Former Miss Americas are rallying in support of Gretchen Carlson, another former winner brought in to reform the pageant, after state officials pushed for her resignation.
Their move reveals deep divisions over the direction of an organisation that was rocked by a 2017 email scandal and is trying to modernise for the #metoo era.
Ms Carlson, Miss America 1989 and an early figure in the #MeToo movement, announced last month that the pageant was dropping the swimsuit element of the competition.
However, some former directors and state officials said they felt pressured to make the change or risk broadcasters dropping the pageant from television.
Representatives from 22 state pageants signed a petition calling for the resignations of the new Miss America board, including Ms Carlson and Regina Hopper, its chief executive, according to The Press of Atlantic City.
But in a letter to the newspaper, 30 former Miss Americas said they "fully support" Carlson and the board members "who are and have been working tirelessly to move our programme forward”.
The Miss America organisation is regrouping after a December scandal in which emails surfaced in which its then chief executive and board members mocked winners’ intelligence, looks and sex lives. They were forced to resign.
Today, the organisation’s top three posts are held by women and the new leaders have begun making changes.
The petition from the state pageant officials expressed a vote of "no confidence" in the board of trustees. It cited a lack of transparency and adherence to best practices, The Press said.
But the former Miss Americas said in their letter that they "hope the voices of our majority can and will be heard”.
Ms Hopper told The Press on Friday that "there are always those who disagree with or find it hard to accept change", but that the organisation welcomes anyone who wants to move forward with a revitalised programme dedicated to providing scholarships and opportunities to young women.
Suzette Charles, Miss America 1984, said things had begun to “unravel" in the organisation.
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"There’s been a lot of dismay with (Carlson’s) leadership," she said. "We thought she would regard this program with reverence and keep this tradition alive."