From A to W, as far as the camera could see, America's queens of beauty were arrayed in lace and grace. Miss Alabama stood shoulder to shoulder with Miss Arizona who posed alongside Miss Arkansas -- and on through the alphabet.

But nowhere among the 50 hopefuls was there a Miss District of Columbia. Her last stroll along the footlights came in 1963 -- the last year in which a Miss D.C. was eligible for the Miss America pageant.

That's not to say the nation's capital has no one who, literally or figuratively, measures up to the pageant's standards. In fact, Washington is the hometown of Margaret Gorman, the original Miss America who won the first pageant in 1921.

But for reasons obscured by history, young women of Washington cannot dream of winning the Miss America title in their hometown gowns. Washington no longer has a Miss America franchise -- and therefore cannot enter the Miss America pageant.

It seems like we should have someone in it," said Mary Grin, a middle-aged D.C. resident who watched the contest last weekend but admitted she nodded off before Miss Oklahoma, Susan Powell, 21, won.

But in 1964, Miss America officials decided to turn the pageant into a states-only affair and dumped cities such as Washington and Chicago.

"We simply found that the contests didn't go over in the cities so we dropped them," says Carl Fiore, a former president of the Miss America pageant and now a member of the board of directors.

Fred Fisk -- a local radio personality now at station WAMU who used to emcee the Miss District of Columbia pageant when he worked for its sponsoring station WWDC -- disputes Fiore's version. Street (NW) to see the pageant. It was a big deal with great prizes. Senators, congressmen and everybody loved it," said Fisk.

Irv Lichtenstein, who is now at WEEL but coproduced the pageant locally while working for WWDC, offered yet another version of events.

He says pageant officials told the station it could have only Washington, D.C., residents in the contest: "That ended it. We had a lot of girls from the suburbs in it and we were a metropolitan radio station. So we dropped the franchise."

Would-be Miss Americas of Washington, D.C. are not without hope. Ruth McCandliss, executive secretary of the Miss America pageant, says district residents who want to become "our ideal" can forsake their hometown identity and compete for the Miss Maryland or Miss Virginia titles.

But that doesn't seem to happen.

"We haven't had any girls from Washington enter the Miss Maryland pageant as long as I've been involved with it," says Helen Fox, a Winchester, Va., resident who has been running the Hagerstown-based Miss Maryland contest with her husband Allen since 1966.

The same is true of the state of Virginia. Pageant officials say their entrants come primarily from Richmond, Tidewater and Roanoke, the host city.

There are other contests, however. Washington's pageant impressario, Sid Sussman, annually runs 80 beauty contests throughout the country and locally operates the Miss Metro pageant. The winner competes for the Miss U.S.A. title, a steppingstone to the Miss Universe pageant, a subsidiary of the Gulf-Western Corp.

But those money-making beauty contests forego the talent competition that is an important part of the nonprofit Miss America pageant.

And there also are ethnic contests. The annual winner of the Miss Black Washington, D.C., contest goes on to the Miss Black America and, if she wins the national title, to the Miss Black World pageant.

The apparent lack of interest in the Miss America pageant shown by potential Washington contestants is shared by Margaret Gorman, Washington's first Miss District of Columbia and the original Miss America,

Gorman, who refuses to reveal her age today, wowed the judges in the 1921 pageant in Atlantic City with her 30-25-32 figure. The blue-eyed, blonde from Western High School was said in press reports after the pageant to have been only 15 years old and to have tacked on an extra year to qualify for the contest.

Today, 59 years later, she says: "I'm not interested in it in any way whatsoever."

That apathy extends to Mayor Marion Barry's office. "Of all the things this city is concerned about," said Alan Grip, a spokesman for the mayor "I'd have to say that is the least important."

McCandliss notes that Washington, D.C., could have its franchise restored if it achieved statehood, a concept the mayor, says Grip, finds more appealing.