Girls are historic agents of change in Smithsonian-produced exhibition coming to Cincinnati

Girlhood (It's complicated) opens Oct. 14 at Cincinnati Museum Center

CINCINNATI - For America’s first 131 years, the Constitution considered women political spectators – until the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920. But just because women couldn’t vote, didn’t mean they didn’t have a voice. A new exhibition coming to Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) explores how girls, who have been constitutionally excluded or too young to vote, have raised their voices to impact change throughout history.

Girlhood (It’s complicated) explores the diversity of girls’ experiences over more than 200 years of American history and through approximately 200 objects from the Smithsonian. Girls’ voices are at the forefront of the exhibition, which provides a fresh perspective to understand women’s history and our shared American experience. Girlhood reflects the strength and resilience of girls throughout our country’s history.

Girlhood rightly positions girls as agents of change, standing up and speaking out to shape the world around us,” said Elizabeth Pierce, president & CEO of Cincinnati Museum Center. “The exhibition invites much-needed dialogue about society’s expectations of our youth and serves as a lens for our today and our tomorrow. In reconsidering our nation’s history through the eyes and lives of young women, we can inspire a more equitable and empathetic future for everyone, from the start.”

The definition of girlhood has changed and continues to change over time. Girlhood (It’s complicated) looks at several factors that influence girlhood and how it is defined across social, economic and racial groups. The exhibition explores how girls have changed history in five areas: news and politics, education, work, wellness and fashion. In doing so, Girlhood tells the stories of young women including Minnijean Brown, who walked alongside eight other Black students to desegregate Little Rock’s Central High School as one of the Little Rock Nine, and Naomi Wadler, who led the 2018 March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC. It also introduces skateboarder Cindy Whitehead and the impact of Title IX on girls’ athletics, and Veronica Mendez and how coming of age ceremonies like quinceañeras can be an opportunity to challenge societal expectations.

Pulling from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History collections, Girlhood includes incredible artifacts spanning two centuries. A makeup table from 1820 and a 1900s gym suit are featured alongside a 1958 dress worn by Brown, as well as Wadler’s yellow knit scarf that features so prominently in photos of her speaking at the March for Our Lives rally in 2018. Among the exhibition’s historic videos are footage of student-led school walkouts and a compilation of U.S. government-produced sex education films from 1919 to 1957. The exhibition design is inspired by magazines and zines (self-published magazines) that have been written for and by girls. It features murals and illustrations by artist Krystal Quiles based on historic photos.

CMC is also featuring stories and information from local organizations to provide a regional perspective on girlhood and a library of resources for guests before, during and after their visit. Among the organizations to be included are Central Ohio Women in the Trades, Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, Girls on the Run, Girls Rock, Lighthouse Youth Services, Regional Youth Leadership, Robert O’Neal Multicultural Art Center and Saturday Hoops.

Girlhood (It’s complicated) will open October 14 at Cincinnati Museum Center. The exhibition is included with Museum Admission and free for CMC Members.

Girlhood (It’s complicated) is supported locally by Always, Aussie, My Black is Beautiful, Olay and Secret.

Girlhood (It’s complicated) is developed by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). It was supported by the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Initiative, the precursor of the Smithsonian American Women’s Museum.

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About Cincinnati Museum Center
Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) at Union Terminal is a nationally recognized, award-winning institution housed in a National Historic Landmark. CMC is a vital community resource that sparks curiosity, inspiration, epiphany and dialogue. CMC was awarded the 2009 National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in 2012, one of a select few museums in the nation to receive both honors. Organizations within CMC include the Cincinnati History MuseumMuseum of Natural History & ScienceThe Children’s MuseumRobert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX® TheaterCincinnati History Library and Archives and the Geier Collections and Research Center. Housed in historic Union Terminal – a National Historic Landmark restored in 2018 and recognized as the nation’s 45th most important building by the American Institute of Architects – CMC welcomes more than 1.8 million visits annually, making it one of the most visited museums in the country. For more information, visit