Smithsonian Exhibit on Girls

Posted by on Mar 11, 2021 in People and Culture

March is Women’s History Month, marked by celebrations around the world honoring girls and women. A highlight of the month worldwide is International Women’s Day, which is always on March 8. International Women’s Day began in 1911 and has been sponsored by the United Nations since 1975. According to the UN General Assembly’s resolution recognizing the day, worldwide peace and progress cannot be achieved without gender equality.

Two female friends at school
Credit: Comstock/Getty Images

Here in the United States, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum of American History are honoring this month with an exhibition entitled Girlhood (It’s complicated), devoted to the contributions of girls over the past two hundred years. Here, btw takes a closer look.

Why Do We Celebrate Women’s History Month?

The first Women’s History Month was observed in March 1987. Its purpose is to honor, acknowledge, and celebrate the overlooked and ignored contributions of many women in history. Originally, it lasted only a week. In 1993 the National Women’s History Project convinced Congress to expand it to the entire month of March. The theme of Women’s History Month this year is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced.” This is an extension of the 2020 theme, which was honoring the hundredth anniversary of woman suffrage. But because many of 2020’s events and celebrations couldn’t be carried out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the decision was made to extend the theme to 2021.

One Museum’s Celebration

Here in the United States, the Smithsonian exhibition–Girlhood (It’s Complicated) features over two hundred objects and focuses on how girls have changed history in five major areas: news and politics, education, work, health and wellness, and fashion.

  • News and politics: It’s important to note that being political means much more than just being a Republican or a Democrat. Any time that girls speak up to make change in the world, they are being political.
  • Education: What girls learn, and how they challenge what they learn, has been an important part of girls’ role in history. In some cases, just the act of going to school was seen as risky or defying societal norms.
  • Work: Girls throughout history have often had to give up their childhoods to perform labor or to earn money for their family.
  • Health and wellness: Girls have often been judged on their appearance through advertising and the media. Thankfully, girls throughout history have pushed back–and continue to push back–against these norms.
  • Fashion: Girls use fashion, makeup, and hairstyles to express themselves. They have fought against painful, restrictive clothing (such as corsets) and used fashion to challenge authority and gender expectations.
Dig Deeper Visit the exhibit website at the National Museum of American History to take a virtual tour of the exhibit at the National Museum of American History. Find at least three objects shown on the tour. Write a short paragraph describing each and explain what role each item plays in the history of American girls and women.