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Alice in Dairyland Dress Model

Winning entry for the first Alice in Dairyland dress design, 1948.
(Museum object #2005.157.1)

On June 28, 1948, the Wisconsin Centennial Dairy Committee informed Miss Betty Lou Jahn of Milwaukee, the maker of the model dress seen to the left and a graduate of the State School of the Deaf in Delavan, that she had won the $50 prize for best design of the costume of the first “Alice in Dairyland” costume. In its letter to her, the Committee wrote “we know the 1 ½ million people who are expected at the Wisconsin Centennial Exposition at State Fair Park …will agree with the judges that the dress is ‘just right.’ It sets off the sweet, unsophisticated charm of Alice in Dairyland.” Jahn’s model measures about 14 inches from the collar to the hem, approximately one-quarter the size of the actual dress Alice later wore.

As part of Wisconsin’s state centennial celebration in West Allis, the Dairy Committee set out to find an “Alice in Dairyland” to serve as a hostess in their pavilion. They wanted to locate the ideal candidate, a young woman who had to be remarkable in her “beauty and health, general personality, and ability to present herself and her message before large groups.” At the same time, the Committee also held a contest to find the perfect dress for the winner. The Committee required dress contestants such as Betty Lou Jahn to submit both an illustration and mock-up of their entry.

In a newspaper article the Dairy Committee described the dress as consisting of a “yellow vest with green lacing. Peasant skirt with a wide green band. White cotton blouse with white eyelet ruffling around the neck and sleeves. White eyelet petticoat effect around the hem of the skirt.” It went on to explain Miss Jahn’s rationale for the dress colors, noting that the yellow symbolized butter and cheese, the white suggested cream and milk, and the green represented the “lush pastures of Wisconsin—America’s Dairyland.”

Eighteen-year-old Margaret McGuire of Highland, Wisconsin won the first Alice in Dairyland title. She ended up wearing a version of Jahn’s dress that she made herself. After being a hostess at the Dairy Pavilion from August 7 to 29, 1948, Margaret spent the next year traveling around the nation representing the Wisconsin dairy industry, often wearing her yellow, white, and green peasant outfit.

After Margaret won the competition, the Dairy Committee decided to have a 10-foot tall mechanical version made of her as Alice. Sculptor John Neidhart created the statue’s head and based its features on Margaret. The rest of the body was built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Upon its completion, the mechanical Margaret was dressed in the same prize-winning costume. Besides raising her arms and turning her head, the statue could also sit down in on her oversized throne.

In 1949 the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture began sponsoring the Alice in Dairyland program. Three years later Alice in Dairyland had become a one-year, full-time contract employee of that department and her responsibilities continued to expand. Today, Alice must be at least 21 years old with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, public relations, communications, or a related field. Alice also now plays a larger, more sophisticated role than ever before by representing all of Wisconsin agriculture, not just dairy, in strategic media campaigns meant to generate support for the State’s entire agricultural industry.

[SOURCE: Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection]

Posted on December 01, 2005

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