Alabama Girls State forges leadership skills, lasting friendships

The American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program teaches rising seniors about government, elections, legislation and more.

The American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program teaches rising seniors about government, elections, legislation and more.

Over 300 rising high school seniors from across the state spent the week of June 2-7 at Troy University hosting elections and debates, competing in field trials and skit nights and learning about all levels of state government during the 82nd session of the American Legion Auxiliary’s Alabama Girls State program.

Participants had a week packed full of hands-on learning opportunities by running for office, attending governmental meetings and legislative sessions and giving campaign speeches. They also had the chance to hear from many accomplished women, including Alabama Senator Katie Boyd Britt; Air Force Maj. (Ret.) Heather “Lucky” Penny; Alice LaCour, attorney; Caroleene Dobson, attorney; Congresswoman Terry Sewell; U.S. District Judge Anna Manasco; Charisse Stokes, President of Tidal IT Solutions; Stacy Fountain, business owner; and more. 

Judge Bill Lewis, Alabama Court of Civic Appeals, Young Boozer, Alabama State Treasurer, Toby Roth, Capitol Resources of Alabama, and Troy University Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. also addressed the delegates during several general sessions. 

Governor Kay Ivey, a former Girls State Lieutenant Governor, spoke to the delegates Tuesday morning about the responsibility of being a good citizen and the importance of patriotism, but also about the impact Girls State will make in their lives. 

“You’re gaining confidence, making friends and building your network. My time at Girls State allowed me to inform and be informed by women across Alabama, forming friendships that aren’t just good and strong, but long-lasting,” she said. “You’re becoming a part of a large network of people that make the world seem a whole lot smaller. No matter the direction you want your life to take, this week at Girls State is preparing you to get there.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey with the Girls State delegates
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey posed for photos with the delegates after her speech.

As a student at Auburn University in 1960s, there were few opportunities for female students to hold true positions of leadership, Ivey said. Instead of running for the women’s Student Government Association, she thought she could make a bigger difference running for office in the male-dominated “regular” SGA. She went on to hold the titles of Freshman Senator, Sophomore Senator, Secretary of the Student Body and was the first female Vice President.

“Whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s about being the person to make a real difference. I knew I’d be able to do that if I chose to run against the boys for SGA,” she said. “Very often, I get asked what it’s like to be a female in a male dominated field, and my response is always the same: I don’t think about it. I firmly believe that whoever is the most qualified person should be the one to get the job, but as I like to say, sometimes the best man for a job is a woman.”

At the closing ceremonies Friday after returning from a trip to Montgomery to see the Governor’s mansion and tour the Capitol Building, each of the city mayors gave a speech and awards and scholarships were announced.

“Not only am I beyond thankful to be an Alabama Girls State delegate, but to also lead Goat Hill as mayor. Throughout this week, this position allowed me to sharpen my leadership skills and build relationships that will last a lifetime,” said Mallorie-Dru Dreibelbis. “The Goat Hill girls have provided the most valuable friendships that will always have a special place in my heart.”

Mattie Pugh, mayor of the city of St. Stephens, said Girls State showed her the meaning of sisterhood.

“As a girl living in a family of all boys, I didn’t know what it was like to have a sister, but here at Girls State I have found my sisterhood and it has truly blessed my life. They have all taught me how to support others, be confident and to pursue my dream,” she said. “These girls are the future of our sweet home Alabama, and I’m truly grateful for the week I’ve had learning and growing with them.”

Every American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program operates through a nonpartisan curriculum where students assume the roles of government leaders, campaigning as “Federalists” and “Nationalists” to become mayors and county and state officials of their ALA Girls State. The girls also live in “cities” within the residence halls.

The first Girls State event was held in 1938, and since 1948 has been a regular part of the Auxiliary’s better citizenship activity nationwide. In 1942, Alabama’s first Girls State was held at Camp Grandview Park with less than 70 girls in attendance.

Alabama Senator Katie Boyd Britt high fived the delegates as she walked up to the stage
US Senator Katie Britt speaks to the opening session of Girls State 2024.