Queen contest created commotion

December 15, 2018

Madera County Historical Society
Lena Northern Adams is shown here in 1914 after she won the title of Madera’s Raisin Queen.

Maderan Lena Northern Adams probably never spent an inordinate amount of time reflecting upon her yesteryears. She was simply too busy. However, when she did ponder the past, one event surely must have stood out in her mind: the Raisin Queen contest of 1914.


Maderans have always found the time and energy to participate in community ventures, some of which took them beyond the borders of Madera County. One such event was the California Raisin Day celebration in Fresno.


Actually, Raisin Day celebrations in 1914 were not confined to the San Joaquin Valley, nor even California. According to the Madera Daily Mercury, every city of importance on the Pacific Coast held its own Raisin Day festivities, and Fresno’s raisin promoters set April 30, 1914, for theirs.


On that day, every Fresno business closed its doors, as did most of those in Madera. The festivities even drew Gov. Hiram Johnson to the event.


For the crowd of 200 Maderans who traveled to Fresno for the celebration, “The glory of the whole parade was the San Joaquin Counties float” on which rode the Raisin Queen of Madera County.


Choosing a Raisin Queen for Madera County had not been easy. W.C. Maloy, the secretary of the Madera County Chamber of Commerce, was reported to have been “in a quandary.” According to the Mercury, he had been “chosen to select some beautiful Madera County woman to grace the float ... and did not know how to go about it.” Maloy put out the word that he was anxiously seeking suggestions on the selection process.


After a few sleepless nights, Maloy came up with a brainstorm. Why not pass the buck? Why not make the selection process a popularity contest? It was perfect! Maloy supplied the mechanism, and the people of Madera County took the heat.


Nomination forms were published daily in the Mercury. Any citizen desiring to promote a particular young lady for this signal honor simply had to clip out the blank, fill it in, and send it to Preciado’s store or to the Chamber of Commerce office. This act alone would count for 500 votes.


Additionally, smaller coupons worth 10 votes were published for the benefit of all who wanted to build up the vote count of their favorite candidate, and as if that wasn’t enough, loyal supporters could go to the Chamber office and buy votes for a penny each.


The Mercury carried the following admonition to all Raisin Queen aspirants: “Girls, if you are not nominated, your man is not treating you properly and should be gently but firmly reasoned with. There are many ways of doing this. Some use a club, but in most cases, a gentle pat on the head or a soulful look will answer the purpose.” It was further asserted that “the contest is the principal topic of conversation about town, and there promises to be lively competition before it is over ...”


On April 9, 1914, the contest began, and the first entry was Mary Jay. Ben Preciado and J.M. Wallace were chosen as judges to safeguard the votes and tally them at the conclusion of the race. On the next day, Elsie Thomas and Alice Rea were nominated, and on the following day, Thane Hope joined the group. On April 13, the front page of the Mercury proclaimed “Friends Enter Miss Lena Northern for Flora, Goddess of Flowers.” Indeed, the contest did promise some lively competition.


At the first tally, on April 17, Miss Rea led the contest with 1,370 votes. Following her was Miss Northern with a 1,160-vote total. In third place was Elsie Thomas with 1,130 tallies. The next count on the 18th, however, revealed “Lena Northern now ... leading.” Her votes numbered 1,780. Miss Rea held second place with 1,550 votes, while Elsie Thomas’ tally stood at 1,240.


By April 20, the contest was at a fever pitch. Lena Northern had picked up an additional 130 votes, and held a narrow lead. Miss Rea’s total was increased by 320 votes, putting her almost even with Miss Northern. The third place position continued to belong to Elsie Thomas, whose vote total remained at 1,240. It was announced that the final count would be held in the chamber office on the following evening.


The Mercury announced that on the 21st, “The Chamber contest has ended amid keen excitement.” Lena Northern, with a last minute burst of enthusiastic support, was chosen Queen. She garnered a total of 7,570 votes, up 5,660 over the previous day! Now the real work began.


She had to be outfitted with regal apparel that would befit royalty from Madera. Then there were the numerous photographs for which she had to pose. Many of these pictures were requested by “newspapers from San Francisco and Los Angeles.” Then in the middle of all this came the disastrous fire which claimed her father’s house at 609 South D Street, just five days before the festivities.


Nevertheless, by April 30, Lena Northern was ready. She represented Madera magnificently in the huge Raisin Day celebration of 1914, and Madera was justifiably proud of its hometown queen.


A carnival spirit reigned on the downtown streets of Fresno, and many Maderans joined in the dancing on the pavement. They had cause for celebration, and Lena Northern Adams had reason to remember.

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