeded with a parade into downtown Chattanooga on Ninth Street (now M.L. King Boulevard), where the winner, Betsy Thompson, was crowned.

Former WFLI on-air personality Johnny Eagle was the master of ceremonies for the Miniskirt March and still remembers the off-beat event.

"We got permission from the city to do the march and had a police escort," Eagle, who is now retired, said in a telephone interview.

"It was a fun day," he added. "I was shocked by the people that showed up. To be honest, we had no idea it would turn out that big."

WFLI signed on in 1961 and by the late 1960s had become a 50,000-watt AM powerhouse with such locally famous disc jockeys as Eagle, Tommy Jett, Ron Daily and Ringo "The Music Man" Van, according to previous news reports.

The late Bill Casteel, a former Chattanooga Times reporter, editor and columnist, described the Miniskirt March in the newspaper the next day.

"Hundreds of men — from teenagers to grandfathers — poured onto the parking lot at Zayre to ogle the contestants in a shortest-dress contest," Casteel wrote. "Most of the contestants acted uncomfortably. Many constantly tugged at their dresses as if convinced it was the lady-like thing to do.

"Photographers never worked harder as they jockeyed for positions providing the best view for their fogged-up lenses."

While the event may seem sexist by modern standards, wearing a miniskirt in the 1960s was actually seen by some as an act of women's empowerment. For example, the famous feminist Gloria Steinem adopted the fashion in the 1960s, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

While there is no definitive answer to the question, "Who invented the miniskirt?," London-based designer Mary Quant is often associated with the widespread popularity of the fashion trend in the 1960s. Quant is said to have named the short-skirt fashion after the Mini Cooper, which was her favorite automobile, according to online sources.

Beginning in the early 1970s, designers gradually reverted to more tradition skirt lengths.


ChattanoogaHistory.com

Launched 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 nondigital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.

To read previous installments in this series see ChattanooaHistory.com, and follow the "Remember When, Chattanooga?" public group on Facebook.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.