'America's Most Beautiful Blonde', a Charlottesville Native

By: Venton D. Blandin
By: Venton D. Blandin

November 16, 2005

Could you imagine living during the end of the Victorian era when morals were different?

During the end of the Victorian era, morals were different than they are today, so different, that young women stayed out of the spotlight--even if the spotlight was only in books and photographs.

"A young lady who sought that type of publicity would not get a good husband," said Rick Britton, a local historian.

Maude Coleman Woods, the daughter of an old confederate, was extremely attractive.

"Wasp-waisted, she had a very narrow waist, and was just graceful and demure; all of the qualities in those days which meant a woman was pure in heart," said Britton.

Maude, born in Charlottesville in 1877, was called Virginia's loveliest daughter.

In a flash, things started to change in 1898. Maude joined her father for a reunion of the confederate veterans.

"He had given his permission to allow her to be photographed for a little brochure for that convention," said Britton.

The confederate good ol' boys took her picture as one of the 'Rosebud Garden of Girls.' A New York photographer named Alexander Black was impressed by the pictures, and got her father's permission to take his own for his book, 'Miss America.'

"It's kind of surprising that the father Micajah Woods would allow it, but he did under the condition her name not be printed in the books, just the photographs," said Britton.

But, one year later, Black entered the pictures in a national competition without the consent of Maude, or her father. To their surprise, Maude won and was named 'America's Most Beautiful Blonde.'

"Maude's photograph and name was on the front cover of newspapers--the biggest newspapers, all across the United States," said Britton.

She was mortified, embarrassed, and her father was angry. To escape unsavory publicity, Maude retreated to Claremont, a family estate on the James River. There, she contracted typhoid, and died on August 24, 1901, one day after her 24th birthday.

Like a small candle that flickers too brightly, Maude Coleman's radiance lit up the last year of the Victorian Age, and it to was extinguished.

Maude Coleman Woods lived on High street here in Charlottesville, and is buried at Maplewood Cemetery near downtown.

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