Heiress Running for Democrats was Queen of Whites-Only Pageant
An heiress to the Anheuser-Busch brewery fortune who is running for the Democratic nomination to the US Senate from Missouri was crowed queen of a whites-only beauty pageant in the 1970s, according to a new report by the Intercept.
Trudy Busch Valentine won the “Queen of Love and Beauty” crown at the St. Louis Veiled Prophet Ball in 1977 — during a time when the competition specifically banned people of color and Jews from participating.
Photos unearthed by the outlet show Busch Valentine, who entered the Senate primary on Monday, next to the pageant’s titular “veiled prophet,” who donned a white sheet over his head similar to Ku Klu Klan garb.
The pageant was denounced by “The Office” actress Ellie Kemper last June when it was revealed she had won the same crown in 1999.
“The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist, and elitist past,” Kemper said at the time.
While Kemper claimed ignorance of the organization’s history, two civil rights protesters were arrested for demonstrating against the ball the year Busch Valentine won, the Intercept reported, adding that the event went off under extremely tight security.
Busch Valentine told The Post she “failed to fully grasp the situation” when she participated in the ball.
“I believe in the importance of working together and healing divisions — and that starts with acknowledging my own past shortcomings,” Busch Valentine said. “I should have known better, and I deeply regret and I apologize that my actions hurt others. My life and work are way beyond that, and as a candidate for Missouri’s next US Senator, I pledge to work tirelessly to be a force for progress in healing the racial divisions of our country.”
Busch Valentine apparently went back to the ball at least twice after winning the Queen of Love and Beauty crown, including once in 1990 despite years of protests from civil rights advocates.
Busch Valentine is running for the open Senate seat vacated by Republican Senator Roy Blunt, who announced his retirement in March 2021. She is the daughter of longtime Anheuser-Busch chairman and former St. Louis Cardinals owner August Anheuser “Gussie” Busch Jr. and the great-granddaughter of Anheuser-Busch’s German-born co-founder Adolphus Busch.
She described herself as still being a “nurse at heart” in her campaign announcement.
She’s a widowed mother of six and said the death of her eldest son from an opioid overdose in 2020 in part motivated her to run for office.
“Matt’s death brought so much sadness,” she said in a video announcing her candidacy. “But it also reignited the passion in me to make a positive difference for others, this time on a larger scale.”
Other Democratic contenders include Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, St. Louis County startup owner Spencer Toder, Kansas City activist Tim Shepard and Air Force veteran Jewel Kelly.
Kunce, considered the Democratic front-runner, had raised the most of any Missouri Senate candidate as of the end of last year. His campaign on Tuesday painted him as the outsider candidate and took a dig at Busch Valentine’s inherited wealth.
“Missouri deserves a warrior for working people, a proven patriot who’s served his country, who has the courage to stand up to criminal politicians, corrupt elites running massive multinational corporations, and billionaire heiresses who have been stripping our communities for parts,” Kunce campaign spokesman Connor Lounsbury said in a statement. “Lucas Kunce is that warrior.”
Kimball said whoever the Democratic nominee is will face an uphill battle in Missouri, where Republicans now dominate statewide politics.
Busch Valentine, daughter of the late chairman of the Anheuser-Busch Companies, described herself as an independent candidate open to talking to people with different viewpoints, although she didn’t go into much detail on her political agenda.
“Most Missouri families include Democrats, Independents and Republicans. Mine sure does,” Busch Valentine said. “But it seems we’ve lost our ability to be understanding and compassionate for each other. We have so much more that unites us than divides us. We just need to talk to each other again.”
One of her siblings, August Busch III, donated to Greitens’ 2016 gubernatorial campaign, although he also gave to other Republican gubernatorial candidates.
Busch Valentine has raised money for Democrats and hosted a fundraiser for former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2015. She gave $5,400 directly to Clinton’s 2016 campaign and another $33,400 to a pro-Clinton political action committee.
Busch Valentine also has contributed to Democrats Jason Kander and former Sen. Claire McCaskill’s U.S. Senate campaigns, Republican U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner’s most recent two Democratic opponents for her suburban St. Louis seat, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
Outside of politics, Busch Valentine has donated at least $7 million to St. Louis University, including a $4 million contribution in 2019 that prompted college leaders to rename the nursing school after her. She graduated from the nursing school in 1980 and currently serves on the university’s board of trustees.
Busch Valentine’s announcement comes amid widespread calls from Republicans for Eric Greitens to drop out of the race after the Republican former governor’s ex-wife accused him of physically abusing her and one of their kids.
The latest scandal renewed Republican concerns that Greitens could win the crowded GOP primary but emerge a damaged candidate in the general election, threatening the party’s chances of keeping what should be a relatively easy win for Republicans.
Some Democrats already are positioning the race as everyone else versus Greitens. In a Monday announcement dropping out of the Democratic primary, former state Sen. Scott Sifton endorsed Busch Valentine and called on other Democrats to unite behind her as “the best chance to win in November.”
Picking a woman to be the Democratic nominee also could help flip the Senate seat if Greitens wins the GOP primary, University of Missouri St. Louis political scientist David Kimball said.
“Assuming that Eric Greitens is the Republican nominee, then that makes for a clear contrast in efforts to highlight allegations of abuse against Greitens and his treatment of his family,” he said.