‘Tomboy’ Casts Mild on Gender Norms All through Historical past

“Kate’s a tomboy, sure enough,
Fond of games, so very rough,
Other girls declare that they
With Miss Katy will not play.
Running races, climbing trees,
Playing ball, in sports like these
Katy finds her great delight,
Keeps them up from morn till night.”
—“Freaks and Frolics of Little Girls,” Josephine Pollard


What does that phrase imply to you?

Is it one thing that makes you smile, remembering a childhood stuffed with softball video games, Star Wars toys, bike rides and perpetually skinned knees? Or does it have a detrimental connotation – one thing hurled at those that don’t match right into a slender stereotype of what a lady must be?

The Providence Public Library examines the historical past of the phrase in its new exhibit, “Tomboy,” on view via June 30 at its brand-new third-floor gallery.

Co-curated by Kate Wells, the library’s curator of Rhode Island Collections, and Mary Murphy, the Nancy L. Buc Pembroke Center archivist at Brown University, the present delves into gender norms and cultural expectations for women and girls, and the way tomboys have challenged norms since even earlier than the 1590s, when the phrase was first used to explain a “wild, romping girl” who acted like a spirited boy.

The theme strikes a chord with Wells, who first pitched the present to library employees in 2019.

“I was a tomboy growing up, so it resonated with me personally,” she says. “I wondered, is it still a relative term? Is it a pejorative or something that people embrace? I had a lot of questions.”

The items are dynamic, starting from an early 1800s illustration of Alwilda the Pirate, a fifth-century Scandinavian buccaneer, to a chest binder worn by a transgender girl simply two years in the past. A tennis gown worn by Billie Jean King in 1974, on mortgage from the International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum, shares area with black-and-white photos of Rhode Island curler derby ladies from the early ’50s. A silent movie is projected on one wall, surrounded by laborious hats, boots, books and photos that every one communicate to the extensive spectrum of the feminine expertise.

Lady Longshoremen

{A photograph} of feminine longshoremen from the RI General Photograph Collection. Photo courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

“Our goal is to welcome a diverse range of audience members, and a diverse range of ages,” says Murphy. “We want offerings to speak to both young people and adults.”

A collection of month-to-month curator talks and group visitors will probably be held all through the exhibit’s run, with curated movies and readings complementing the exhibit.

Adding a fantastic contact are buying and selling playing cards designed by native artist Jazzmen Lee-Johnson that includes tomboys all through historical past. Some are well-known: aviator Amelia Earhart and singer Janelle Monáe, for instance, whereas others, like Amelia Bloomer, a suffragist who invented unfastened trousers (“bloomers”) for girls, and Stormé DeLarverie, who threw the primary punch on the Stonewall rebellion, are extra nameless.

King Dress

A gown worn by Billie Jean King in 1974. Photo courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

All are necessary, and all have their story advised at “Tomboy.”

“We challenge visitors to really approach the show with an open mind,” Murphy says. “What does ‘tomboy’ imply to you? Who are you and what does the phrase imply to you and your loved ones?

“[This show] has become a really interesting avenue into exploring gender and society.”

“Tomboy,” produced in partnership with the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown University, runs via June 30 on the Providence Public Library, 150 Empire St. The exhibit is free and open throughout common library hours.


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