Ruby Treutel’s Spirited 1922 Quest for ‘Queen of the Bridge’

Her reign may have been brief, but for one day in 1922, Ruby V. Treutel was front-page news as the most popular single woman in Wood County, Wisconsin. To help celebrate dedication of a new bridge across the Wisconsin River, the community organized a popularity contest to find the Queen of the Bridge.

The Queen of the Bridge contest invited the nomination of single women of Wood County. The contest winner would preside at the dedication of what came to be called the Grand Avenue Bridge, linking the east and west sides of Wisconsin Rapids over the Wisconsin River. 

Queen of the Bridge wasn't really a beauty contest, but Ruby Treutel would have fared well on that count.
Queen of the Bridge wasn’t really a beauty contest, but Ruby Treutel would have fared well on that count alone.

Miss Ruby Treutel of Vesper was among the early nominees for the Bridge Queen, and she jumped to a lead after the first weekend of balloting in September 1922. The front-page headline in the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune on Sept. 25, 1922, proclaimed: Ruby Treutel and Mary Herron in Spirited Contest. “A spirited race between Miss Ruby Treutel of Vesper and Miss Mary Herron of this city developed as a result of the week end balloting in the Bridge Queen popularity contest,” the article read, “with Miss Treutel leading by slightly over 200 votes of the 43,000 cast for these two candidates.”

Ruby Treutel was in the thick of it at the beginning, but eventually fell behind in voting.
Ruby Treutel was in the thick of it at the beginning, but eventually fell behind in voting.

Ruby’s 22,570 vote total was more than twice that of the third-place contestant and far ahead of the 10 votes for Miss Pearl Brewster. But, like fame and money, the lead would not last as the contest balloting steamed along for two weeks at such a rapid pace the contest was ended early. In the first week, more than 1.3 million ballots were cast. The Bridge Committee had trouble keeping up with the tallying, which would exceed 20 million votes by the end of the contest.

By September 28, 1922, Ruby’s vote total had more than doubled, to 45,240. But this now paled in comparison to contest leaders Eva Manka and Mary Herron, who had more than 500,000 votes between them. On Sept. 30, Herron’s vote total ballooned to 989,000, far exceeding Manka’s new total of 640,000. Ruby was in a respectable fifth place with 171,000 votes. By the time the committee decided to cut voting short on Sept. 30, balloting was at a fever pitch. The final vote totals were:

  • Mary Herron, 5,336,570 votes
  • Mildred Bossert, 3,645,840 votes
  • Eva Manka, 1,763,360 votes
  • Manon Matthews, 1,016,510 votes
  • Margaret Galles, 711,550 votes
  • Alice Damon, 618,550 votes
  • Ruby Treutel, 608,050 votes
  • Maurine Dutcher, 492,410 votes
  • Pearl Possley, 486,600 votes
  • Ruth McCarthy, 460,510 votes

Miss Herron was crowned Queen of the Bridge. On Oct. 18, 1922, she attended the huge dedication ceremony and officially christened the span the “Grand Avenue Bridge.” It was indeed a grand event, with thousands of people, a parade and even aerial acrobatics performed by the Federated Flyers stunt team, which did loops in the sky with its planes, and thrilled the crowd with wing walking.

This 1940 postcard shows the Grand Avenue Bridge in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
This 1940 postcard shows the Grand Avenue Bridge in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.

The Grand Avenue Bridge has long been an important part of Wood County’s infrastructure. The 1922 version replaced an old wood and steel span. Bridges across the Wisconsin River date to the 1870s. In earlier times, bridge was an important link between the former towns of Grand Rapids and Centralia, which later joined to form the city of Wisconsin Rapids.

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