Photo from Pinterest – Venus Ramey Murphy, the first red-headed Miss America.

By Jacqueline Bennett


The passing of Venus Ramey Murphy, the first red-headed Miss America, last month on June 17 has been written up in numerous newspapers throughout the country. For some, hers is a timely passing coming so close to the Fourth of July when Americans celebrate not only having won the American Revolution but also celebrate the American spirit.


On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was issued, thus that date is seen as the official beginning of “nationhood” for the United States, note online sources. Much is made of what constitutes the American spirit. It is a spirit rooted in the American Revolution and considered a critical component to the success of American Patriots from the Thirteen Colonies, who battled from 1775 to 1783 to gain self-determination and individual liberty from the British Crown.


Look up a definition of American spirit and a recurring theme is “independent.” However, it is a special kind of independence that defines Americans – arguably it embodies directness, cockiness and sacredly held beliefs that America is on the side of right, justice and fairness – principles deemed time and time again as worthy of the good fight.


Beyond her fiery red hair, what made Ramey Murphy stand out? Why would she be considered an example of the American spirit? Named Miss America 1944 she had singing, dancing and comedic talent that she brought to vaudeville. Reportedly, she got noticed by Hollywood but rather than accepting a movie deal, she is said to have used her notoriety to continue to help the World War II war effort selling war bonds. Her image even ended up on a B-17 Flying Fortress, reports the Lexington Herald Leader.


“She was strong in her beliefs about things …” the Leader quoted a former deputy sheriff who knew Ramey Murphy as saying.


Originally from Kentucky, Ramey Murphy had moved to Washington work for the war effort. She represented the district in the pageant at age 19. An activist, years later she worked to gain voting rights for D.C. residents. Eventually she moved back to a Kentucky farm. She was married and brought up two sons. In 2007, still sporting her trademark red hair, Ramey Murphy landed on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” after what might be described as her firecracker spirit, led her use a .38-caliber pistol to shoot at the tires of a vehicle driven by an intruder who had come on to her property. She took aim while steadying herself with her walker. Ramey Murphy was 92 when she passed away.


Look up the American spirit. Core principles and values are cited. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, equality, democracy, self-government, citizen participation, combat of abuse of power, freedom – freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press. All of these are mere words without individuals who turn their meaning into action. On this Fourth of July take a moment to think of people who embody the American spirit – a spirit that ideally is also cradled by decency, grace and dignity.