Norma Smallwood, the first Native Miss America wearing the title sash

The Indian Miss America and the First Native Miss America


While there’s been so much in the news this week about Nina Davuluri, America’s first Indian Miss America, ICTMN thought it worth looking back at the first Native Miss America.

Norma Smallwood was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1906. She graduated from high school and earned the title of Miss Tulsa when she was 16 years old.

Smallwood was an art major at Oklahoma State College and was in her sophomore year of college when she captured the Miss America title in 1926.

During her year-long reign, Smallwood became a popular poster girl, and reportedly earned more than $100,000, which, according to, was more than Babe Ruth made that year.

Smallwood died in Tulsa in May of 1966. She was 57.

Both Smallwood and Davuluri came from relatively small towns, and were both firsts: Davuluri is the first Indian American to hold the title; and in 1926, Smallwood was the first Native woman (she was of Cherokee descent) to wear the crown.

And while Smallwood lived in a time when women marched in the streets for equality (American women had only been given the right to vote in 1920) Davuluri is being forced to fight to be accepted as an American woman.  ICTMN wrote about the racial slurs that marred her win. Those racist comments referenced convenience stores and linked her to terrorism.


She shrugged off the racist backlash. “I have always viewed myself first and foremost American,” she said after being told about the comments in her first post-pageant press conference. “I have to rise above that.” 

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sweetgrass777's picture
Submitted by sweetgrass777 on
First Miss Native American.... Please Did she acknowledge her heritage and fight for the rights of Natives and other oppressed minorities in this country at that time? I am so sick of the Cherokee with their washed out heritage. Being white when it benefits them and Indian the next. Yes she really represented Native people and their suffering and struggles in this country. Give me a break. Lame story

Josh Smallwood's picture
Josh Smallwood
Submitted by Josh Smallwood on
To "sweetgrass777"'re a lame are obviously a troubled person with some deep-seated issues...go burn some more sweetgrass and get over yourself you "red apple". Norma Smallwood was a beauty-pageant winner, not an Indian activist, and yes she did acknowledge her heritage and was very proud of it. Not every Indian has to be a radical AIM activist to prove their "Indianess". And, contrary to popular belief, there are no "benefits" to being Cherokee...we are simply extremely proud to be Cherokee!! We Cherokees have a rich heritage and culture, practicing traditional ways and embracing modern American society. And we contribute to both Cherokee and American society. For a Cherokee woman to win the Miss America pageant in 1926 was a big deal for Cherokee people. Norma Smallwood contributed to society...what have you done for your tribe? -Josh Smallwood, Cherokee by Blood