"The Finest in Southern Hospitality": the Azalea Trail Maids and the Rhetorical Power of Antebellum Public Memory
Since the Black Lives Matter movement went mainstream in the summer of 2020, the United States has been forced to reckon with its history of white supremacy and the Lost Cause ideology that fuels it. The Azalea Trail Maids are an elite group of high school girls from Mobile County, Alabama who don antebellum-inspired dresses to perform their duties as the city’s official hostesses. This thesis explores the intersecting tensions of gender, race, region, and class that the girls must navigate in order to perform their duties as they serve as role models for Mobile’s young women and girls. My research question is, how do the Azalea Trail Maids communicate ideals of Southern femininity? I investigate this question through two rhetorical case studies, exploring the organization’s fundraising calendar and its internal rule book for members, and through one qualitative case study featuring individual semi-structured interviews of former Trail Maids.