Historically, if you weren’t wealthy, white, and male, access to formal education was limited. That never stopped women and girls from striving to get as much education as possible. Teaching and learning at kitchen tables, in church basements, in one-room classrooms, and at Ivy League universities, women continue to use their agency to push for equal educational access. According to findings published by the Pew Research Center in June 2019, women are now half of the U.S. college-educated workforce.

In school, girls are taught to fit in. This video from our Girlhood (It's complicated) exhibition looks at how in classrooms, on the playground, at lunch, and even in the bathroom, girls learn how to behave, what to wear, what to say, and what to study. They learn the rules, and they learn how to break the rules. In this mix, girls confront what society expects from them. Like anyone being "schooled," girls talk back.

Collection Objects

Learn about these featured stories or see more examples of education in our collections.

Conversation Kit

Let's Talk! Juliette Gordon Low and the Girl Scouts Conversation Kit

Grades 6–12. Time: Variable (1–3 class periods). Aligned to CCSS standards.

In this lesson plan students will learn about Juliette Gordon Low's founding of the Girl Scouts in 1912 and how this helped change expectations of girls and their roles as community members and citizens. Students will examine the question: How can education change expectations of what girls can and should be?


The sisters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. fundraised to buy and distribute books throughout the segregated South to provide students with critical educational tools.

Through their cookbooks, teaching, and television programs, these extraordinary women inspired generations of people to take cooking seriously. They challenged perceptions and stereotypes of women in their respective eras and made lasting contributions to culinary history.


Ella Jenkins, The First Lady of Children's Music

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Enjoy songs from groundbreaking children's performer Ella Jenkins(link is external).