Written By: Lily Rothman, Liz Ronk

In today’s world, the schoolteachers who are appreciated by society are, we hope, those who inspire children to learn and whose classrooms will long be remembered by their students as the places where education came alive. In 1953, those things were important too. But, judging by this LIFE story from that February, skill wasn’t all that mattered.

Nell Owen taught speech class to first- through sixth-graders in Dallas, and she was—according to a contest to which her students submitted her picture—the “prettiest teacher in the U.S.” The contest, as LIFE explained, was sponsored by the hit CBS radio (and later television) program Our Miss Brooks, which starred Eve Arden as a high-school teacher. The prize was a trip to meet Arden in Hollywood. Though the show was a comedy, its subject matter wasn’t all frivolous: the first episode starts with Miss Brooks’ enthusiasm for her work and another episode depicted Miss Brooks confronting the lack of resources for heating fuel at her school.

That juxtaposition of lightheartedness and serious education matters would also prove appropriate for a contest won by Owen. While the ranking of elementary-school teachers by their looks seems quite retrograde these days, her career was about more than her face. The principal of her school told LIFE that he had worried she would be “another discipline case” whom “those kiddos will take…by storm.” After a year of teaching, at only 21 years old, Owen had been dubbed “durable as she is fetching.”

 

Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

Nell Owen, voted "prettiest school teacher in the U.S." in 1953

Nell Owen, voted “prettiest school teacher in the U.S.” in 1953.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Prettiest School Teacher 1953

Nell Owen listened intently as sixth-grader Kathy Kennmer gave an extemporaneous speech to class.

John Dominis The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Prettiest School Teacher 1953

Mrs. Owen gave her students tips on speaking: “Don’t look off all around the room…if you don’t know what you’re talking about, nobody else will.”

John Dominis The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Prettiest School Teacher 1953

Nell Owen addressed her class in Dallas, 1953.

John Dominis The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Prettiest School Teacher 1953

Nell Owen addressed her class, 1953.

John Dominis The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Prettiest School Teacher 1953

Nell had been married for nearly two years to George Owen, a chemical manufacturer.

John Dominis The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Prettiest School Teacher 1953

Nell’s students saw her off on her trip to Hollywood.

John Dominis The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Prettiest School Teacher 1953

Bound for Hollywood, Nell received farewell hugs from some of her students at the airport.

John Dominis The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Prettiest School Teacher 1953

Nell and husband George boarded the plane for Hollywood.

John Dominis The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Prettiest School Teacher 1953

Nell enjoyed her visit to a Hollywood nightclub.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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