December 2, 1925 – Nineteen-year-old Fay Lanphier, recently crowned Miss America, arrived at the Mendocino home of her aunt, Jennie Swanson, for a visit. Fay was born in Elk on December 12, 1905 to Casper and Emily Lanphier. When she was a young girl, the Lanphier family moved to Mendocino, and Fay and her siblings attended the first Mendocino Grammar School on the corner of Pine and School streets. In 1919, Fay’s father found employment in a shipping yard, and the family moved to Oakland.

Tragedy struck in early 1920 when Fay’s father contracted influenza and died of pneumonia, leaving his widow Emily and their six children penniless. The Oakland community rallied around the family, providing food, clothing, and housing during this challenging time.

Despite the hardships, eldest daughter Fay continued her education at Oakland High School, planning to become a stenographer to support her family. However, she soon saw an opportunity for fame and fortune in a new phenomenon in the United States: beauty contests.

Five women and a man in a decorated parade car

Rhododendron Festival Parade Car, 1937. Five ladies in a flower-decorated car at the first Rhododendron Festival. The women are identified as Elna Erickson of Fort Bragg, “Queen” Dorothy Dutton of Greenwood, Deluce Wilson of Point Arena, Grace Mattos of Mendocino, and Fay Lanphier Daniels. Fay was the first Miss California to become Miss America, winning both titles in 1925.

In 1924, while working as a stenographer, Fay won her first beauty title, “Miss Alameda,” and went on to win the State pageant. At the national contest in Atlantic City that year, she came in third. The following year she competed again and was crowned Miss America in the fifth annual Atlantic City beauty pageant.

Following her victory, Fay rode in President Calvin Coolidge’s private railroad car, “The Constitution” to New York City, where she was given a ticker tape parade. She was toasted at parties thrown by Will Rogers and Rudolph Valentino, the film idol. Afterwards, she traveled the country on a personal appearance tour, earning an estimated $50,000 (about $880,000 in 2023).

After months on the road, the December visit to Mendocino offered Fay a brief respite with family and friends. She enjoyed afternoon teas, played bridge, and attended a grand ball given in her honor on Christmas Eve. On December 26, she left Mendocino to return to her tour. Her next stop was Pasadena where she was the Rose Queen at the 1926 Tournament of Roses.

With aspirations beyond beauty pageants, Fay next set her sights on Hollywood. She was the first Miss America winner to star in a feature film, “The American Venus.” She played the title role in this silent movie, the story of a western girl who won a national beauty contest. The film received mixed reviews, and her movie contract was dropped, leading her to take a clerical job at Paramount Studios. In 1928, she married Sidney Spiegel, the son of Joseph Spiegel who founded the Spiegel catalog. That marriage ended in divorce after only 6 months.

In 1931, Fay married her childhood sweetheart, Winfield J. Daniels, the owner of bookstores in Berkeley and San Jose. Fay and Winfield had first met as children attending Mendocino Grammar School, and their paths crossed again during her visits to Mendocino. The couple settled in Orinda and had two daughters. Sadly, Fay passed away from pneumonia at the age of 53 in 1959.

Today! Visit Santa at the Kelley House Museum! Bring your family and your holiday good cheer to snap a perfect picture with Santa outside on the Kelley House Museum porch. Cookies and cider provided. Bring your camera! Suggested donation: $5. 45007 Albion Street, Mendocino. Saturday, December 2, 3:30PM – 4:30PM.