Arts & Entertainment

100 Rose Queens later, are they still relevant?

Margaret Huntley Main, the 1940 Rose Queen, stands at Tournament House in Pasadena alongside a just-unveiled portrait of 2018 Rose Queen, Isabella Marez of Altadena. Marez is the 100th woman to hold the Rose Queen title since 1905.
Margaret Huntley Main, the 1940 Rose Queen, stands at Tournament House in Pasadena alongside a just-unveiled portrait of 2018 Rose Queen, Isabella Marez of Altadena. Marez is the 100th woman to hold the Rose Queen title since 1905.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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Ask any former Rose Queen if the world still needs Rose Queens, and their talking points align perfectly.

"It's a quintessential American tradition," said Julie Myers King, Rose Queen in 1988.

"Tradition is very important. I am a traditionalist and also a feminist," said Leanna Yamasaki, 1993 Rose Queen.

"Well, it's such a nice tradition," said Ann Hall, Rose Queen in 1957.

Monday’s matchup between University of Oklahoma and the University of Georgia, is the 104th Rose Bowl game. But the Rose Parade has the longer tradition, coming up on 129 years, although not every Rose Parade has had a Rose Queen.

LaSalle High senior Isabella Marez of Altadena is the the 100th woman since 1905 to hold the title of Rose Queen.

At 96, Margaret Huntley Main is the oldest living Rose Queen. She wore the crown in 1940 and helped start the Queens Club after her year, an endeavor that enabled her to meet every single living Rose Queen.

Margaret Huntley Main's official Rose Queen photo from 1940.
Margaret Huntley Main's official Rose Queen photo from 1940.
Courtesy Tournament of Roses

Asked about the continuing relevance of Rose Queens, Main nearly sings out one word, "Tradition!" almost as if it were the signature song from the musical, "Fiddler on the Roof."

In the year Main was chosen, white girls attending Pasadena Junior College were required to try out for queen during gym class or they'd receive demerits known as a "cut." But students of color, like her friend Barbara, were not.

"No, she was an African-American girl. She was able to walk away without any cut and it made me very sad," Main said.

The process became more inclusive in later decades, with the first non-white queen crowned for the 1981 parade.

"I was so proud of the Tournament (of Roses) that they had finally recognized that beauty and intelligence is everywhere, regardless of the color of skin," Main said.

A few Rose Kings have been on the court since 1905, serving alongside the queen and her Royal Court. And there were several years when the Tournament of Roses did not have queens.

The Rose Queen eligibility rules require applicants to be female, unmarried, and living in the Pasadena Area Community College District. They must be full-time students, as a senior in a high school within the community college district or enrolled at another college.

Nearly 1,000 people applied for the Rose Queen and court tryouts.

Main sees a few more barriers that future Rose Queens still might break.

"A lesbian queen, a transgender queen. Who knows," she said.

The Pasadena History Museum has an exhibit on the tradition of the Rose Parade’s Royal Court. It’s open through Feb. 11.