Mrs. Harley Vance, then president of the Cape Fear Garden Club, introduced the tradition of the Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Belles participating in the North Carolina Azalea Festival Garden Tour in 1969. Seven young ladies, five of whom were daughters of club members, wore hoop-skirted antebellum dresses that year as their costumes for the Confederate Ball.
Since then, the Belles have grown from that original seven, with over a 100 young women serving as ambassadors for the City of Wilmington during the Azalea Festival. They have come to symbolize the Festival season as much as the flowers they represent.
The Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Belles enhance the beauty of several activities during the Festival, but their primary duty is to act as hostesses in the gardens featured on the Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Garden Tour.
Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Belles must be sponsored by a member of the Cape Fear Garden Club or the Azalea Belle Committee. Priority is given to daughters and granddaughters of the Cape Fear Garden Club, followed by high school seniors, juniors, and sophomores. A lottery drawing is conducted if there are more belle applications than spaces. The number of spaces varies from year to year, based on the sizes of the gardens. Priority is also given to girls who reside in or attend school in New Hanover County.