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. Phyllis Whitenack, West Virginia’s representative received a $5000 scholarship as the first America’s Junior Miss.

Prior to its organization, the Mobile Jaycees were instrumental in a pageant to promote Mobile, Alabama and the beautiful azaleas which can be found all along the Gulf Coast Region; thus was born the Azalearama Pageant and Azalea Trail Maids were selected from high school senior girls in the area to represent the annual event. To this day, Azalea Trail Maids remain connected to Distinguished Young Women as the city’s official hostesses and each year participate in activities surrounding the National Finals. From the Azalearma Pageant, visionaries of that endeavor saw the need to recognize outstanding young women from all across the country and what we now know as Distinguished Young Women was born. Though the name has changed during the years to reflect changing times, the basic emphasis of the program has remained the same – to reward young women with scholarships, both cash and college-granted, which will allow them to accomplish their immediate goals while following a path to their chosen profession.

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 745,000 young women to compete in the program at the local, state and national level and $104 million in cash scholarships has been awarded to deserving young women. On her way to being named the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2015, Maire Nakada, earned over $60,000 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 Amy Goodman (AJM 1991), a nationally recognized journalist and style expert often seen on Rachael Ray, TODAY, and Good Morning America. 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 2016, nearly 100 colleges and universities have made available over $1.1 billion dollars in college-granted scholarships to over 3,000 participants in more than 400  local, state and national programs. With the completion of the 59th National Finals, over $2.2 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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