On Display: Alexandria Activist Naomi Wadler is Part of New Smithsonian “Girlhood” Exhibit

Naomi Wadler in front of her likeness at the Smithsonian. (Photo: Julie Wadler)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Girls make history. That is what the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s new “Girlhood” exhibit showcases, and where Alexandria’s young Naomi Wadler today finds her likeness and story.

Girlhood (It’s complicated) commemorates the anniversary of woman suffrage by exploring the concept of girlhood in the United States, but also how girls changed history in five areas: politics, education, work, health, and fashion. “We argue that girlhood has an unexpected and complicated history and that girls, like suffragists, used their voices to make a difference,” says the Smithsonian.

“I knew they were doing something, but it was so long ago they asked for the scarf, that I sorta forgot about it,” Naomi Wadler told The Zebra on the same day she saw the exhibit for herself.

Naomi,13, and Sarah, 11, Wadler at the new Girlhood (It’s Complicated) exhibit at the Smithsonian, standing in front of the plexiglass podium and cutout of Naomi. (Photo: Julie Wadler)

The yellow wool scarf came about when Naomi was in a pinch wondering what to wear for her big speech. “Nothing seemed right,” says the Smithsonian caption about the scarf. “Her aunt, Leslie Wadler, came to the rescue. She furiously knit a scarf while she watched two movies. The “two-movie scarf” became Naomi Wadler’s signature, and Naomi wore it during her history-making moment when the then fifth grader exploded on the national scene during the March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C.

Naomi had been asked to speak after organizing a walkout of 60 other students at George Mason Elementary school just ten days earlier, which was in protest against guns and acknowledgement of the students killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting, but stood out because of something Naomi insisted upon including.

Instead of the 17 minutes of silence of the 14 students and 3 teachers killed at Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018, Wadler’s silence lasted 18 minutes, to include a 17-year old student who had been killed on March 7 in Birmingham, Alabama, who had received very little attention.

In her celebrated speech, which lasted just a little bit over three minutes, Wadler addressed her walkout of course, but more importantly threw a huge spotlight on the fact that more black women are victims of gun violence than any other group.

Wadler has been interviewed and traveled all over the globe since then, motivating others, and attracting celebrity attention. She appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and many others, highlighted racial disparities at the 2020 Davos Economic Summit, and has rubbed elbows from many of Hollywood and Washington’s elite.

She was named one of Teen Vogue‘s “21 Under 21″and shared a New York Magazine cover with fellow-Jewish star Barbra Streisand, but as her mom said, “Nothing prepared me for walking around the corner in the Smithsonian and seeing Naomi there. I am just overwhelmed, and proud of both my girls.”

Naomi turns 14 on October 16, and is busy tackling virtual learning from home and working on a future in the media. “I am about half way through the shooting of a new program on Now This. It’s a news program. It’s for their Now This Kids division. I really like journalism and think maybe someday I might even be a reporter.”

The Girlhood (It’s Complicated) exhibit is on display at The National Museum of American History, 1300 Constitution Avenue NW, on the second floor, east. It is a 5,000 square foot gallery with five story sections: Education (Being Schooled), Wellness (Body Talk), Work (Hey, Where’s My Girlhood?), Fashion (Girl’s Remix), plus seven biographical interactives stories, A Girl’s Life. The design features custom murals and illustrations by artist Krystal Quiles. The exhibition will tour the country through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service from 2023 through 2025.

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