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Representation matters. Who we see on screen and on stage, and who we hear on recordings, shapes our understanding of the world. Trailblazing women entertainers, including musicians, dancers, comedians, actors, and other performers, shattered stereotypes and gender norms to redefine who could tell stories in America. Many entertainers used their celebrity to actively change society.

Collection Objects

Learn the stories behind these featured objects or explore more entertaining women in the collections.

Anna May Wong poses, holding a fan behind her head. She wears a yellow dress with dragons emblazoned on it.

Fighting to be Viewed Beyond Hollywood Stereotypes

A sectional leather couch or sofa, used by Oprah Winfrey and her guests

Oprah Winfrey and Her Inviting Couch Got People Talking

An African American woman looks out of frame. Next to her the title of the play is written in cursive rainbow letters: for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf

Bringing African American Women's Voices to Mainstream Theatre

Jean Ritchie sits in a field, holding a plucked dulcimer. She stares off into the distance, thoughtful.

Singer-Songwriter Jean Ritchie Revived an Appreciation of Folk Music

\Madame Lillian Evanti wears a fur stole, pearls, and a flower in her carefully prepared hair.

Madame Evanti Made Her Mark in Europe, then at Home

Miss America Crown from 1951 - a tiara with many uncolored gemstones.

Yolande Betbeze Used Her Miss America Win to Challenge Stereotypes

Conversation Kit

Let's Talk! Dolores del Río Conversation Kit
Dolores del Río Teaching and Discussion Guide

Grades 6–12. Time: Variable (1–3 class periods). Aligned to CCSS and C3 standards.

In this lesson plan, students will learn how the legacy of Dolores del Río, the first major Latinx actress in Hollywood, can help us reflect on how various cultures affect our identity.


Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, an all-female band, is breaking new ground and giving the men of mariachi a run for their money. 

Star Trek's decision to cast Nichelle Nichols, an African American woman, as major character on the show was an almost unheard-of move in 1968. But for black women all over the country, it redefined the notions of what was possible.

Portrait in a Minute: Guest presenter Alina Collins Maldonado, Head of Education at the Gala Hispanic Theatre in Washington, D.C., discusses a 1993 photograph of Selena by Al Rendon.

Phyllis Diller was the first American woman to have a successful career as a stand-up comic. Her style of humor debunked the idealization of women as wives, mothers, and homemakers. 


Women and Folk

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Gender discrimination and segregation has often posed a considerable barrier for women musicians, but women have overcome these obstacles either via direct protest or by simply performing certain instruments or songs. In addition, the topic matter of the music has also been used to further women's rights and other political and social causes. When women in the United States earned the right to vote in 1920, the lyrics of traditional hymns and patriotic anthems were changed to assert their demands for suffrage. Listen to a small sample of Smithsonian Folkways folk music created by and about these brave and daring women.

Smithsonian American Women book cover.

Smithsonian American Women

Remarkable objects and stories of strength, ingenuity, and vision from the National Collection.

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