I’m writing my dissertation on the American schoolgirl in narratives about democracy and cultural citizenship. I explore literary and historical examples that track the relationship between the schoolgirl and sentimentality, arguing that because of that because of the temporal nature of girlhood narratives, highlighted by both the sentimentality about girlhood and the considerable attention given to studying when adolescence begins in girls over the Twentieth Century, girlhood narratives are actually important stories for considering changes in modern American citizenship. Traditionally, the bildungsroman has been considered the model for citizenship narratives, as the young protagonist’s coming-of-age represents lessons necessary for becoming a good citizen. I assert that the frauenroman and the limitations imposed on its protagonists are important markers for changes in cultural citizenship in Twentieth Century America. By using the work of feminist scholars such as Lauren Berlant, Sara Ahmed, and Wendy S. Hesford, I further assert that the link between sentimentality and belonging in girlhood narratives is critical in understanding the ways that the symbolic use of girls limits their real-life agency by situating them out of time with modernity, either as links to the past or a “waiting for something to happen.” Therefore, the schoolgirl, an important “sister” to the Modern Girl, challenges conservative notions of girls’ agency and belonging while also highlighting the gaps in American models of citizenship concealed by sentimentality. In my chapters I focus on immigrant and Native American education at the turn of the Twentieth Century, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ruby Bridges, and international human rights campaigns to support girls’ education in the Global South including Girl Rising, and the work of Malala Yousafzai.
The Modern Girl: