On Thursday, December 8, the museum will close at 3:30 p.m. due to a special event; Spark!Lab and Wonderplace will close at 3 p.m.

Unschooled: Breaking In

Not every girl got to go to school. Some girls stayed home to contribute to the family income by working in fields and factories, or by helping out in family-owned businesses. Other girls faced racism and were blocked from public schools. Still others dropped out of school because of bullying. School is complicated. It holds up a mirror to America—a mirror that also reflects the determined faces of girls demanding an education.

Esther FullerSan Benito, Texas, 1920

Esther Fuller

San Benito, Texas, 1920

Courtesy of Nancy Bercaw

Cleo BevilleHammond, Indiana, 1930

Cleo Beville

Hammond, Indiana, 1930

Courtesy of the Hammond Public Library via Archive.org

Who's Missing?

Many schools refused to educate African American girls. Some went to great lengths to get an education. In 1853 Charlotte Forten could not go to school in Philadelphia. So she had to leave home to attend an all-white school in Boston.

To-day school commenced.... There is one young girl and only one who...has no prejudice against color. I wonder that every colored person is not a misanthrope.

—Charlotte Forten

Sally A. BookerMarshall, Texas, 1931

Sally A. Booker

Marshall, Texas, 1931

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, gift of Dr. Edward L. Cox

Chiyoko MorookaHunt, Idaho, 1944

Chiyoko Morooka

Hunt, Idaho, 1944

Roger Shimomura Collection, Division of Political and Military History, Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Inez Lovania EvansSt. Louis, Missouri, 1945

Inez Lovania Evans

St. Louis, Missouri, 1945

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Amy HironakaTopaz, Utah, 1945

Amy Hironaka

Topaz, Utah, 1945

Roger Shimomura Collection, Division of Political and Military History, Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Who's Missing?

Farm girls often miss school to help out at home, as Frances Ransome remembered.

Papa was a farmer and he made us work so hard that we didn't go to school half the time. We had to stay at home in the fall and grade [tobacco] and pick cotton and in the spring...we had to plant it.

—Frances Ransome

Beatriz I. DavilaMiramar, Puerto Rico, 1949

Beatriz I. Davila

Miramar, Puerto Rico, 1949

Courtesy of Nancy Bercaw

Christy Jane BergPittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1964

Christy Jane Berg

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1964

Courtesy of Laura McClure

Who's Missing?

One in three girls who doesn't conform to gender stereotypes is bullied. One in ten leave school for their own safety. Willow, a transgender teen girl, recalled when she came out as gay.

I went into the locker room and everybody beat me up. I didn't feel safe telling people because I thought they'd beat me up more.


Judith WilliamsAlexandria, Virginia, 1974 

Judith Williams

Alexandria, Virginia, 1974


Courtesy of Amira Rasayon

Elizabeth Margot OzerBethesda, Maryland, 1978

Elizabeth Margot Ozer

Bethesda, Maryland, 1978

Courtesy of Nancy Bercaw

Jacqueline RodarteAnaheim, California, 2009

Jacqueline Rodarte

Anaheim, California, 2009

Courtesy of Jacqueline E. Rodarte

Camille FranksSilver Spring, Maryland, 2016

Camille Franks

Silver Spring, Maryland, 2016

Courtesy of Camille Franks

Who's Missing?

In American agriculture, child labor laws don't apply. Today many children work the fields, unable to attend school because they must travel to work long, low-paying hours, even during the school year. Iris, a daughter of migrant workers, recalled.

I started working in the fields when I turned 12...If it weren't for my mom telling me...your school's more important, honestly I would've dropped out.


Unschooled: Breaking Out

Girls are schooled into what society expects from them when they enter the schoolhouse door. They confront adults' assumptions about what it means to be a girl and what kind of girl they might be. These categories can be uncomfortable and don't fit many girls' images of themselves. Many girls absorb these lessons, but they also talk back. Through words, actions, organizations, and fashion statements, girls tell us who they are and what kind of future they envision for themselves.