Who are the Azalea Trail Maids?

The dresses of the Azalea Trail Maids are made to resemble the Azalea flowers that grow throughout Mobile.  Editorial credit: Ganeshkumar Durai / Shutterstock.com
The dresses of the Azalea Trail Maids are made to resemble the Azalea flowers that grow throughout Mobile. Editorial credit: Ganeshkumar Durai / Shutterstock.com

The Azalea Trail Maids are 50 girls that are chosen to serve as the official ambassadors of the city of Mobile, Alabama. They are well-known for the large and colorful dresses they wear.

History of the Organization

In 1929, the Mobile Junior Chamber of Commerce, today known as the Mobile Jaycees, setup the Azalea Trail throughout the town. As part of this they urged citizens to plant azaleas in their yards to expand the idea beyond city run property. The project was the idea of Mobile resident and horticulturist Sam Lackland, who though of it upon coming home from a trip to nearby Charleston, South Carolina. It was not long before Mobile earned the nicknamed Azalea City.

In 1935, the first court of maids took place. Each spring the official opening of the Azalea Trail was done by a handful of local debutantes and the city's Mardi Gras royalty. The first Azalea Trail Queen was to be selected was New York City ballerina Marion Bancroft Marshall (?-2000), who served in 1939. By 1949, the first Azalea Trail court was established, creating the Azalea Trail Maids that Mobile knows today.

Two years later the Azalea Trail Festival was established. For several years in the 1950s, the incumbent Miss America served as queen of the court, most notably local resident Yolande Betbeze (1928-2016). Eventually, the organization became very popular, so much so that every Jaycee chapter in Alabama and a couple of neighboring states had a representative in the group. Over time, getting the entire court together at the same time proved to be to a burdensome task.

In 1965, those in charge decided that only 50 representatives, who had to be seniors in Mobile County high schools, could apply to be Azalea Trail Maids. For girls outside of Mobile County, the America's Junior Miss (now known as Distinguished Young Women) was established. Today, the Mobile Jaycees still serve as the sponsors of the Azalea Trail Maid program.

The Selection Process

In order to apply to try to join the selective organization, one must be in their junior year of high school and live in Mobile County. Applicants first interview at their high school and from there each school can send a certain number of representatives based on their student population. The Azalea Trail organization then narrows the field of prospects down to 100 and they are interviewed for the last time in early December by three chosen judges from out of town.

During the final interview process, applicants can expect to be asked a variety of questions on the history and landmarks of Mobile County. They are also asked about a range of topics from personality questions to current national events. The girls will also be evaluated on other merits like their academic success, activity in school clubs, and other volunteer work within the community. These judges then choose the final 50 girls who will become Azalea Trail Maids.

The chosen girls are then soon notified by mail. Shortly after this, the annual coronation ceremony for that year's Azalea Trail Court is held, in which the queen, as well as her first and second ladies-in-waiting, are officially revealed. Their selection is based on a combination of the judge's interview scores with the scholastic score (GPA and ACT score), with the highest scoring girl becoming the Azalea Trail Queen.

Apart from the honor of being chosen, the queen is also provided a full-ride scholarship from Auburn University. The next few months are then used for the girls to design their dresses and pass several dress checks, with the newly elected court starting their year-long reign in May.

The Trail Maids' Outfits

The most noticeable and distinctive part of the Azalea Trail Maids is their outfits, which they have worn since 1950. Forty-nine of the girls are randomly assigned one of following colors: blue, green, lavender, peach, or yellow. The Trail Queen has the honor of being the only one to wear pink. The five main colors are meant to represent spring-time in which the Azalea flowers found all over Mobile start to bloom. Each girl is put into a five-team appearance group, one girl for each color.

The look of the dresses is based on and inspired by antebellum era dresses to give off the classical southern belle look. They also have an extravagant amount of frills and ruffles, which are meant to symbolize the Azalea flowers that bloom each spring. Every dress is custom-made for each girl, each costing a few thousand dollars between paying an assessment fee to the Azalea Trail and the price their dressmaker charges.

The entire ensemble is made up of 10 different pieces: the actual dress, a hoop skirt, pantaloons, finger-less gloves, dyed square-dancing shoes, a hat, a cummerbund, a sash with a bow on it, a longline bra, and a parasol. When the entire outfit is put together it can weight between 40 to 50 pounds.

They also receive a cape lined with fake fur, which is used when it gets cold out. The long pockets of the pantaloons are usually the most personalized part of the outfit, as they often adorned with a girl's initials, an inspirational quote or some kind of design.

Ambassadorial Events

The Azalea Trail Maids serve as “Official Ambassadors” for the city of Mobile, Alabama at many local and some national public events in order to advance tourism to the city and show local hospitality. They are expected to greet visitors to the city and to be knowledgeable in doling out information on Mobile's history and landmarks. They are also meant to personify the ideals of southern hospitality.

They have made appearances at a number of local and state events, like the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, the Dollar General Bowl, the Senior Bowl, Mobile's annual Veteran's Day Parade, Governor Robert Bentley's inauguration, and more. The group usually makes at least one weekly appearance somewhere, usually in or around the city of Mobile.

On a more national scale they have taken part in events like the Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade, the Indianapolis 500, the Cherry Blossom Festival, and more. They have also taken part in the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama and greeted then President-elect Donald Trump when he stopped in Mobile during his December 2016 “Thank You Tour.” Their most notable national event is their seemingly yearly appearance in the annual Easter Parade at Disney World.


More in Society