The idea for this book came to me when the words – – Girls: A History of Growing Up Female in America—suddenly popped up in my brain like a jack-in-the-box. At the time, I was standing at the corner of Broadway and Twentieth Street in New York City thinking about ordinary things—getting home, cooking dinner, and finishing an article. Now, it is not unusual for words, ideas, and images to spontaneously show up in my brain. Some leave soon, some stay. Some are useful, some are not. The words—Girls: A History of Growing Up Female in America—electrified me.
When I started to gather material for this book, I looked for information about girls’ lives in many places, including advice books, magazines, official documents, paintings, photographs, advertisements, lyrics, and novels. I visited museums, achives, libraries, and historic sites. I talked with historians and read scholarly materials on a variety of subjects, including childhood, women’s history, toys, and work. In addition, I asked people what they wanted to know about growing up female in America. The answers I got ranged from “anything and everything!” to questions such as: What sports did girls play? What kind of books did girls read? What was considered appropriate behavior for girls?
It was not easy to find information, because the experiences of girls were rarely recorded. In addition most girls themselves did not have the opportunity to leave a record of what they did and thought. Some girls, however, did leave a record.
On May 25, 1772, twelve-year-old Anna Green Winslow wrote in her journal . . . .
On November 21, 1852, Caroline Cowles Richards wrote . . . .
On December 15, 1926, fourteen-year-old Yvonne Blue wrote . . . .
Joanna Draper remembered her experience as a slave . . . .
Buffalo Bird Woman, whose real name was Maxidiwiac, reminisced about growing up in the 1840s . . . .
Sharlot Hall recalled her journey to Arizona when she was eleven years old . . . . “I rode a little Texas pony and drove a band of horses . . . .”
Andreita Padilla recalled her girlhood in the early 1920s . . . .
I wrote this book because the fact of being born female in America matters, and it always has. For most of American history, it meant fewer rights, freedoms, and opportunities. It meant stereotypes, jokes, and teasing. Nevertheless, many girls faced growing up female with vigor. Countless numbers of girls confronted their fears, overcame obstacles, spoke their minds, cherished their friends and family, contributed to the world around them, and left a legacy that can educate and inspire girls in other times and places.
The story of growing up female in America is not one girl’s story but many girls’—Native American, colonial; slaves; immigrant; pioneer; rich, middle-class, and poor. It is the stirring story of ordinary and extraordinary girls who found ingenious ways to making do and performed incredible feats of derring-do.