Cotton Picking Girls

  One day, Winslow Homer visited Petersburg, Virginia, and decided to study the life of rural African Americans. At a time when the South was still recovering from the Civil War, and the legacy of slavery was fresh in everyone’s minds, Homer sought to portray African Americans as heroic survivors looking forward to a full life of hope and success. Boy, was he wrong. Critics look at this painting and praise it. They hail Homer – a white American painter – as “the first artist to have seen the possibilities of this untapped subject matter.” Even LACMA, where the painting is...

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Apache Doll

  Getting your first period is a big deal for girls. Imagine if your entire community knew about it? Some of us grew up in a world of privacy and shame around menstruation and puberty in general, while others celebrate this life-changing event with friends and family. This relatively simple doll, made of cotton and dressed in buckskin and beads, was used by the Apache to teach girls about the rite of passage to womanhood. This is typically marked by a celebration the summer after a girl’s first period. Called the Na’ii’ees, or the Sunrise Ceremony, girls go through a rigorous four day...

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Geisha Netsuke

  Did you know it takes years of training to be a geisha? And that geisha means artist? Geisha and their world are very mysterious. That is part of the charm. However, it’s complicated and somewhat confused history means that geisha are quite misunderstood. This female dominated industry does provide means for women to achieve great wealth and independence. And in some instances and eras, their role was highly valued. As professional entertainers though, their role was often conflated with courtesans and prostitutes. And part of their training was to be seen and not heard....

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Margaret and the Curious Case of the Doll House Contract

  This has to be one of the most unusual dollhouse artifacts I have ever seen. You read me right. This rather unusual document is about a girl and her dollhouse. Written in 1837, it is a contract between Mr. Thomas Massa Alsager, a journalist from Queen’s Square in London, and his eldest daughter, Margaret, who was then just 12 years old. The contract details the care of Margaret’s doll house, and places it firmly in the family’s parlour – one of the most public rooms of the house. It suggests that not only was Margaret’s dollhouse actively played with, it was displayed for all of...

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Rebekah’s Sampler

  For decades, young girls created a sampler to show their skills and knowledge. This particular sampler features a variety of scenes, decorative elements, and text embroidered onto the fabric. A product like this was equivalent to today’s final exam or essay at the end of a school year. What does this sampler tell us about Rebeckah Munro, and other girls who grew up during the late 18th century? Rebekah was 11 years old when she completed this embroidery project. The verses that Rebekah chose to include on her sampler indicate that she, and likely her parents, valued education. It...

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Qing Girls

  A young girl made of bronze, holding an object we can’t identify, pleading with us to call her by name. That seems to be the story of so many girls in Qing China, the last imperial dynasty of an ancient land. The Qing dynasty lasted from 1644 until 1912, becoming known as a multicultural empire that formed the basis for modern China. Yet it was a rigid society, known for its strict class hierarchy and the oppression of women. Like this nameless girl, many girls in the Qing dynasty were expected to be silent. Though educated, it was only so that they could take their place as teachers...

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