Gadsden’s Miss Alabama celebrates 75 years of her title

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Featured Photo: Pictured above, Miss Alabama 1947 Peggy Elder Butler (left) and her grandson Cley Butler (right) join the audience of the 2022 Miss Alabama pageant. (All photos courtesy of Laure and Cley Butler.)

 

Pictured at left, Peggy Elder Butler (left) and grandson Cley Butler (right) cross the Miss Alabama stage as Butler is applauded by the audience. 

 

 

 

Pictured at left, 17-year-old Peggy Elder Butler poses as Miss Alabama 1947 (left) and with her trophy as the winner of the Miss America 1947 swimsuit contest (right).

 

 

 

 

 

By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor

Gadsden native Peggy Elder Butler was only 17 years old when she was crowned Miss Alabama in 1947. At 92 years now, she attended the centennial celebration of the pageant this July, also marking the 75th anniversary of her Miss Alabama title.

Butler was escorted at the pageant by her grandson, Cley Butler.

“It was my 75th anniversary, and so they decided that they would make a note of that at the pageant this year,” Butler said. “They did walk me across the stage and presented me with a lovely bouquet of flowers. And my grandson was my prince charming escort.”

According to Butler’s daughter Laure, she got a standing ovation.

“It was another humbling experience because I was so well received,” Butler said.

Butler competed in the Miss Alabama pageant in 1946 and in 1947, when she won the Miss Alabama title.

A graduate of Emma Sansom High School, Butler was still a student when she competed in her first pageants. She won the titles of Miss Gadsden and Miss Zamora Temple at 16 years old, which at the time guaranteed her a top-five spot for the 1946 Miss Alabama pageant.

Butler said she placed fifth in Miss Alabama but was not dissuaded from competing again the following year.

“When I won Miss Alabama the next year, I was only 17, but was 18 in two weeks’ time, so I was eligible to compete for Miss America,” she said.

Butler went on to compete in the 1947 Miss America pageant, where she won the swimsuit contest and placed third overall.

She said she was offered several modeling contracts after the Miss America pageant in New York City but turned them down due to homesickness.

“I traded Wall Street for Wall Street because in Alabama City, the main road over there is Wall Street,” Butler said. “So I came home to Wall Street.”

Even in the midst of her pageant career, Butler cared deeply for her home town.

“I love Gadsden,” she said. “I’ve always been proud to say that I am from Gadsden, Alabama.”

Butler grew up in Alabama City and noted that many of her peers and friends are “quick to correct” anyone who mistakes it for Gadsden, but she seemed to bear both names with pride.

“When I was in it, the enormity of it I didn’t realize until several years after I had competed, because being young, it was just another contest for me,” Butler said. “You have to understand, back in ‘46 and ‘47 was the years of contests, of beauty contests.”

All in all, Butler said she “ended up with about 18 trophies (and) titles” from various pageants.

“I often say it’s wrong to say I was Miss Alabama or Miss Gadsden because I didn’t miss any of the contests,” she said, laughing.

Butler’s tenure as Miss Alabama has become a lifelong one. She is still recognized, she said, and has been proud to represent her city and her state.

“I’ve been very humbled by the acceptance of the people of Gadsden and the state of Alabama all these years and how proud they’ve always been that I won and won the notoriety or the popularity for the state of Alabama,” Butler said.

As for what it was like to be back on the Miss Alabama stage, Butler said, “Well, it seems like I never left!”

The 100th anniversary of the Miss Alabama pageant took place in 2021, but the celebrations were moved to 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2022 celebrations then fell near the centennial anniversary of this Miss America pageant.

“It kind of coincided with the Miss America anniversary, the 100th anniversary,” Butler said. “That was one reason we all made a special effort. We’ve had three Miss Americas in the Miss Alabama history.”

One such “special effort” was the 100th Anniversary Cookbook, which compiled recipes submitted by former Miss Alabama winners, contestants and other participants. Proceeds from cookbook sales funded Miss Alabama organization scholarships.

Butler’s entries earned some recognition in their own right. She and her recipe for “Melt-Away Mini Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy” were featured in a headlining article on al.com.

“They evidently tried mine and liked it very well, and then they had a very expansive article about the history of my life, which some of the things I didn’t know,” Butler said.

Butler said for her recipes she “stole a little bit here and then made up a little bit there and put it together” until she was satisfied.

Although her famous biscuits and gravy were spotlighted, Butler’s other two recipes — chicken soup and Peggy’s Pickled Peaches — seemed equally beloved. As Butler’s late husband of over 40 years, Hoyt Langford Butler, Jr., often told her, she “fed Etowah County” with her recipes.

“If I heard you were sick, you got chicken soup,” Butler said. “Everybody always said, ‘Oh, that chicken soup healed me.’ I said, ‘No. It was the prayer that came with it that healed you.’”

Butler’s daughter Laure said her mother is a natural star, both on and off pageant stage.

“Somebody came up to her after the pageant and said that she had the most wonderful stage presence that they had ever seen, you know, that she still had it,” Laure said.

Butler said the 2022 pageant was a “lovely night” and an exciting one, including sharing the stage with 27 other former Miss Alabamas. However, Butler claimed that her grandson stole the show.

“My grandson was kind enough to replace my cane,” Butler said. “I have to walk with a cane because my equilibrium is not that good. He upstaged me quite a lot, I promise you, because once it was over, all the ladies were wanting to know about the grandson.”

“I’m not going to take him with me again,” she laughed.

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