Despite the poverty, instability, neglect, and abuse she faced as a child, Bettie Page was an upstanding student. She was voted most likely to succeed by her peers in her senior class yearbook. She was also a member of the debate team, the program director of the drama club, secretary-treasurer of the student council, and co-editor of the school newspaper. But Page was most proud of the fact that her intelligence and good study habits had landed her at the top of her class. Her dream was to be valedictorian, which came with a full four-year scholarship to nearby Vanderbilt University, where the tuition would’ve been prohibitively expensive for Page’s family.
Unfortunately, she was sent to live with her abusive father as her high school finals approached. Her mother Edna blamed her for an incident where Edna’s younger lover tried to wrestle Bettie into his car, and, incensed, Edna sent Bettie away, forcing her to leave her exam notes behind.
“I studied so hard,” Page said, “but I was beat out of valedictorian by one-quarter of a point.” Instead, as she regretfully related to director Mark Mori in “Bettie Page Reveals All,” “All I got was a $100 scholarship to George Peabody College for teachers.” She earned a bachelor of arts in 1944, but she spent much of the next decade looking for purpose. She took various secretarial jobs, but she turned her attention to a potential career as a model or actress — and to the charming “sports hero” from the next town over, Billy Neal. Had she attended Vanderbilt, Page may have avoided the pain and heartbreak that awaited her. She called this missed opportunity “the worst disappointment of my life.”