How are we different – and similar – to girls who lived decades or centuries ago?  What can the artifacts that girls left behind tell us about our present and future?

At Girl Museum, we aim to find out.

Realizing that many “history of the world” programs routinely left out the stories of young girls, we scoured the globe for objects that would bring to light girls’ daily lives, struggles, and heroism.  Each week in 2017, we’ll add a new story about an object integral to understanding the history and current culture of girlhood. The result is 52 Objects in the History of Girls, which showcase their incredible lives, the issues they faced, and what it says about being a girl.

Teachers & Students
Want to infuse your classroom with critical thinking and a passion for the mysteries of history?  

Check out our Educational Guide for fun activities aligned to US and UK educational standards. You can also download fun Coloring Pages featuring objects from this exhibition!

Credits
This exhibit was inspired by our personal passions and the podcast series, A History of the World in 100 Objects. It was produced and written by the senior team at Girl Museum, including Hillary Hanel, Tiffany Rhoades, and Katie Weidmann.  Images were created by Erina Shiflett.

Where in the World is…?

Want to know where these 52 objects come from? Or find ones in or near your country? Check out our map documenting the locations of our 52 objects.

Now, journey with us to explore the history of girls…

as told in 52 amazing objects.

Ankle Bracelet

Ankle Bracelet

  It's pretty, this little bracelet. Looks like many bangles I see young girls wearing. Would you want to wear it? You only have to sign away your life. This ankle bracelet was worn by a girl slave in Niger. And she lived within your lifetime. Originally...

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Ana Sandoval

Ana Sandoval

  Can you imagine being in high school and discovering that a mining company is coming to destroy your home? That's what happened to Ana Sandoval, a young land rights defender in Guatemala, who dared to stand up and protect her community. As a teenager, Ana...

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Ladd Girl

Ladd Girl

  She seems so happy. Both of them do, actually. They look like any two schoolgirls, having a laugh in the hallway. But that's not just any school. The young girl in this photograph was a member of the Ladd School for the Retarded in the 1980s. She was mentally...

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Girl’s Circumcision Headdress

Girl’s Circumcision Headdress

  This headdress was worn by a Maasai girl less than fifty years ago. Native to southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, the Maasai are a semi-nomadic people, known for living alongside animals and an aversion to eating game and birds. Because of their lifestyle,...

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Girl of Beads: Ndebele Doll

Girl of Beads: Ndebele Doll

  We like to think of dolls as soft and cuddly, even the plastic ones are meant to be "cute". These are constructed, typically by male designers, and marketed to girls to teach them what and how they should behave. This sounds a bit extreme, but bear with me....

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Pants for Protest

Pants for Protest

  For centuries, it was a taboo for European and American girls and women to wear pants, until the 1970s. Crocheting, knitting, sewing: the art of crafting your own clothes goes back ages and was very common during most of the 20th century. Most girls learned...

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Shards of Stained Glass

Shards of Stained Glass

  These pieces of stained glass are so small, you would think that their story was just as small. But it isn't. It started like any other day. September 15, 1963, dawned clear and bright on the town of Birmingham, Alabama. A racially divided town known for...

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Molly Grows Up, and other awkward discussions of puberty

Molly Grows Up, and other awkward discussions of puberty

  Do you know why women menstruate? Do you know what the word menstruation means? If your primary source of sex education came from American "educational" films from the 1940s-1960s, you probably have only a vague idea about most things related to sex and...

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Liberated Lesbians: Ruth Mountaingrove

Liberated Lesbians: Ruth Mountaingrove

  Look at her. I wonder if she's smiling behind the camera. If she burst out laughing with her companion after they snapped photos of one another. I wonder what her name is, and whether this was where she called her true home. She was probably a lesbian. Though...

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Rucksack to Freedom

Rucksack to Freedom

  Despite seeing images all over the news of refugee children, it is still very hard for us imagine what it would be like to have to leave your home, your family, your country. To get on a train or a boat, not knowing where you are going but suspecting that you...

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BDM Girls

BDM Girls

  Before it became law in 1939, there were tens of thousands of girls signed up to the Hitler Youth organisations. The League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel [BDM]) was the female section of the Hitler Youth founded in 1930. The purpose of BDM was to...

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Marina Ginestà on a Rooftop

Marina Ginestà on a Rooftop

  In July 1936, a young woman stood on the roof of the Placa de Catalunya hotel in Barcelona, Spain. She was just 17, yet the rifle she carried and the defiantly optimistic look on her face would ensure her name went down in history. The young woman was Marina...

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Binding Girls

Binding Girls

  Girls have always been under the control of their parents, extended families, communities, and governments, their minds and bodies being policed at all times. The most extreme example of this is the Chinese practice of foot binding. Thought to have begun around...

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Child Labor in Baltimore, Maryland, 1909

Child Labor in Baltimore, Maryland, 1909

  Barefoot children sitting on crates or standing in the dirt. Young boys and girls together, some smiling, some not even looking at the camera. In this written description, different images might come to mind. Some people might picture a group of kids playing a...

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A Postcard from OTMA

A Postcard from OTMA

  The Romanov princesses referred to themselves as OTMA, the first letters of each of their names. Their mother did her best to treat them and make them appear as a oneness – a group of girls, rather than individuals. They were even dressed alike. This postcard...

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Tattoo Comb

Tattoo Comb

  There are traditions of tattooing women and girls all over the world. Usually, tattoos mark the time of transition from girlhood to womanhood, just after puberty. And for females, it seems that the placement of the tattoos are in very visible and sensitive...

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Suffragette Defaced Penny

Suffragette Defaced Penny

  When you think of suffragettes, what comes to mind? Women picketing in front of the White House, holding signs and wearing purple sashes. A young woman stepping in front of a horse, willingly sacrificing herself in order to bring attention to the cause....

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Less than a micromini: Cache-sexe Zulu

Less than a micromini: Cache-sexe Zulu

  What if you could tell your gender age and marital status just from your clothes? Well, in most cultures, you can. What we wear tells the rest of our communities what our exact place is within it. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, modesty norms are very different...

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A Postcard from Tubo’u

A Postcard from Tubo’u

  Postcards were popular ways for photographers to send images of the Empire back to the home country. The cabinet card style of portraiture became fashionable from about 1870. Images of colonized landscapes and people helped those back home to take ownership and...

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School Rewards

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...

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Fashion for Young Ladies in 1883

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...

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Arab Girls Carrying Water

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...

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Cotton Picking Girls

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...

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Apache Doll

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...

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Geisha Netsuke

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, its complicated and somewhat confused history means that geisha are quite misunderstood....

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Margaret and the Curious Case of the Doll House Contract

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...

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Rebekah’s Sampler

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...

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Qing Girls

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,...

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Mughal Album Leaf: A Heroine Unnamed

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...

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The First Day of School

The First Day of School

Many of us have a memory of a first day of school. Whether donning a backpack filled with crayons and glue for preschool, hopping on the bus for the first time as a kindergarten student, or entering the intimidating halls of high school as a 9th grader, the first day...

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The Marriage of Mary Stuart

The Marriage of Mary Stuart

The bride shown here is only 9 years old. Her name is Mary Stuart. Born in November of 1631, Mary was the eldest daughter of King Charles I of England, Scotland, and Ireland and his wife, Henrietta Maria of France. At the age of 9, she married William II, Prince of...

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A Virginal and a Queen

A Virginal and a Queen

  Do you play the piano? What about the harpsichord? Have you heard of a virginal before? If you haven't, you're not alone, but virginals used to be common household instruments, and anyone who was anyone had one. Virginals are in the same family of instruments...

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Sofonisba’s Self-Portrait

Sofonisba’s Self-Portrait

When you think of Renaissance painters, who do you name? Probably Raphael, Michelangelo, da Vinci . . . all men. Yet women were a huge part of the Renaissance – and traditional art history has yet to do them justice. During the Renaissance, art was a social necessity....

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Lover’s Cassone

Lover’s Cassone

A cassone, or marriage chest, was an important part of a girl's bedroom. Telling a story of romance and beautifully decorated, this cassone was made between 1345 and 1354, and was a high status symbol for rich merchants and aristocrats in Italy. It was also one of the...

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Mexica Chicomecoatl and the Maiden

Mexica Chicomecoatl and the Maiden

The Aztecs are famous for the human sacrifices . . . and those included girls. Every autumnal equinox, a young girl was chosen to personify the maize goddess. She was sacrificed by the Mexica priests, who decapitated her, collected her blood, and poured it over a...

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The Tale of Sumiyoshi

The Tale of Sumiyoshi

From rom coms to stacks of romantic paperbacks, we enjoy a good love story. For many, our first experience with a love story may have been the story of Cinderella. But the Cinderella-style story has been around since long before Disney released their famous animated...

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The Lewis Chessman…and the Woman who Created Them

The Lewis Chessman…and the Woman who Created Them

The Lewis Chessmen are one of the most famous sets of chess pieces in the world. Prominently displayed at The British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland, these pieces have been publicized as being made in Norway by men. But that's probably not the truth. The...

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The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji

What was the first "real" novel? Who wrote it? Many people cite Cervantes' Don Quixote as the first modern European novel, and Defoe's Robinson Crusoe as the first English novel, but were either of these really the first? Though the modern concept of the novel has...

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Harem Girls

Harem Girls

Sex slavery is sanctioned in the Quran. Mohammed had three concubines and made sure his male followers had their share as well. However, the Quran also says that rape is forbidden, so presumably everyone had to consent. Like all religions that privilege males, some...

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Visit of Manjushri to Vimalakirti

Visit of Manjushri to Vimalakirti

Did you know gender equality is a principle in Buddhism? I certainly didn't, until I stumbled across this scene, "The Visit of Manjushri to Vimalakirti," from the Vimalakirti Sutra. Composed around 100 CE, this Mahayana Buddhist sutra is known for its brash humor –...

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A Merovingian Ring

A Merovingian Ring

How do you know someone is engaged to be married? Today, we showcase engagement by wearing a ring on the fourth finger of our left hand. It's a practice that is nearly as old as Western civilization – dating all the way back to the 300s, when Roman author Aulus...

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Silk Princess Painting

Silk Princess Painting

Princesses are known to follow the rules, wait for the prince, and live happily ever after. This votive panel from the sixth century, however, shows this isn't always the case. The illustration tells the story of smuggling, secret silkworms, and definitely breaking...

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The Admonitions Scroll

The Admonitions Scroll

We all wish that life came with an instruction book sometimes, right? Something to let us know how to act in various situations, and especially if we were going to be in the presence of royalty. Pictures for quick reference would make such a book even better! The...

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The Paracas Textile

The Paracas Textile

Can a cloak tell a story? Yes, and this one tells a story unlike any other. This is an Andean mantle, or cloak, made of cotton and camelid fibers. It was found in Paracas, Peru, for which it was named "The Paracas Textile." This name often confuses it with other...

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Bronze Strigil with Handle in Form of a Girl

Bronze Strigil with Handle in Form of a Girl

At just 40 centimeters, this figure is unassuming next to the momentous collections at the British Museum. Surprisingly, this bronze strigil is a symbol of girlhood strength. Long before bath bombs, shower gel, and dry shampoo, girls were using a much different tool...

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Playing Ephedrismos

Playing Ephedrismos

How long have girls played games? Some of the earliest evidence of games specifically for girls comes from Ancient Greece. This terracotta statuette features two girls, one carrying another, thought to illustrate the game of ephedrismos. In the game, a stone would be...

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Receipt for Slave Girl, Cuneiform tablet

Receipt for Slave Girl, Cuneiform tablet

This small clay tablet is a receipt written in an ancient text called cuneiform. These wedge-shaped characters were used in the first writing systems in the world. In particular, this one is from the time of Cambyses II, ruler of Babylon. It is a receipt for the sale...

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Tapputi Belatekallim, the First Chemist

Tapputi Belatekallim, the First Chemist

The first recorded chemists were two women. How do we know? This clay tablet from ancient Mesopotamia, dated to around 1200 BCE, whose inscription describes Tapputi-Belatekalllim and "(----).ninu‚" (who we'll call Ninu). The writing was made when the tablet was damp...

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Egyptian Statuette of a Nude Girl

Egyptian Statuette of a Nude Girl

Despite being over 3 inches long, this nearly perfect figurine might have been worn as a necklace by someone. But who, and why? Ancient Egyptians often wore intricate hairstyles or heavy wigs. Though many Egyptians shaved their heads to stay cool, being bald was...

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Indus Valley Female Figurine

Indus Valley Female Figurine

Have you ever seen a Venus figurine? They're some of the most famous figurines in prehistory - and they are strikingly similar to this figurine, which was crafted thousands of years after the Venuses. Standing at just over three inches tall, this figurine is made of...

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Valdivia Figurines and Female Power

Valdivia Figurines and Female Power

These figurines are some of the oldest pottery in the Americas. They were made by the Valdivia culture of South America around 3500 BCE. Depicting four women and measuring between 4 and 20 centimeters in height, each was modeled from a single block of clay, polished,...

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Swimming Reindeer in Autumn

Swimming Reindeer in Autumn

These swimming reindeer are one of the most famous prehistoric artworks in the world - and they were made by a girl. One autumn during the last Ice Age, an artist sat watching reindeer. They were beautiful this time of year - with both males and females having antlers...

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