Libraries' 'Secret Lives of Girls and Women' exhibit reveals hidden history

January 29, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Throughout history, various elements of the female experience have been unrecognized, held secret or considered taboo. A new exhibition, “The Secret Lives of Girls and Women,” examines the spectrum of such “secrets” as found in the archival materials from Penn State University Libraries’ Eberly Family Special Collections Library.   

Located in the Special Collections Exhibition Gallery, 104 Paterno Library, on Penn State’s University Park campus, the exhibition is on display now through Sept. 1.

Secrets of all sorts are unveiled: literary and bookish ones; those about beauty, health and sexuality; funny secrets and serious ones; those imagined and those true. In certain cases — depending on the time, place and circumstances — there is great power in keeping secrets; in others, there is great power in revealing them.

Materials on display aim to pull back the curtain of mystery surrounding feminine secrets, such as an early copy of Betty Friedan’s bestselling title “The Feminine Mystique,” which explores the secrets of affluent, mid-century American housewives. Additional artifacts include rare 19th-century book bindings by women, first editions of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” and other titles written by women using pseudonyms meant to disguise their gender. A 1914 shared journal of adolescent girls from Greensburg, Pennsylvania, in which they share their greatest hopes, reveals many otherwise shrouded aspects of their lives.

Visitors will discover diaries, letters, magazines, rare books and artists’ books on view, and are invited to share their closely held thoughts anonymously by posting them on the exhibition’s wall of secrets.

“The Secret Lives of Girls and Women” is curated by Clara Drummond, curator and exhibitions coordinator, Eberly Family Special Collections Library, and Julie Porterfield, instruction and outreach archivist. The exhibition is open for viewing in the Special Collections Library, 104 Paterno Library, during its hours of operation, generally 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and until 8 p.m. Wednesday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, closed Saturdays.

For more information or for questions about accommodations provided for this exhibition, email Clara Drummond at or call the Special Collections Library reference desk at 814-865-1793.

Last Updated February 05, 2019