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Girlhood (It's complicated)

Mural showing young women taking various actions, such as reading, riding on a skateboard, and speaking through a bullhorn

The history of girlhood is not what people think; it is complicated. Young women are often told that girls are “made of sugar and spice and everything nice.” What we learn from the past is that girls are made of stronger stuff. They changed history. From Helen Keller to Naomi Wadler, girls have spoken up, challenged expectations, and been on the front lines of social change. Although definitions of girlhood have changed, what it means to grow up female in the United States has always been part of the American conversation.

With a design inspired by zines, the 5,000-square-foot gallery features five story sections: Education (Being Schooled), Wellness (Body Talk), Work (Hey, Where’s My Girlhood?), Fashion (Girl’s Remix), plus seven biographical interactives stories, A Girl’s Life. The design features custom murals and illustrations by artist Krystal Quiles. The exhibition will tour the country through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service from 2023 through 2025.

Exhibition Website

Can't visit in person? The exhibition's companion website gives visitors the opportunity to experience many of the objects and stories featured in Girlhood, and offers the unique opportunity to explore a selection of historical artifacts as high-resolution, narrated 3D scans.


Smithsonian Insider Series: Girlhood (It's complicated) Exhibition Preview

Get a behind-the-scenes preview of the exhibition with Jean Case, co-chair of the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative Advisory Committee, Dr. Kathleen Franz, curator and chair of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History's Division of Work History, and Megan Smith, senior creative developer in the museum's Education and Impact team.