With a smile and a wink, beauty queen Bellefontaine Elizabeth Miller was the first woman to ever hold the title of Miss Beauty Pageant in the United States.
Miller was crowned in 1881 and won the title in 1883, but her life was cut short at the age of 27 when she collapsed while walking through a public park.
Miller spent the next four years in hospital, where she underwent a series of operations and was diagnosed with pneumonia.
In 1893, she was admitted to a sanitarium and was pronounced dead a few weeks later.
Miller died in her home, but she is often celebrated for her remarkable beauty and charisma.
In fact, Miller has been immortalised as “the greatest beauty queen in the world” by the magazine Vanity Fair.
However, a few decades later, Miller’s image as a beautiful, talented and self-aware beauty queen is in doubt.
In a series called “Bellefontain Beauty,” Vanity Fair published a series that examined the “controversy” surrounding Miller’s appearance and death.
While the article focused on Miller’s physical appearance, the editors also examined Miller’s mental health and sexuality.
The article featured interviews with Miller’s former friends and former classmates, including a letter from one of Miller’s best friends who said that Miller’s mother had “no qualms about her son’s homosexuality” and that Miller “loved herself very much.”
It also revealed that Miller had attempted suicide on multiple occasions, and that she was “extremely paranoid”.
Miller’s own sister-in-law said that she had a “mixed reaction” to the article and that the editors “had no way of knowing what was going on with her.”
Vanity Fair later apologized for publishing the article, which had previously been published without her permission.
“We are deeply sorry to publish this article,” the magazine wrote.
“But it is clear to us that Ms Miller was a person of immense beauty and great grace and talent who had a very special life.
The editors who published this article were completely blind to the circumstances and to the fact that Ms. Miller’s life was not only ending but that she herself was suffering from some serious mental illness.”
Vanity in the making: a guide to the future of beauty and glamour from the pages of Vanity Fair, 2017.
Illustration: Vanessa Taylor/Vanity Fair