In 1921, the very first Miss Washington, D.C. went on to also become the very first Miss America. The 16-year-old competed against a handful of beauties to take home the mermaid trophy, given to “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America.”
Since then, the pageant has grown to expect more from its contestants than beauty and personality by pushing the young women who compete to be invested in their communities.
This challenge came all too natural for 23-year-old Ashley Boalch—who is the current Miss District of Columbia. She served as a mentor to her younger sister and brother, growing up in a single-parent home in Silver Spring. At the age of 14, Boalch had to work to help her mom support the family.
As the eldest, “I really had to step it up. I was always there when my mom wasn’t there,” Boalch said.
Boalch now mentors young men and women through volunteering with local charities, including Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). The nationwide program strives to inspire students in low-income areas to stay in school. Through this program, Boalch worked with students at H.D. Woodson High School in northeast Washington to help them to create their own business plans.
Even before becoming Miss District of Columbia, Boalch volunteered with the ARTpreneurs Workshop, a six-week program inspiring students as they create recycled functional artwork. She also serves as an ambassador to the Children’s Miracle Network.
“Miss America is all about giving back to the community,” Boalch said.
Sheila Matthews, Boalch's mother, said her daughter’s drive for success is a family trait.
“She sees that I worked really hard to make sure that they had things and to help other people and to give just as much as you receive,” Matthews said. “She wants to give [and] especially to the less fortunate.”
The motivated spirit that Boalch tries to instill among area youth through her charity work reflects the persistence she showed in her own life working through the tribulations of growing up without her father, whom she's never met.
“I was still able to see my future was bright,” she said.
Despite this challenge, she remained positive, and worked toward a high grade-point average that earned her academic accolades in women’s studies and in her pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in communications at the University of Maryland, Shady Grove campus.
Over the past year, Boalch has tried to foster a relationship with her father to share the news of her success in competing in pageants but has yet to get a response.
“He knows that I exist. I found him on Facebook,” Boalch said. “He never responded to me.”
In January, Boalch competed in Las Vegas for the title of Miss America, but failed to make it to the semifinals. After the competition, she returned to Maryland.
When she’s not in school or volunteering, Boalch interns at DC-based Monument Realty, a real estate development company. She hopes all these experiences will one day translate into owning a restaurant, someplace where patrons can “enjoy live music.”
She also wants to be a motivational speaker, to share the lessons she learned about the value of being responsible and ambitious in life.