Miss Alaska 1940

My grandmother Minnie was quite the woman. She was the first Alaskan Native Athabascan woman to win the title of Miss Alaska, back in 1940.

Mom's portrait as Miss AlaskaWhat an amazing opportunity for a young native woman whose fishing village Nulato, Alaska was only accessible by air. There were no roads in or out, and even today it remains that way. There was no electricity or running water.

My grandmother was the second youngest, and unfortunately her mother passed away when she was just 13.  Those humble beginnings did not stop her from following her dreams. She decided to enter the Miss Fairbanks competition, which she won, and therefore was entered into the Miss Alaska pageant. What courage it must have taken for her to stand and compete in that arena with so many Caucasian women at such a segregated time in our country.

When she won the title of Miss Alaska, she was awarded a $600 shopping spree in New York City. We even have a clip from a newspaper at that time showing her getting off the airplane in her Athabascan regalia.

She loved her experience in the city, and after her reign as Miss Alaska 1940 – 1941 she decided to stay in the lower 48 as Alaskan’s call it. She later met my Irish grandfather and they had six children together.

They made their life, living in Long Island, New York. Since she was a brown-skinned, Native woman in a bi-racial marriage living in suburbia, there were certain things she did to fit in. She always wore her hair short; if it were long she would have looked too Native. She followed all the trends, but even then she still faced racism, living in an area that was not racially diverse. Instead of complaining, she assimilated.

She taught me that no matter where you come from, or however hard your childhood experience was, you still matter and you still have something to offer this world. Through her experience, she taught all of the women in our family to be proud of who we are, and to never think of ourselves as less than.

While she faced many challenges raising six children mostly on her own as my grandfather was a commercial airlines pilot and was away from home a lot, she didn’t complain. And she kept moving forward even though it must have been  a struggle.

I remember at her 90th birthday party a few years back. My aunt read to her a letter from one of the most famous Miss Alaska’s in recent history. Sarah Palin wrote to her to congratulate her on her 90th birthday. Being the feisty woman that she always was, my grandmother said, “Not Her.” Too funny.

I think it was then that I realized what a star my Granny was. She was a beauty queen, the matriarch of our family, and most importantly, a beautiful soul. Here is a woman who raised six children, the youngest of whom was autistic, all the while retaining her beauty and strength. A true example of one woman’s resilience.

About Sabah Williams

I am a mixed race woman who grew up in a Native-American community in Oakland, Ca. I attended many Native-American ceremonies, Pow Wows, and cultural events. I am very proud of my Native-American heritage, and I also hope to learn more about my African-American side of the family. View all posts by Sabah Williams →

13 Comments

  1. Rose Albert

    Nice story thank you for sharing. I am from Ruby but my mothers side it from Nulato. She was a Demoski. We could be related. I hope you stay on your journey finding your long lost relatives

  2. Kathy Meyer-Rambow

    Sabah I am your cousin, Kathy and I still live in Alaska. I had the pleasure of meeting your Grandmother at our family reunion. Minnie, Jessie, Laura, and my mother Marjorie were and are awesome woman who walked their own paths. Talk about women who were so much fun to be around. With the prejudice card, I was taught, at a young age, to tell the offenders I would rather be Indian than be ignorant like you. This was my experience in California, in the fifth grade, in the early sixties. I am doing a geneology search and the Alaskan history is amazing. The Athabascan history with apparently some Swedish blood in there combined with Eskimo heritage is really neat. I found the Eskimo relatives that were half sisters and brothers to your Great Grandmother.

  3. Nshi Wise

    I can imagine your grandmothers shopping spree! How different it must have been coming to New York. An interracial marriage in that day was a true testament of love.

  4. Sabah Williams Post author

    Thanks Aunty Corrina!!! I appreciate it, and maybe one of these days I can do a piece on you!

  5. Sabah Williams Post author

    Thank you so very much Vanessa! 🙂

  6. Sabah Williams Post author

    Thank you Joelle! That really means a lot, and you also possess that strength and beauty. 🙂

  7. Sabah Williams Post author

    Thank you Rosa! I love this picture of her in her Ivory Crown. 🙂

  8. Sabah Williams Post author

    Thank you so much Ruth!

  9. Ruth Villasenor

    Great story, looking forward to reading more articles by you

  10. Rosa green

    Thanks Sabah wonderful story, I remember Diane telling me this story now I have a face to go with it ….

  11. Joelle Boismenu

    Sabah
    What an amazing line of women you come from. No surprise to me with all the beauty and strength that you possess. Wonderful to learn about your Grandmother!

  12. Vanessa Sykes

    What a beautiful story. The same strength and courage continued to be passed on to you. How admirable of you to be a vouce of Oakland.

  13. Corrina Gould

    Congratulations Sabah! It was a great read. How great to learn about your grandma and where you come from

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