Distinguished Young Women

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Distinguished Young Women, formerly known as America's Junior Miss, is a national non-profit organization that provides scholarship opportunities to high school senior girls.[1] Depending on the schedule of the various state and local programs, young women are eligible during the summer preceding their senior year in high school. This program is designed to provide young women with the opportunity and support needed to succeed before, during, and after attending college. In addition, through the Distinguished Young Women Life Skills program, which includes workshops and online resources, participants can learn skills like interviewing, public speaking, self-confidence building and much more. Since its creation in 1958, over 700,000 young ladies have participated in competitions spanning the United States. Participants compete in the categories of Interview (25%), Scholastics (25%), Talent (20%), Fitness (15%), and Self-Expression (15%). Each state hosts a state program in which the chosen representative advances to the national program, held in the program's birthplace of Mobile, Alabama. Each year the Distinguished Young Women program gives out over $1 billion in scholarships. The Distinguished Young Women program is free to enter.[2]


Early years[edit]

In the late 1920s, Mobile's Junior Chamber of Commerce, known today as the Jaycees, began the earliest form of the Junior Miss program as an annual floral pageant in the spring to encourage participation from residents in local beautification projects, including azalea flowers. The winner of the pageant would eventually choose her successor to carry on the role of representing the annual program: an act similar to what every America's Junior Miss has done a year after winning the title, but it's the judges who decide first.

Shortly after the Second World War, the Junior Chamber changed the program especially for young high school juniors to participate. Prizes included the honor of being queen of the Azalea Trail Maids, Mobile's official hostesses at special events. Before 1957, the Junior Chamber realized that not only were Mobilians participating in their program, so were Mississippi and Florida residents. It was decided that year to make the program national, allowing high school seniors from every state to participate in the renamed America's Junior Miss. Unlike the Miss America pageant which started as a beauty pageant, but now includes judging on Evening Gown, Private 12 Minute Interview, On Stage Q & A, and Swimsuit, America's Junior Miss has always been a scholarship program. America's Junior Miss participants were required to be seniors in high school and were judged on scholastic achievement, creative and performing arts, physical fitness, poise and appearance, and a judges' interview. Bathing suits were never a part of the America's Junior Miss.[2]

The first national finals were held in March 1958 at the Saenger Theater in downtown Mobile, with 18 states represented.[2] Phyllis Whitenack of West Virginia won $5000 in scholarship money, along with the title of America's Junior Miss.


In 1963, all 50 states had their own Junior Miss in the national finals. The 1960s was a decade of excellence for the America's Junior Miss program, with new sponsors such as Kodak and Chevrolet, the program was able to continue increasing scholarship beyond $24,000 and bring Mobile's annual event before the eyes of network television viewers regularly for 20 years starting in 1965. From 1965-1972, the pageant was telecast on NBC. Among the entertainers invited to perform at the finals early in the Sixties was Eddie Fisher. In this decade, two holders of the Junior Miss title would soon lead successful careers while supporting the organization that helped them along the way. Missouri Junior Miss and America's Junior Miss 1961 Mary Frann would one day appear on TV programs such as "Newhart" and numerous variety shows in her acting career. Frann helped found the alumnae organization America's Junior Miss Council in 1995. Kentucky Junior Miss and America's Junior Miss 1963 Diane Sawyer continued to support the program as her career in journalism continued, which led to a position at the ABC Television Network program "Good Morning America" and most recently to be the second woman to individually hold the anchor chair nationally for a nightly news program World News on ABC television (Barbara Walters, Elizabeth Vargas and Connie Chung co-anchored with male counterparts).


The New Seekers appeared at the May 1973 finals, hosted by Ed McMahon. Beginning in 1973, the telecast aired annually on CBS, where it would stay through 1985. Actor Michael Landon would host the national finals for the first time in 1974, his first out of seven appearances. Also in 1974, Donna Alexander of New Jersey, became the first black female to reach this point of the competition. Alumni from this decade include America's Junior Miss 1973 Linda Rutledge Delbridge of Kansas, who would one day become a computer scientist and executive for IBM. Georgia Junior Miss 1976 Deborah Norville followed a journalism career path that would earn her the job of hosting the syndicated news program "Inside Edition". Maryland Junior Miss 1971 was Kathie Lee Gifford, who would one day host a syndicated talk show with TV personality Regis Philbin. In spite of never advancing to the 1971 finals, Georgia contender Kim Basinger would later have an acting career that would lead her to an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the movie L.A. Confidential. Before becoming a Tony Award-winning producer, Bonnie Comley, won the talent competition in the Junior Miss Massachusetts program in 1977.


Andy Gibb performed for the audience and the Junior Misses participating at the 1980 national finals. One year later, the format known as "theater in the round" was introduced for the finals and its television broadcasts. Mary Frann returned for the finals in 1985 to co-host with Caitlyn Jenner, the last telecast in an annual run on CBS that began in 1973. The outreach program "Be Your Best Self" became the official platform of the America's Junior Miss program in 1987, when Wisconsin's Junior Miss Chuti Tiu became the first non-Caucasian national winner. America's Junior Miss 1980 Julie Bryan Moran hosted the finals in 1988. The national finals were moved from the Mobile Civic Center arena to the theater section in 1989. Among the Junior Miss participants in this decade who would become well known were Georgia's Julie Moran, who would anchor the syndicated TV program "Entertainment Tonight" and 1986 Rhode Island Junior Miss Debra Messing, whose acting career led to earning one of the leading roles in the sitcom "Will & Grace". At the end of the Eighties, the name of the program was changed to "America's Young Woman of the Year" to renew interest, but it was later realized that this new identity was unlike the long established brand of America's Junior Miss that interested many participants. The name "America's Junior Miss" would be restored in 1993.


In 1994, the America's Junior Miss finals once again became a national event on television. One of the guests this time was actor Brian Austin Green of the TV series "Beverly Hills, 90210". One year later, the NBC Television Network stopped televising the finals. The judging criteria for the local and national levels of the program would be revamped in 1995. With help from David G. Bronner of the Retirement Systems of Alabama and Raycom Media, viewers got to see Alabama's Junior Miss Tyrenda Williams become the first black America's Junior Miss in 1997 and earn $30,000 in scholarship out of a total of $97,500 for the winners. The number of stations airing the national finals would increase from 50 to 177 in 1998. The 1999 finals, hosted by 1976 Georgia Junior Miss Deborah Norville aired tape-delayed on The Nashville Network, which would air the event live in 2000 and 2001.


In 2000, for the first time ever, a scholarship of $50,000 was the top prize and Utah Junior Miss Jesika Henderson earned it along with the title of America's Junior Miss that year. Both Deborah Norville and Karen Morris Gowdy took part in the 2001 finals, with Norville hosting the finals and Gowdy handling the preliminary round. Singer Toby Keith provided entertainment for the finals. Dan Marino joined Norville for the finals in 2002, which aired nationally on the PAX TV network. Billy Gilman and 3rd Faze were also part of the 2002 finals. The 2004 finals were a little different from previous years, as the 50 Junior Misses were taped for documentary segments spanning their two weeks of preparation.

In 2005, the AJM Board of Directors' executive committee was unsuccessful at retaining sponsors and a major television network willing enough to broadcast the national finals. The Board of Directors had no choice but to make the 2005 national finals on June 25 possibly the very last for America's Junior Miss. After Mississippi's Junior Miss Kelli Lynn Schutz was chosen and given a $50,000 scholarship, she was not originally scheduled for any of the traditional AJM appearances. The 2005 finals, hosted by 2000 America's Junior Miss Jesika Henderson and actor Nicky Brown, airing live on the Mobile CBS affiliate WKRG-TV and pre-recorded for PAX TV on June 27 was a celebration of all 48 years of accomplishing a feat that no other organization similar to AJM would attempt: prepare and encourage the lives of young women beginning to enter a new world of possibility.

The organization had originally set a date of September 30, 2005 to end operations. A group of concerned Junior Miss supporters, under the band of Friends of AJM and with the website saveajm.org, fought for the continuation of the program. On August 9 the board of directors decided that the national finals should continue to be held in Mobile, only without any national television coverage as part of the new budget.

Through the efforts of Junior Miss supporters across the country, America's Junior Miss continued operations from the national headquarters in Mobile. The board of directors hired Becky Jo Peterson, formerly chair of the California Junior Miss program, as the new executive director. In June 2006, 50 state Junior Misses spent two weeks in Mobile, Alabama, for the 49th annual national finals where Kentucky's Junior Miss Taylor Phillips was chosen as the new America's Junior Miss. More than $100,000 in scholarships were awarded at the national finals to the class of 2006.

2007 marked the 50th anniversary of America's Junior Miss. The national finals were held June 28–30 at the Mobile Civic Center Theater in Mobile, where more than $150,000 in scholarships were awarded.


It was announced on June 26, 2010 that America's Junior Miss would now be renamed Distinguished Young Women.[1] This change was intended in part to help differentiate the program from pageants. Idaho's Madison Denise Leonard was named America's first Distinguished Young Woman.[3] Tennessee's Katye Brock was Named America's 2011 Distinguished Young Woman.[4] Christina Maxwell of Asheville, North Carolina was named Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012. Nicole Renard of Washington State was named Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2013. Brooke Rucker of Georgia was the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2014. On June 27, 2015, Alaska's Máire Nakada was named the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2015. In 2016, Tara Moore of South Carolina was named Distinguished Young Woman of America. The next year saw Skye Bork of DC named Distinguished Young Woman of 2017. On June 30, 2018, Aaryan Morrison from Kokomo, Indiana was named Distinguished Young Woman of 2018.


2020 saw the competition held for the first time virtually resulting from COVID-19 pandemic.

Past winners[edit]

Year Date Winner State/District City Age Awards Talent Notes
1958 March 1, 1958 Phyllis Whitenack[5] West Virginia West Virginia Bluefield 17 Dramatic monologue Given title "Junior Miss America"[5]
1959 March 7, 1959 Judi Humphrey[6] Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Lewistown 17 Dramatic reading,
"If—" by Rudyard Kipling
Title renamed "America’s Junior Miss"
1960 March 26, 1960 Maureen Sullivan[7] Connecticut Connecticut West Haven 17
1961 March 24, 1961 Mary Frances Luecke[8] Missouri Missouri St. Louis 18
1962 March 23, 1962 Jean Allen[9] Rhode Island Rhode Island Providence 17
1963 March 16, 1963 Diane Sawyer[10] Kentucky Kentucky Louisville 17 Former anchor of ABC World News[11]
1964 March 21, 1964 Linda Felber[12] Washington (state) Washington Colfax 18
1965 March 19, 1965 Patrice Gaunder[13] Michigan Michigan St. Joseph 17
1966 March 26, 1966 Diane Wilkins[14] Wisconsin Wisconsin Wauwatosa 18
1967 March 18, 1967 Rosemary Dunaway[15] Arkansas Arkansas Little Rock 18
1968 March 15, 1968 Debi Faubion[16] Oklahoma Oklahoma Norman
1969 May 6, 1969 Jackie Bennington[17] California California Huntington Beach
1970 May 13, 1970 Karen Stenwall[18] Arizona Arizona Phoenix 18 Ballet
1971 May 5, 1971 Arlene Stens[19] New Jersey New Jersey Woodlynne 18
1972 May 9, 1972 Lydia Hodson[20][21] Kentucky Kentucky Lexington 17
1973 May 9, 1973 Linda Rutledge[22] Kansas Kansas Fort Leavenworth 18 Classical piano
1974 May 6, 1974 Karen Morris[23] Wyoming Wyoming Cheyenne 18 Preliminary Fitness

Preliminary Poise & Appearance
1975 May 6, 1975 Julie Ann Forshee[24] Arkansas Arkansas Fayetteville 17 Preliminary Fitness

Preliminary Poise & Appearance
Ballet/Gymnastics routine,
"Music Box Mannequin"
1976 May 10, 1976 Lenne Jo Hallgren[25] Washington (state) Washington Clarkston 18
1977 May 9, 1977 Christy Moller[26] Arkansas Arkansas Ballet, "Doll on a Music Box"
1978 May 8, 1978 Kim Crosby[27] Missouri Missouri Springfield 17 Preliminary Poise & Appearance Vocal, Medley from Cinderella Starred in Guys and Dolls and Into the Woods on Broadway[28]
1979 April 14, 1979 Susan Horvath[29] Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Johnstown 17 Preliminary Fitness

Preliminary Poise & Appearance
1980 July 2, 1980 Julie Bryan[30] Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia Thomasville 18 Vocal, Medley from The King and I Former weekend anchor and co-host for Entertainment Tonight[31]
1981 June 18, 1981 Kimberly Smith[32] North Carolina North Carolina Raleigh 17 Preliminary Talent Acrobatic jazz dance,
"Be a Clown"
1982 June 22, 1982 Susan Hammett[33] Mississippi Mississippi Hattiesburg 17 Vocal, "First Love"
1983 June 21, 1983 Stephanie Ashmore[34] Alabama Alabama Muscle Shoals 18 Overall Fitness

Overall Poise & Appearance
Ballet, "Bless the Beasts" Mother of Distinguished Young Women of Mississippi 2012, Mallory Pitts
1984 June 20, 1984 Amber Kvanli[35] Minnesota Minnesota Willmar 17 Vocal, "The Varsity Drag"
1985 June 21, 1985 Valerie Lowrance[36] Texas Texas Seguin 17 Overall Fitness Song and dance routine,
"New York, New York"
1986 June 21, 1986 Lori Jo Smith[37] Virginia Virginia Vienna 18 Jazz dance
1987 June 20, 1987 Chuti Tiu[38] Wisconsin Wisconsin West Allis 17 Classical piano First non-Caucasian winner[39]

Later Miss Illinois 1994[39]
1988 June 25, 1988 Kristen Logan[40] Mississippi Mississippi Hattiesburg 17 Overall Fitness Vocal, "Somewhere Out There"
1989 July 22, 1989 Kristin Huxhold[41] Missouri Missouri Kirkwood 18 Overall Interview Vocal Title renamed "America's Young Woman of the Year"

Appeared on Broadway in ensemble of Les Misérables[42]
1990 July 14, 1990 Sara Martin[43] Illinois Illinois Schaumburg 19 Vocal Later Miss Illinois 1993[44]
1991 June 26, 1991 Amy Goodman[45] California California
1992 June 27, 1992 Tiffany Stoker[46] Clovis Vocal Later Miss California 1995[47]
3rd runner-up at Miss America 1996 pageant[48]
1993 June 26, 1993 Rebecca Jones[49] Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia Calhoun 18 Title renamed "America's Junior Miss"
1994 July 23, 1994 Amy Osmond[50] Utah Utah Bountiful 17 Spirit Award Violin Niece of Donny and Marie Osmond[51]
1995 July 1, 1995 Kiersten Rickenbach[52] New Jersey New Jersey Washington Township 18 Dance Died of cocaine overdose in 2015[52]
1996 June 29, 1996 Andrea Plummer[53] Tennessee Tennessee Collierville 18 Ballet, "Forrest Gump Suite" Later Miss New York 2001, 4th runner-up at Miss America 2002 pageant
1997 June 29, 1997 Tyrenda Williams[54] Alabama Alabama Birmingham 18 First African American crowned[5]
1998 June 29, 1998 Susan Davidson[55] Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Butler 18 Overall Scholastics

Overall Talent
Piano, "Toccatta" by Aram Khachaturian
1999 June 28, 1999 Sarah Jane Everman[56] Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia Kennesaw 18 Fitness Category

Presence & Composure Category
Vocal, "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl Appeared in Wicked, Bright Star, and Cats on Broadway[57]
2000 June 28, 2000 Jesika Henderson[51] Utah Utah St. George 18 Modern dance, "Stradivarius"
2001 June 27, 2001 Carrie Colvin[58] Alabama Alabama Birmingham 18 Jazz dance,
"America" from West Side Story
2002 June 28, 2002 Amy Kerr[59] Oregon Oregon Keizer Overall Poise

Overall Talent
Operatic vocal,
"Quando m'en vò" from La bohème
2003 June 28, 2003 Andrea Finch[60] California California Indio 18
2004 June 26, 2004 Shannon Essenpreis[61] Texas Texas Garland 18 Overall Self Expression Vocal
2005 June 26, 2005 Kelli Schutz[62] Mississippi Mississippi Brandon Overall Fitness

Overall Self Expression
Ballet Married to former NFL quarterback, Brodie Croyle[63]
2006 June 28, 2006 Taylor Phillips[10] Kentucky Kentucky Versailles Dance
2007 June 30, 2007 Nora Ali[64] Minnesota Minnesota Mendota Heights 17 Violin, "Zigeunerweisen," by Pablo de Sarasate
2008 June 28, 2008 Lindsey Brinton[65][66] Utah Utah Salt Lake City 18 Fitness Category

Interview Category

Scholastics Category

Talent Category
Piano Previously Miss Utah's Outstanding Teen 2007[67]
1st runner-up at Miss America's Outstanding Teen 2008 pageant[68]
2009 June 27, 2009 Michelle Rodgers[69] Kentucky Kentucky Winchester Interview Category Vocal, "Taylor the Latte Boy"
2010 June 26, 2010 Madison Leonard[70] Idaho Idaho Coeur d'Alene Vocal/Piano, "The Nearness of You" by Hoagy Carmichael Title renamed "Distinguished Young Woman"[71]
2011 June 25, 2011 Katye Brock[72] Tennessee Tennessee Tullahoma 18 Vocal, "Defying Gravity" from Wicked
2012 June 30, 2012 Christina Maxwell[73] North Carolina North Carolina Asheville 18 Vocal, "The Phantom of the Opera"
2013 June 29, 2013 Nicole Renard[74] Washington (state) Washington Kennewick 18 Talent Category Musical theater dance,
"Amazing Mayzie" from Seussical
Previously Miss Washington's Outstanding Teen 2011[75]

Later Miss Washington 2017[76]
2014 June 28, 2014 Brooke Rucker[77] Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia Cartersville 18 Fitness Category

Interview Category
Tap dance,
"Hot Honey Rag" from Chicago
2015 June 27, 2015 Máire Nakada[78] Alaska Alaska Anchorage 18 Interview Category

Talent Category
Irish step dance,
"Trolleyed" by Beoga
2016 June 25, 2016 Tara Moore[79] South Carolina South Carolina Easley Fitness Category

Self-expression Category

Talent Category
Jazz dance
2017 July 1, 2017 Skye Bork[80] Washington, D.C. District of Columbia Washington, D.C. 18 Fitness Category

Interview Category

Self-expression Category

Scholastics Category

Talent Category
Classical ballet en pointe, "Carmen Suite No. 1 Aragonaise" by Georges Bizet
2018 June 30, 2018 Aaryan Morrison[81] Indiana Indiana Kokomo Interview Category

Scholastics Category

Talent Category
Lyrical dance, "To Build a Home" First generation South African American[82]
2019 June 29, 2019 Dora Guo[83] Illinois Illinois Vernon Hills Interview Category

Scholastics Category
Traditional Mongolian fan dance First generation Chinese American
2020 June 27, 2020 Elif Ozyurekoglu Kentucky Kentucky Louisville
2021 June 26, 2021 Destiny Cluck[84] Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia Kennesaw Ballet en pointe, Astor Piazzolla’s “Primavera Portena”
2022 June 25, 2022 Katelyn Cai[85] Arizona Arizona Scottsdale Scholastics Category

Interview Category

Talent Category

Self-expression Category

Fitness Category
Contemporary dance routine, “This Woman’s Work,” by Kate Bush Previously Miss Arizona's Outstanding Teen 2019

1st runner-up at Miss America's Outstanding Teen 2020
2023 June 24, 2023 Carrington Hodge Alabama Alabama Helena Interview Category

Talent Category

Self-expression Category

Fitness Category
Dance routine, "Blackbird"

Winners by state[edit]

State Number of
titles won
Year(s) won
1963, 1972, 2006, 2009, 2020
Georgia 1980, 1993, 1999, 2014, 2021
1969, 1991, 1992, 2003
Alabama 1983, 1997, 2001, 2023
1964, 1976, 2013
Utah 1994, 2000, 2008
Mississippi 1982, 1988, 2005
Pennsylvania 1959, 1979, 1998
Missouri 1961, 1978, 1989
Arkansas 1967, 1975, 1977
1970, 2022
Illinois 1990, 2019
North Carolina 1981, 2012
Tennessee 1996, 2011
Minnesota 1984, 2007
Texas 1985, 2004
New Jersey 1971, 1995
Wisconsin 1966, 1987
District of Columbia 2017
South Carolina 2016
Alaska 2015
Idaho 2010
Oregon 2002
Virginia 1986
Wyoming 1974
Kansas 1973
Oklahoma 1968
Michigan 1965
Rhode Island 1962
Connecticut 1960
West Virginia 1958

States without winners[edit]

There have been no winners from the following states:

  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont


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External links[edit]