Thursday, May 1, 2008

"Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History"

Many people know the phrase as a sort of feminist slogan. I always thought it was a cool quote, something I could live by. I never knew who had first penned it. That woman is named Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and this week I heard her lecture several times about what it means to be a historian, and what exactly her famous quotation means.

When I signed up to write about Ulrich's appearance at Knox College for the student newspaper, all I knew about her was her name and the title of her lecture. It was fascinating to learn so much more about her. Here is a link to the article I wrote on the website for our newspaper.

Some other things I didn't know about Laurel Thatcher Ulrich:

- In 1976, Ulrich published her first scholarly piece in American Quarterly. It was called “Virtuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735" and the last line of its introduction read "Well-behaved women seldom make history."

- She won a Pulitzer Prize for History in 1991 (along with many other awards) for her book A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on her diary, 1785–1812.

- A Midwife's Tale was developed into a PBS documentary for the series “The American Experience.”

- She is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University, with a concentration in Early American History.


(The Korean) Andrew said...

Oh man for historiography our class discussed the relativism of having histories of different groups studied as their own. Feminist history, Black History, Asian History, they all take historical events into consideration in relation to the interest group. We read and analyzed Ulrich among others for this segment.

My analysis was that her work focused on telling the history of people who were generally not recognized, in a generally neutral tone, (though occasionally pro-actively in favor of them).
BP said it best, history isn't about the big names or events, it's about learning about the lives of the common people of the past.

It should be pointed out that while typical American Historiography claims to be written from a neutral objective point of view, it is generally written from a pro white, Protestant, male, Anglo perspective. Hardly objective at all.

Lindsay said...

I had always known the phrase but I never stopped to think where it came from.

I'm glad there's a movement to "re-adjust" history to allow for those who haven't had their story told. Cornel West spoke at a Middle Passages conference here last month and he was pushing for this very thing - however I did disagree with him on one point. He said we need to start hearing the right voices, but even by using the word "right" it implies that some are wrong and not everyone is heard.

La Pobre Habladora said...

I currently work in a school, and it consistently amazes me how little attention is given to the voices and lives of anyone other than white males. Although I work in the high school, I walk through the elementary school wing of the school every day and see that almost all the pictures up on walls are of, well, white males. Some of this is simply because our country has been run by white, protestant males - so when decorating with pictures of presidents past you are decorating with portraits of old white dudes. Yet, is is so incredibly empowering for women and other groups that have historically been disenfranchised to see their groups acknowledged and valued. I think that Ulrich has done a service for all of us by making those voices heard. Thanks for the introduction to another awesome woman.