Gladys Zender©Christian Meier
Historic win

Meet Gladys Zender: the first Latina to ever win the Miss Universe pageant

The beauty queen is the mother of well-known actor and singer Christian Meier

Miss Universe was founded 70 years ago on June 28, 1952. It only took four years for a Latin American pageant to win the United States-run and Thailand-based organization’s annual beauty contest.

In 1957, Gladys Rosa Zender de Meier, born October 19, 1939, became the first Latina to win the crown. Representing Peru, the model and beauty queen won when she was only 17 years old in an event held in Long Beach, California, United States.

Miss Universe and jewels, 1958©GettyImages
Meet Gladys Zender: the first Latina to ever win the Miss Universe pageant

Although her historic win didn’t comply with the contest’s minimum age requirement, pageant officials decided that she could keep the crown after they were told she was considered to be 18 in Peru.

Zender became an instant celebrity; therefore, she was considered to take the inaugural flight from Idlewild International Airport in New York City to Limatambo Airport in Lima, Peru. After her landing, she was greeted by thousands of fans.

Gladys also graced the cover of Peru’s most popular news magazine, Caretas, becoming among the celebs featured on the publication’s first all-color cover.

In 1958, Zender met former King of Spain Juan Carlos de Borbon during his 4-day stay in Lima. The pair attended several social events.

Gladys Rosa Zender, which is 83 years old, became the muse of Peruvian composer Alicia Maguiña. She wrote, “Polka a Gladys Zender” (Polka dedicated to Gladys Zender). Titled “La más Hermosa” (The most beautiful), the track was recorded by the Peruvian group Los Troveros Criollos.

After her reign was over

In 1958 Zender passed the crown to Doris Gil Santamaria from Colombia; however, after she got married, Santamaria was forced to resign, making Miss Colombia Luz Marina Zuluaga the second Latina to win the pageant.

Miss Universe five finalists, 1958©GettyImages
Luz Marina Zuloaga

Years later, Zender married Antonio Meier in 1965 and stepped away from the spotlight to raise their four children.

The couple is the parents of well-known actor and singer Christian Meier.

The NBC Universal Experience - Arrivals©GettyImages
Christian Meier

2023 miss universe

The countdown to the 71st annual pageant is on! The night that will forever change a beauty pageant’s life is around the corner. People around the globe are ready to enjoy the 2023 Miss Universe live from New Orleans on Saturday, January 14.

Over eighty candidates representing their country will compete for the Miss Universe crown that will kick off from the Big Easy with new hosts and a new network, at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT., live from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

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