Putting Girlhood at the Center of History

The New Year prompts reflections on past, present, and future; we see zeitgeists and recounts of where we’ve been and where we’re headed in the press, on blogs, on nearly every television news and talk show. Here at GEN, we’ve been thinking about girlhood past, present, and future. We were thrilled to find South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration, by Dr. Marcia Chatelain, a Georgetown University Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies and University of Missouri graduate. The book focuses on black girlhood during the Great Migration in Chicago.


History matters. Seldom is girlhood closely examined or centered in historical texts and research, particularly black girlhood. Knowledge of girlhood, in all of its many forms, throughout the past provides us with a better lens to view the evolution of girlhood, to understand how far we’ve come, and everything we’ve yet to accomplish.


“When I started the journey to do my doctoral research, it was really important for me to put girls at the center of whatever research question I was asking. The other thing I often say about this work is back in the 80s and 90s when rap music was becoming a thing, it seemed like people were more concerned with the images of girls than real girls.


All of those factors shaped my decision to try to tell a story from the frame that girls are the most important actors in that story. When you do that, you come up with a different perspective on history, and on the present. I was really happy to have the support to do that kind of research. ”


We encourage you to read this For Harriet interview with Dr. Chatelain, from which we’ve pulled the quote above. We hope you find the opportunity to reflect on girlhood, perhaps even asking the women in your own life about their girlhoods, including the challenges and qualities to be celebrated within their experience.

Vanessa Wright