In the late 1920's, Mobile, Alabama's Junior Chamber of Commerce, (the Jaycees) began conducting an annual spring floral program to encourage city beautification projects. The program focused on highlighting Mobile's abundance of beautiful azaleas that blossom in the spring. Each year, the Jaycees selected a young woman to represent the annual event. Soon after World War II, they began to invite high school senior girls to compete for modest awards and the chance to be the Queen of the Azalea Trail Maids. To this day, the Azalea Trail Maids, with their distinctive antebellum dresses, serve as Mobile's official hostesses and play a major role in Distinguished Young Women activities.
By 1957, young women from Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi began competing in the "Azalearama Pageant." The program's popularity grew and the Jaycees decided to establish a scholarship program in which young women from all over the United States could participate - the America's Junior Miss program was born. The first America's Junior Miss program was held in Mobile in 1958 with representatives from 18 states. It was a modest beginning – the contestants, orchestra, and stage crew outnumbered the audience – but the program was a success. Thanks to supporters from the local community, Junior Miss awarded $10,000 in cash scholarships to the contestants. The winner that year was Phyllis A. Whitenack of West Virginia, who received a $5,000 scholarship. It didn't take long for word of this new program to spread, and Mobile played host to contestants from all 50 states in 1961.
Throughout the years, America's Junior Miss continued to attract the nation's brightest and most talented young women. Diane Sawyer (AJM 1963), the late Mary Fran (AJM 1961), Deborah Norville (Georgia's Junior Miss 1975) and Debra Messing (Rhode Island's Junior Miss 1986) are a few of the program's celebrity faces. We are proud to have helped these women on their road to success and equally proud of the thousands of other past participants who have achieved success through less visible careers, such as Dr. Linda Rutledge Delbridge (AJM 1973), a computer scientist and executive with IBM, Amy Goodman (AJM 1991), an author, former correspondent for InStyle Magazine and current host of Washington's Flyer TV, and Dr. Kiersten Rickenbach (AJM 1995), a certified dermatologist and Chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Brooklyn Hospital Center.
Over the past 54 years, the program has evolved and adapted to ensure that it remains the premier scholarship program for high school girls. Though many elements of the program have changed through the years, the program's goals and purpose remain the same. In the spring of 2010, following many months of research, it was officially decided that America's Junior Miss would receive a facelift to maintain relevancy with today's young woman and to help in attracting new support for the program. At the National Finals competition on June 26, 2010, Distinguished Young Women was announced as the program's new name.