History

Distinguished Young Women, formerly America’s Junior Miss, was founded in 1958 as a way to reward the accomplishments of high school senior girls seeking to pursue higher education.

Prior to its organization, the Jaycees held an annual event, Azalearama, to promote Mobile, Alabama and the beautiful azaleas which can be found all along the Gulf Coast. Each spring, Azalea Trail Maids were selected from high school senior girls in the area to represent the annual event and they would receive scholarships for college. With few scholarship opportunities available to girls in the 1950s, the Jaycees soon found themselves deluged with applications from Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. Visionaries quickly saw the need to recognize outstanding young women from all across the country and what we now know as Distinguished Young Women was born.

While modest in its beginnings, Distinguished Young Women grew and remains today the largest and oldest scholarship program of its kind for high school girls. With scholarship, leadership and talent as its overarching theme, Distinguished Young Women has drawn over 765,000 young women to compete in the program at the local, state and national level and $106 million in cash scholarships has been awarded to deserving young women. On her way to being named the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2017, Skye Bork, earned over $38,000 through her participation in the state and national programs.

Notable alumnae of the organization include Diane Sawyer (AJM 1963), the late Mary Fran (AJM 1961), Deborah Norville (GA JuniorMiss 1978), Debra Messing (RI Junior Miss 1986) and violinist and YouTube sensation Lindsey Stirling (AZ 2005). We are equally proud of the many other young women who have accomplished their goals through less visible public careers. Linda Rutledge Delbridge (AJM 1973), global sales executive for IBM and Dr. Andrea Plummer Guardenier (AJM 1996), Chief of Pediatrics at Nellis Air force Base, are among the many success stories of Distinguished Young Women.

For the Class of 2018, more than 100 colleges and universities have made available over $1 billion dollars in college-granted scholarships to nearly 3,000 participants in more than 415 local and state programs. With the completion of the 60th National Finals, more than $2.1 million in cash scholarships will have been earned by those young women. Thanks to the dedicated perserverance of thousands of volunteers across the country who devote countless hours and resources to ensure the success of this program, these young women have all been afforded the opportunity to achieve!

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