Mapping history’s forgotten girls: ‘Sites of Girlhood', Girl Museum

Emily Clarke

Girl Museum is the first and only museum in the world dedicated to celebrating girlhood.

Run entirely online, the Museum creates learning resources, podcasts, blogs and exhibitions relating to girls’ history. I have volunteered for the organisation since 2018 and I am part of the curatorial team working on the brilliant ‘Sites of Girlhood’ exhibition. This large-scale project aims to put girls on the map and showcase stories that have been forgotten or silenced. Through extensive research, Girl Museum have created an interactive map that pinpoints sites such as monuments, museums and temples, plaques, statues and residences celebrate hundreds of brilliant girls that we should all know about. When I started on the project, I was living in London just when the new statue of Millicent Fawcett was revealed amongst seven statues of men in Parliament Square. I remember thinking about the significance of that, but also that any sites that celebrated women, I already recognised from history lessons – Florence Nightingale, Anne Frank, Emmeline Pankhurst, Queen Victoria. I realised then, the importance of finding stories and sites relating to those which have been forgotten or gone unrecognised throughout history - especially girls. Each time we research a girl, we create a research profile which includes key information such as their name, date of birth and why they should be celebrated. This information is then condensed into an ‘entry’ for the map which can be seen by clicking on individual site markers. One of the first entries I researched was for Kalpana Chawla, who had been interested in flying since she was a young girl. In 1997, she became the first female astronaut of Indian heritage, but sadly her career was cut short when in 2003, she died aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. After her death, a statue was erected at the Nehru Science Centre in Mumbai, India to celebrate her brave achievements. Similarly, in Marseille, France, Germaine Poinso-Chapuis, the first woman to hold a Cabinet-level post in the French government is remembered with both a plaque and Square named in her honour. Whilst at The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House in Baltimore, USA, exhibitions tell the story of Grace Wisher, an enslaved black girl who helped to sew part of the first American flag.
Mapping history’s forgotten girls: ‘Sites of Girlhood’, Girl Museum
A picture of the Interactive map

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Mapping history’s forgotten girls: ‘Sites of Girlhood’, Girl Museum
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‘Sites of Girlhood’ also pinpoints more modest examples of recognition

Alongside these grand gestures of celebration, ‘Sites of Girlhood’ also pinpoints more modest examples of recognition such as Samina Baig who was 21 when she climbed Mount Everest – making her the first Pakistani woman to do so. Baig doesn’t have a monument or museum dedicated to her achievements, so the map places a marker on her childhood residence in Shimshal, Pakistan. In addition, we mark places on the world map that showcase moments in history connected to forgotten females in history. For example, the discovery of ‘Birka Girl’ in Sweden (1876), The Matchgirls’ 1888 strike action at the Bryant & May match factory, Bow, London and the murders of the Virgins of Galindo just outside Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 1822. In addition to documenting the lives of girls from the past, the Sites team also work on creating markers for girls doing extraordinary things in the present day: Hillary Yip from China who became a CEO of her own company ‘Minor Mynas’ aged just 13; Moni Begum who was 16 when she attended the UN General Assembly to campaign against child marriage; Zulaikha Patel only age 13 when she successfully demonstrated against her South African school’s policy regarding black girls’ hair. ‘Sites of Girlhood’ is a fantastic resource documenting the lives of girls and women from all corners of the globe who have been forgotten, unrecognised or overshadowed by others in their field. Alongside the map, interns also create blog posts which offer more information about the girls. By working to highlight sites around the globe that recognise and celebrate their achievements, Girl Museum hopes that people will visit, explore and continue to pay tribute to these fantastic women at the places that honour and represent them.
Ancestry UK
Mapping history’s forgotten girls: ‘Sites of Girlhood’, Girl Museum

Emily Clarke

Emily wrote for Edition 2, Forgotten Women of History.
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