Once upon a time I was a feminist historian. I majored in history as an undergrad and wrote my senior thesis on black women's organizations in Oakland and my honors thesis on British women travelers in Australia and New Zealand. I even got into PhD programs but joined Peace Corps instead. So I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I've never gotten through Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. (As an aside, I bought my copy at a used bookstore in Accra. Wonder how it got there?) Certainly among Mormon women she is a superstar, an academic and an intellectual who won all sorts of prizes, completed her PhD and taught and wrote books, all while raising a family and living an active Mormon life. As far as I know though she's never been invited to speak at BYU's annual women's conference. Rather, she was invited and then dis-invited, as detailed in Jan Shipps' article in Christian Century. (Jan Shipps is one of the foremost scholars of Mormondom, and not a member, so the article is A Big Deal.)
For most people, Sister Ulrich is probably most famous for coining "Well-behaved women seldom make history." That's the title for her newest book. I'm looking forward to picking up my (used) copy, hopefully soon. In the meantime I'll re-read her essay "Border Crossings", which I consider to be the most heart-felt essay on reconciling Mormonism and feminism.
On September 13th, 2007 08:46 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
I just found your blog on another blog I sometimes read, which I probably found on another blog I sometimes read. I liked the title so I checked it out. I couldn't have been more surprised by what I read in this post. I am from N'ern UT and have Mormons on one side of the family--of pioneer stock, even--but was not raised in the faith. I also have a PhD in women's hist. and am well familiar with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's work. I had NO idea she was Mormon, or even from the West. How very fascinating! I just read her article you cited, "Border Crossings," and found it both interesting and impressively argued. I always thought I could never be Mormon because there is no room for women to expect or experience full humanity...most Mormon women I knew were relegated to some sort of lower place on the great chain of being, in the church as well as in their domestic lives. I loved her take on that apparent misconception. I am so glad I found this post. It made my day.
I have relatives that hail from Thatcher, ID, and am now wondering if that wee little town might have been where her family settled. I'll have to ask her next time I go to a big women's history conference.