About the Exhibition

This website is based on an exhibition that opened at the National Museum of American History in October 2020. Objects pictured here may differ from those currently on view at the museum, and we are unable to share some of the exhibition's images and media due to licensing agreements. 

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 Girlhood (It’s complicated) showcases unexpected stories of girlhood, engaging the audience in timely conversations about women’s history. 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.


Introduction to Girlhood (It's complicated)

Join museum director Dr. Anthea Hartig and exhibition curator Dr. Kathleen Franz for a four-minute preview of the exhibition.


Smithsonian Insider Series: Exhibition Preview

Get a behind-the-scenes preview of Girlhood (It's complicated) 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.

Our Team

Illustration of team members

Exhibitions are created by large teams of experts in everything from history to design. Our team was inspired by magazines and zines—how girls have been spoken to and how girls talk back.