Meeting Miss Subways

The pop cultural phenomenon Miss Subways is now on display at the New York City Transit Museum – with updated pictures of the featured ladies.

Meet Miss Subways: New York’s Beauty Queens 1941-76, highlights the Miss Subways whose images once graced subway cars, along with their dreams and aspirations.

Photographer Fiona Gardner and journalist Amy Zimmer teamed up and tracked down the former contestants, starting with Ellen Hart, the owner of Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where the lovely and career-oriented women are still displayed on the walls.

“It wasn’t until we started looking deeper, that we saw it was a lot more than a beauty contest,” Zimmer said. She noted that the first African American Miss Subways was crowned in 1948, while an African-American Miss America was not awarded until 1984.

“It was groundbreaking to celebrate diversity. Women of different ethnicities and from different neighborhoods were elected,” Zimmer explained. “It was really fun to have an opportunity to look through a new lens. Nothing had been preserved and there was no archive for the nearly 200 women. It’s pretty amazing.”

Peggy Byrne, Miss Subway 1952, poses with her claim to fame.

Peggy Byrne hails from Brooklyn Heights/Downtown, which is now referred to as Fort Greene. Byrne was Miss Subways in March-April 1952. Under her photo, it reads, “This petite, Brooklyn-born colleen is studying to be an insurance broker. Plans to wed her childhood sweetheart, an Army Private. Her brother is a Tank Destroyer, Pfc. in Korea.”

“I love Brooklyn, it was a great place to grow up,” Byrne said.

She said that being Miss Subways was, “very exciting. I said on my way here that I will be coming to [the next] reunion with my walker. Miss Subways will never die.”

Byrne’s dreams were “to get married and have babies. I had no career aspirations at all. But I was like a movie star in my neighborhood. Everyone knew who Peggy Byrne was.”

Byrne did marry, but did not have any children. She got divorced and then earned a degree in accounting, which she uses working for a church booking weddings, “making brides’ dreams come true.”

Gabrielle Schubert, director of the Transit Museum, said she was happy to host the exhibit. “To see young women who were not only beautiful, but what their hopes and dreams are…now that’s what society is all about.”

The exhibition runs through March 25. For more information, visit or call 718-694-1600.

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