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Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  897 ratings  ·  229 reviews
From admired historian—and coiner of one of feminism's most popular slogans—Laurel Thatcher Ulrich comes an exploration of what it means for women to make history.

In 1976, in an obscure scholarly article, Ulrich wrote, "Well behaved women seldom make history." Today these words appear on t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, greeting cards, and all sorts of Web sites and blogs.
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Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 23rd 2008 by Vintage (first published 2007)
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Emily
This book is like a teaser or a movie preview - it just cracks opens the door to give you a peek at what's out there so you know that there's a lot more where that comes from. Using her own famous slogan as a launching pad, Ms. Ulrich covers an amazingly broad spectrum of time, class, and geography to give us a taste of the breadth and depth of women's history. For example, she discusses the legends of Amazon warriors, women's suffrage, Mrs. O'Leary's cow, the stories of Judith and Susanna in th ...more
Liza
Feb 07, 2008 Liza rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historians, feminists, art historians
Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History covers far too much ground in few too pages. The text attempts to relates to the thesis--that well-behaved women seldom make history--but it often comes across as seeming annecdotal and trite at times. The reader learns a little about the Amazons, a little about second-wave feminists, and a little about Wonder Woman, among others. It's all fascinating, but it prevents a level of depth that most readers yearn for. I did like, however, how the author framed " ...more
Kristin
I know that women's studies scholars have reviewed this book and found it simplistic and repetitive. I, however, am not a women's studies scholar. I am a woman who wants to understand how my culture, stretching back for centuries, has formed the experience of women. I was not at all disappointed. I found this book interesting, entertaining, and educational. I did emerge from it rather grumpy and sharp toward my husband and three boys, but now that my husband is eager to read it as well, I think ...more
CJ
I wanted to like this book - really. As a child, I would go to the biography section in the public library and just pull books at random off the shelves to take home and read. The librarians didn't know what to do with a child who came up with 11 books and wanting to check them all out. I chewed through those books every week.

I don't know what it is about this book, but the lives of the women she talks about were ... well boring. How do you make history boring? I couldn't finish it and it went b
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Rachel
Oh Laurel, you don't disappoint. I really enjoyed this book. Perhaps it's the way I approached it, grabbing it up for a quick ten-minute read here and there during the day. Gave me lots of time to think over what I'd read. Brain food.

Reading this: Like sitting in Ulrich’s Harvard seminar. Made me nostalgic for those lovely English grad school discussions. Came away doubly determined to familiarize my girls with the women who lived through the ages.

Still, this book wasn't what I'd expected. I ass
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Heather
Oh I really liked this. I judge the awesomeness of a book by how often I stop and read passages outloud to McKay. This gets 5 starts solely because I think I could have read every word outloud to him, except he's trying to read the Chronicles of Narnia right now and didn't have time to listen to me read this whole book to him.

It reads in the same way my brain thinks. Lots of details and it goes everywhere. You start talking about Woolf and end up with the Great Chicago Fire. Now that's the kind
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Laurie
Years ago, I saw the title of this book and it grabbed my imagination. The book didn’t exist at the time; this was originally a sentence in an article that she wrote in 1976. The sentence escaped captivity and was used on t-shirts, coffee mugs and bumper stickers- sometimes without either credit or permission. I used the sentence as my sig. line for a couple of years. Here, Ulrich explores what it means to make history.

Years ago, women were pretty much ignored in history books. It took many yea
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Miri
4.5 stars. There was so much information in here about amazing women in history! I loved it, and in the last twenty pages I made a long list of feminist classics I need to read (or reread, in the case of The Yellow Wallpaper, because when I read it before I didn't know it was a feminist classic). Ulrich tells the story of feminism, essentially--of women's awareness of their place in history--through the works of three women: Christine de Pizan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Virginia Woolf. It's we ...more
Melissa
The last book for the "Women Unbound" challenge (ending in November, I think).

I thought this was a very good overview. There are lots (LOTS) of anecdotes and the sheer number adds many more women to Ulrich's history than if she just focused on de Pizan, Cady Stanton, Woolf, de Beauvior, Friedan, etc. I wanted a little more depth, though, beyond the "Big Three" of de Pizan, Cady Stanton, and Woolf because I felt like we were skimming over the top of history. But it was still interesting and adds
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Kris Munson
My daughter bought me this book, which was an epic thing for her to do, because I was enthralled throughout the whole thing.

First of all, I've been a Mormon all of my life, and have yet to really run across a woman quite like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (with the exception of my sister). It's such a breath of fresh air to read a historian who is so in tune with women's issues. She made me wake up to the history that hasn't been written about women for centuries, and she made me want to read much, muc
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Sarah Stevens
Really interesting read, and I'm sure it makes for great discussion in book groups. Ulrich (the author) covers and impressive span of geography and time as she pulls together women from history in a loose thread of themes. There are lots of interesting historical insights. I only give it four stars, however, because while it is fascinating and 'consciousness-raising', there are so many themes and ideas presented that I can't help but feel that I'm not sure what the overarching point of the book ...more
Bree
I found the framing of this book very interesting. Ulrich chose three different women through history - Christine de Pizan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Virginia Woolf - and structured the flow of the book off of not only their own stories, but the status of women during their time and how women of their time affected history. The last chapter also deals very much with second-wave feminism and goes quite a bit beyond Woolf's time.

I enjoyed this book. I loved reading about women that history - and
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Maralise
Favorite quote:

"At any given moment it is hard to know whom to believe or what to trust. That's why details matter...Details keep us from falling into the twin snares of 'victim history' and 'hero history.' Details let us out of boxes created by slogans."
Marie desJardins
I was really looking forward to reading this book, but honestly I just found it meandering and unutterably boring. I struggled through the prologue, "The Slogan," about how Ulrich coined the title phrase, increasingly puzzled about what the heck her point was meant to be and whether she was ever going to get to it. I slogged through the "Three Writers" chapter, increasingly skeptical that the book was actually going to be *about* anything. Finally, halfway through "Amazons," I gave up.

A lot of
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Megan
Before Laurel Thatcher Ulrich was a Harvard professor, she inadvertently created a slogan—Well-behaved women seldom make history—while writing a scholarly article on Puritan women. Since then, the slogan has appeared on bumper stickers, T-shirts, and in funeral eulogies. After years of seeing the slogan used and misused, Ulrich decided it was time to write a book to clarify what the slogan means to her. She does this by taking the reader back in history through the eyes of the women that lived i ...more
Rebecca
This book is not a diatribe, in spite of the veiny-armed woman on the cover. The title, of bumper-sticker fame, is not a clear statement but a touchstone-- a demonstration of slipperiness of interpretation, of history, of ways of defining women.

This book is a thoughtful and close look at women and history. Women looking at history, history looking back at women, women lost to history and where they went... I'm afraid I can't do justice to the delicate and enthralling way she weaves together medi
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Sarah
I did not find Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History as engaging as I was expecting. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich inadvertently invented the slogan that is the title of this book; it was just a sentence in an article she published in the 1970s, but in the mid-90s someone used it and it took off as a slogan printed on t-shirts, mugs, etc. In this book, Ulrich explores further what this idea really means. She covers a lot of ground in exploring the history of women and how they have made history, and t ...more
Alexandria
I've never considered myself a feminist. At the start of 2011, I tried to live my life as one of the guys all the while taking an interest in how the mind works & the differences between the sexes. Eventually, my curiosity drove me to take a look at how women think, I purchased books on the female brain & gender roles and it all lead me to Ulrich's historical account of womens history. I read this book in hopes of coming to terms with my history, along with realizing I was a self hating ...more
Libby
Thoroughly enjoyed this book, though it wasn't at all what I expected. Ulrich makes this a very accessible (while still academically based) discussion of three waves of feminism.

Pardon the long quote, please, but I love this and dearly want to share it:

"Some people are happy to give feminists credit for things they fear — like abortion rights, contraception for teenagers, or gay liberation — but less willing to acknowledge that feminist activism brought about things they support, like better tr
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Amanda
I was a little afraid of this book, I'll be honest. First off, I had no idea that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is LDS until about 30 pages in. This surprises me because I tried (and failed) to read her other book A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, which I thought was good, but so boring I fell asleep probably about 275 times reading it. It surprises me that I didn't pick up on it, not surprising that she's Mormon. Anyway, I was suspicious of it because I'm gen ...more
Lyn
Ulrich takes 3 historical feminist figures (Christine de Pizan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Virgina Wolf) and then talks about their work. These women knew nothing of each other, and yet their work has very similar concerns and threads. One of the important points that Ulrich brings up is that feminism tends to start from scratch every other generation because women do not know their history - historians generally ignore women because of their supposed unimportance. We have entered an age (sinc ...more
Shelah
She was a Mormon mom in her thirties, trying to balance raising her family and working on her PhD. Writing an article on the funeral practices of Puritan women, she said, "Well-behaved women seldom make history" and probably didn't realize that she was making history of her own with the phrase. Several decades after that fateful article, Ulrich delves into the lives of women who did make history.

Women who make history is a big subject. If I were advising a student who wanted to tackle it, I'd pr
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Tamra Karl
This book took me a long time to read -- it is dense with historical examples. I don't know how I can criticize a Pulitzer Prize winning Harvard history professor, but I'll try. For a book you'd pick up at the library for enjoyment, it was just too wordy. Maybe for a historical treatise it would be considered spare, but somehow I don't think so. If you've never enrolled in a women's history class, here it is all between two covers. My favorite chapters were the prologue which reviews the history ...more
Jen
I was able to attend a lecture by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich when I was a graduate student. She is a remarkable woman and a magnificent scholar. A Midwife's Tale is a very well-researched, thoughtful and interesting books. Needless to say, I am huge fan.

I like Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History but I didn't love it. I liked how it is accessible to the average reader - you don't have to be well versed in historical methodologies to appreciate this book.

I think as historians we need to be careful
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Debbie
My Jen always gives me the best books. This isn't about behaving badly to make history but rather how history has failed to give the well-behaved women their voice. "If well-behaved women seldom make history, it is not only because gender norms have constrained the range of female activity but because history hasn't been very good at capturing the lives of those whose contributions have been local and domestic. For centuries, women have sustained local communities, raising food, caring for the s ...more
Polly
Sep 10, 2008 Polly rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Polly by: Lisa S.
Shelves: polly
I am finding this book to be a fascinating history of women--commenting on three famous women, but also insights into the everyday lives of ordinary women in different time periods.

After reading this, I wonder why this information is not part of what every person studies at school. Since everyone I know is either a woman, a child born of a woman, a man in love with a woman, a brother with sister, a father of a daughter, or someone with female colleagues or friends...to whom would this book not b
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Sara Altizer
What I liked about this is that the title is misleading in a sense. In the Introduction Laurel laughs at the surprising use of those words, when she first used them they were meant as a statement about all of the day-to-day women, living loving beautiful lives who don't receive any recognition because they aren't acting crazy and doing wild things. It was more a statement for that woman as opposed to a statement for the Amazon warriors or the political protestors. However, most of the book is fi ...more
Monica
It took me quite a while to finish this book. Not because it wasn't interesting per se, but mostly because I felt it lacked the kind of complexity that I expected from the title and her introduction. On some level, I expected (following the introduction) that Ulrich was working to re-appropriate the phrase she had coined "Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History" with a complex discussion of how women have entered the historical record, and I was hoping that she would provide multiple lenses throu ...more
Aleta
Its obvious Ulrich did a great deal of research to bring together all of the facts and stories that are in this book and I appreciate that effort and the new awareness it gave me.
I do have an increased interest in women's history, now, and a better understanding and appreciation for women who have played a part in making and recording it.
I get the title now- and understand where it came from and the various meanings that have been derived from it. I think the book generates many interesting poi
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Kim Z
Jan 17, 2008 Kim Z rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: feminists, historians
The most interesting part of this book is the preface. There the author tells the interesting story of how the title statement developed from a line in an obscure academic paper to being published on t-shirts and bumper stickers, often being interpreted in ways seemingly at odds with its original context.

The rest of the book is an eclectic collection of stories about women throughout history. The transition from one to another is often sudden with a very tangential thread connecting each. (At on
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Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University. She is the author of Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Early New England, 1650-1750 (1982) and A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (1990) which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1991 and became the basis of a PBS documentary. In The Age of Homespun ...more
More about Laurel Thatcher Ulrich...
A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth Yards and Gates: Gender in Harvard and Radcliffe History Rachel's Death: Leonard J Arrington Mormon History Lecture Series #9

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“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” 11058 likes
“Some history-making is intentional; much of it is accidental. People make history when they scale a mountain, ignite a bomb, or refuse to move to the back of the bus. But they also make history by keeping diaries, writing letters, or embroidering initials on linen sheets. History is a conversation and sometimes a shouting match between present and past, though often the voices we most want to hear are barely audible. People make history by passing on gossip, saving old records, and by naming rivers, mountains, and children. Some people leave only their bones, though bones too make a history when someone notices.” 47 likes
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