The Miss America protest was a demonstration held at the Miss America 1969 contest on September 7, 1968, attended by about 200 feminists and civil rights advocates. The feminist protest was organized by New York Radical Women and included putting symbolic feminine products into a “Freedom Trash Can” on the Atlantic City boardwalk, including bras, hairspray, makeup, girdles, corsets, false eyelashes, mops, and other items.
While it was widely rumored that the trash can was then lit on fire — sparking the decades-old myth of bra-burning feminists — the protest occurred incident (and flame) free. However, thanks to the widespread media that the pageant already drew, the protest and the cause was heavily covered in newspapers across the nation.
The dramatic, symbolic use of a trash can to dispose of feminine objects caught the media’s attention. Protest organizer Hanisch said about the Freedom Trash Can afterward, “We had intended to burn it, but the police department, since we were on the boardwalk, wouldn’t let us do the burning.” A story by Lindsy Van Gelder in the New York Post carried a headline “Bra Burners and Miss America.” Her story drew an analogy between the feminist protest and Vietnam War protesters who burned their draft cards. Individuals who were present said that no one burned a bra nor did anyone take off her bra.
The parallel between protesters burning their draft cards and women burning their bras were encouraged by organizers including Robin Morgan. The phrase became headline material and was quickly associated with women who chose to go braless. Feminism and “bra-burning” then became linked in popular culture.