School Rewards

  In the Victorian period boys were more important than girls, were taught different lessons and so achieved more. Or did they? Before camera phones, Instagram, and snapchat having your photograph taken was a big deal. You would have visited a professional photographer’s studio, worn your best clothes and stood completely still for the long minutes it took for a photograph to be taken in the 1800’s. Photographs were very expensive to have taken and so you would only have had one done for a special occasion such as a marriage, christening, or to celebrate an achievement. This photograph...

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Fashion for Young Ladies in 1883

  Flipping through the pages of a magazine in the grocery check-out line, you would expect to see a variety of articles, including pages about the latest fashion trends. With summer vacation coming to an end in many parts of the world, magazines for teenage girls are filled with tips for putting together back-to-school outfits. Even in the 1880s, girls sought out magazines for fashion advice. This print is from an 1883 edition of the Young Ladies’ Journal, on loan to the Rijksmuseum from the M.A. Ghering-van Ierlant Collection. The girls in the image are showing off a variety of...

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Arab Girls Carrying Water

  Hidden away in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is this photograph of three young Arab girls carrying water jugs. Taken sometime in the 1880s, we don’t know who made it, where it was taken, or who these girls are. Yet it says so much, both of these girls and their descendants. Victorian era Westerners had a fascination with new cultures. As technology and transportation advanced, access to cultures like those of the Middle East was growing. It was easier to travel and explore the world, and photography ensured that you could document your travels and those you...

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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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Mughal Album Leaf: A Heroine Unnamed

  Look at this girl. What is she doing? Riding away from the wind? Calling it to follow her? This girl, like many in Mughal India, is a heroine. She is calling to quicksilver, a precious metal in the Mughal empire, and using her beauty to draw it out into the world. Her pose and gesture are dynamic and assertive, something we don’t typically associate with women of the 16th and 17th centuries. She is wearing a multicolored sari, known as a chunris. Yet beneath this image are mysteries. Who is she, and why was she so powerful that she could call quicksilver? And why would she be calling...

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