Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
July 11, 2015
Distinguished historian LAUREL THATCHER ULRICH (born 1938) may be best known as the originator of a feminist bumper sticker slogan. In her 2007 book Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, Ulrich historicizes her own fifteen minutes of popular fame, tracing the ways the title phrase moved from an observation in a 1976 American Quarterly article (an aside on the ways lawbreaking women appear in court records) to a widely reproduced observation that struck a particular cultural nerve. This move is absolutely characteristic of her historical work, which uses sources in extraordinary ways. “In my scholarly work,” she has said, “my misbehavior has been to care about things other people find predictable or boring.” Ulrich pays attention to small details and everyday objects, using the tiniest traces to reconstruct the stories of ordinary people of the past, especially American women of the 18th century. (This practice of recovering and valorizing women’s work of the past is also inflected by her Mormon feminist roots.) Her Age of Homespun (2001) has been a highly influential model for material culture studies: She takes 14 seemingly simple objects and uses the details of their construction and use to recreate the textures of their owners’ lived experiences. And her masterpiece, A Midwife’s Tale (1990), uses the terse lines of Maine healer Martha Ballard’s diary to create a rich portrait of the kind of woman whose story is infrequently told. Ulrich’s work has enabled many women to “think they have the right to make history.”
READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).