Chattanooga, TN (July 23, 2015) – The Hunter Museum of American Art opened a new exhibition, Imagining American Girlhood, this week in the Douglas Fir hallway at the entrance of the museum’s permanent collection galleries.  The exhibition includes paintings and photographic works by a variety of American artists with a focus on girlhood.

“While girlhood may seem like a natural part of growing up, the concept has changed dramatically over time. We thought it would be interesting to explore how artists helped shape and transform ideas about girlhood, and in the process, discover how our notions about girls came into being and the various possibilities for girls today,” said Miranda Hofelt, Associate Curator at the Hunter Museum.

From the colonial period through the 18th century, Americans held an outlook diametrically opposed to how we think about youth today. They considered children to be miniature adults, who, because they were born with original sin, were inherently corrupt and needed to be trained to become “good” adults.

But with the emergence of the middle class in the 19th century, these notions changed dramatically. People of means, who lived primarily in cities, began to see childhood and girlhood specifically as an idyllic phase of life distinct from adulthood. This new conception drew upon the ideas of the European Enlightenment and the American Transcendentalists. Now girls were seen as pure, uncorrupted souls whose closeness to nature rendered them nearer to heaven. 19th – century artists created sentimental images of girls that offered adults a haven from the dizzying effects of modern life while catering to their nostalgia for a perceived carefree time.

By the late 20th century, many artists moved away from using girlhood solely as a means for adults to project their anxieties, hopes, and yearnings. These artists often challenged notions of girlhood as an Edenic state, choosing instead to explore the complexities of an individual’s experience of being a girl.


About the Hunter Museum of American Art – Located at 10 Bluff View in Chattanooga, TN, the Hunter Museum is open every day (except Christmas Day, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day). For hours and admission rates, see  To learn more about membership and unlimited visits, upcoming exhibitions, and other happenings at the Hunter Museum, call (423) 267-0968, visit, or follow the Hunter Museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.