The personal story shines a light like nothing else can. And what better way to see what can happen in a girl’s life across a century than to hear some from the first and last stories of Girlhood in America?
I’ve selected a portion of a story from Chapter 1, The 1910s, and a portion of a story from Chapter 10, The 2000s.
Mary Kent was born in 1914 in the coal mining town of Frostburg, Maryland. She describes life without electricity, snapping beans to put into quart jars to store in the cellar, her mother’s freshly made pies cooling in the pantry, and the gas chandeliers hanging in all the rooms. Her hair was straight and brown and “it was a torture because Mother insisted on putting it up in kid curlers before I went to bed. Try sleeping on wire wrapped with leather. When those curlers were unwrapped the next morning, my hair stood out like weeds.”
In Aalaa Albaroudi’s story, “I Am Home,” in Chapter 10, native Oregonian Aalaa says her parents “taught me to stand on my own feet…I was encouraged to speak my mind.” She had a chance to do that once she saw that “we too had been attacked on 9/11. We too were under threat and we had no idea where the threat was coming from. People challenged our Americanism, as if harming us was a way to get back at the terrorists, as if it didn’t hurt their fellow countrypeople, which it did.” Aalaa plays in her neighborhood with the other kids and draws up her courage to give a smile to strangers who stare at her or point from cars after 9/11, when she is twelve years old.
Through the ten decades, the girls’ stories show that circumstances and attitudes have changed. Girls raised to be mom’s helper at home become active and interested, ready to be engaged with the wider world.