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Miss America Madison Marsh on Breaking Barriers


Madison Marsh threw every stereotype out the window when she won the title of Miss America in January. The Fort Smith, Arkansas native is the first active-duty military member to win the title. She claimed her multifaceted approach to womanhood, and an onlooking generation behind her is grateful.

Madison has a laundry list of accolades, and anyone watching her world might ask, “When does she sleep?” But that’s not really on her radar either! She is running this fast-paced race to passionately chase her goals and big plans for the remainder of her year.

We recently snagged some time with Madison to learn more about her role as Miss America, her love of Arkansas, the endeavors she represents, and what the world can learn from this determined woman.

Image provided by the Miss America Organization.

Q: You are six months into this title and new role. What have been the three highlights so far?

A: My best highlight has been the USAFA Homecoming Event in Colorado Springs, Colorado I brought my Miss America sisters to the United States Air Force Academy to show them my home and what it means to serve our country. Two other events also stand out – Superbowl LVIII in Las Vegas, Nevada I loved watching the game and meeting Glen Powell. Then, I went to the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH, where I saw so much Air Force history and spoke on service, the Whitney Marsh Foundation, grief, goal setting and more.

Q: We love to tell stories about “firsts!” What does it feel like to be in a pioneering role?

A: I hope to open doors for other women to do what they want, be what they want to be, and not feel confined to any particular box, like the stereotypes about women in the military and pageants. Being feminine doesn’t take away from my ability to lead. Hopefully, I can draw more women to join the armed forces and/or compete in Miss America

Q: How do you find that your active military officer role shapes your time as Miss America?

A: It has helped me balance my time in an organized fashion. It has also allowed me to show that women can be multifaceted in their roles. I also represent myself using the Air Force Core values, “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.”

Madison recently received a proclamation from the city of Fort Smith for her family’s active work in cancer research and community service. The image was provided by the US Marshals Museum.

Q: Tell me about the Whitney Marsh Foundation, named in honor of your mom.

A: We established The Whitney Marsh Foundation in 2018, just after my mother passed away from pancreatic cancer. The goal is to bring awareness to the warning signs of pancreatic cancer since it is often misdiagnosed. In addition, we raise funds to provide for research and prevention methods. We are primarily based in Arkansas to give back to our hometown, Fort Smith. To date, we’ve raised well over a quarter million dollars. This year, we aim to raise over $100K and have over 500 runners attend Whitney’s Race on Nov. 9.

Q: Tell us about the testing program your family established in Fort Smith, funded by Whitney’s Race.

A: If there are patients who need financial assistance and are at risk for pancreatic cancer, we will fund Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith to conduct a cancer blood screening.

Air Force 2nd Lt. Madison Marsh prepares for a familiarization flight at Nellis Air Force Base.

Q: What inspired you to want to join the U.S. Air Force?

A: I had a dream of becoming an astronaut. I knew the Air Force and the Air Force Academy would give me the best shot on that journey.

Q: You’ve overcome a lot and dealt with many challenging things. What keeps you motivated?

A: Knowing that I have the gift of being here every day when others, like my mom, no longer do pushes me. Because of that, I need to wake up and do things with love and passion daily.

Q: What next thing is coming up for you?

A: After my year as Miss America, I will be wrapping up plans for a June 2025 wedding to my fiancé, Walker. I’ll then head back to Harvard Kennedy School to finish my master’s in public policy, grow the Whitney Marsh Foundation, and continue my service in the Air Force.

While Madison hopes to attend the Miss Arkansas pageant June 8-15 at the Robinson Center in Little Rock, she mostly cheers for her friend Cori Keller, the current reigning Miss Arkansas. These girls, along with Arkansas native and current Miss New York Amelia Collins, made strong connections during the Miss America competition.

Miss Arkansas Pageant

June 8-15 | Little Rock
Get tickets and learn more, or follow the competition details online.

Additionally, tickets may be purchased by calling the Robinson Center Box Office at 501-244-8800.

Stay in touch with Madison Marsh and the Miss America organization.
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

The U.S. Marshal’s Museum in Fort Smith provided the story cover image from Madison’s recent hometown welcome event.


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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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