Understanding women’s history is integral to understanding the American experience. Although often underrepresented in recorded histories, women helped build the United States of America of today and women will help shape the United States of America of the future.
Explore this page to learn more about objects and resources from the National Museum of American History that can shed light on women's experiences and contributions to the American story.
How We Remember Woman Suffrage
The museum offers a range of video content for all ages that highlight women's lives and experiences.
The museum holds a wide range of objects that illustrate women's lives, their accomplishments, and contributions to American society and culture. Swipe through to see a few featured objects and object groups.
Woman Suffrage Wagon
Covered in slogans advocating for woman suffrage, suffragists brought this wagon to rallies for publicity and used it to distribute material relating women's rights. After decades of organizing and activism, women in the United States gained the right to vote with the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.
Women Teaching and Learning Mathematics in the United States
Women's participation in STEM fields is not a recent development. The objects in this group, Women Teaching and Learning Mathematics in the United States, show how they have played significant and longstanding roles in mathematics education. Containing textbooks and other teaching tools, this object group provides a window into how women have taught and girls have learned mathematics. (2014.0244.007)
Native American Prom Dress
Women and girls advocate for political and social change in many different ways. This prom dress was worn by Isabella Aiukli Cornell, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, to draw attention to systemic violence against and abuse of Indigenous women. The red color of the dress represents the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's movement.
Selena's Leather Outfit
Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was a Mexican-American singer-songwriter who became known as the "Queen of Tejano music." Known for breaking boundaries and bringing Tejano music into mainstream American culture, Selena's music continues to be popular today, 30 years after her tragic death. (1999.0104.01).
You can see this costume and other objects that highlight the Mexican presence in the United States in the Mexican America object group.
Billie Jean King's Tennis Dress
Billie Jean King wore this dress during her famous 1973 tennis match against male player Bobby Riggs. Known as the "Battle of the Sexes," King's victory during this tennis match demonstrated for many the talent of female athletes and seriousness of women's sports.
Cosmetics and Personal Care Products in the Medicine and Science Collections
Madame C.J. Walker was a successful Black businesswoman and philanthropist during the early twentieth century. She developed haircare products for Black women and founded a beauty school that trained women to style and care for Black hair (a skill not taught by most schools). Walker used her wealth to support Black charities and institutions as well as organizations dedicated to achieving equal rights. (293320.0970)
You can view more personal care products and learn more in the Cosmetics and Personal Care Products in the Medicine and Science Collections object group.
Women in World War I
Women have supported and served in the military in many different ways. During World War I, thousands of women joined voluntary organizations to provide relief and support the war effort. This uniform belonged to Dr. Loy McAfee, a female contract surgeon who served during World War I. Explore the Women in World War I object group to see related objects in the collection and learn more about this history. (1998.0165.63.08)
The Factory Girl's Song
Women and girls have participated in the workforce in many ways over time. In the nineteenth century, increasing numbers of working-class women labored in factories as the United States industrialized. This broadside contains the lyrics to "The Factory Girl's Song," a folk song that described the conditions of factory life and the work that "mill girls" participated in as they produced cloth. (2013.0125.01)
Legalized in 1960, over one million American women were taking oral contraceptives by 1963. "The pill" allowed women to take control of their reproductive health and family planning at the same time that it opened up a new market for pharmaceutical companies. Contraceptive packaging worked to both distinguish different brands from one another and (like the one here) help women to remember to take their daily pills. (2000.0090.10)
Mary Lincoln's Dress
Elizabeth Keckly, a Black businesswoman and seamstress, designed this dress for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln to wear during the 1861-62 social season. Born enslaved, Keckly purchased her own freedom and migrated to Washington, DC in 1850 where she developed a reputation as a talented dressmaker. Keckly's success in business during the Civil War allowed her to employ other women and support relief efforts for refugees escaping enslavement.
Listen to podcasts featuring women's stories.
The first season of the museum's new podcast Collected focuses on Black Feminism, highlighting Black women thinkers and demonstrating the relevance of their ideas today.
Prototype Online: Innovative Voices features the stories of several female innovators and inventors, including "Patti McGee and Di Dootson Rose, pioneering skateboarders" and "Madame C.J. Walker Had a Good Head for Hair Care, Part 1 and Part 2."
More Smithsonian Resources
The website for the new American Women's History Museum has a variety of online exhibitions and resources for the study of women's history.
The museum's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation offers a resource hub with oral histories, archival materials, blogs, and public programs about women inventors.