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Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  1,158 Ratings  ·  255 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 We

Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 23rd 2008 by Vintage (first published 2007)
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Jan 18, 2017 Cheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Can be read as a summary of some of the 'high points' of a Women's History course at a good university. Fascinating, emphatic, impassioned, and yet not whiny or exaggerated. Ends with a quiet plea to continue the work of civil rights activists, not just for women but also for people of color and those who are LGBTQ+. Index, notes, no bibliography.
Nov 17, 2009 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, meridian
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
Jun 23, 2008 Kristin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 05, 2013 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feminist
Interesting look at women in history. I like the use of literature in terms of De Pizan and Woolf.
Feb 14, 2010 Heather rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 11, 2007 Liza rated it liked it  ·  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
Jan 25, 2008 CJ rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
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
Just A. Bean
Apr 09, 2015 Just A. Bean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
The book could probably use a little more structure than the three feminists idea, but it was just so enjoyable to read that I hardly minded. As an exploration of how feminism, women and history have interacted, it mostly worked. I very much liked the turn of women's actions being recorded in history, to women's actions recording history. Though it didn't deal with any one subject, with any depth, it used them all to build the case for all women's lives needing to make it into history as more th ...more
Diana C. Nearhos
May 24, 2017 Diana C. Nearhos rated it liked it
Shelves: owned, nonfiction
I really liked the concept of this book, especially being from the woman who coined the phrase unintentionally (Her introduction on the phrase's popularity is great).
The book felt a little constrained, however, by her viewing the idea through Chistine de Pizan's City of Ladies, Elizabeth Cady Stanton's Eighty Years and More, and Virginia Woolfe's A Room of One's Own. I would have liked to come at it from a broader stance.
This is an interesting read, but I'm not sure I would recommend it to those
Mar 29, 2016 Dlora rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I was intrigued with the title of the book and really enjoyed Ulrich’s preface explaining how the phrase came to be and the amazing groundswell of people who adopted it. The slogan’s popularity was because it could be read so many ways, mostly in terms of justifying bad behavior or in terms of feminism. “The ‘well-behaved women’ quote works because it plays into longstanding stereotypes about the invisibility and the innate decorum of the female sex.” I read it more in terms of realizing that th ...more
Mar 01, 2010 Laurie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Barb Cherem
The forward of this book that relates how the well-known title has everybody and their brother projecting their own meaning on to it, was the most fascinating part for me. Even though I thought like ever so many others, that I knew what it meant, I found that so too did everybody with very different interpretations than my own.

Later-on in the book, we meet the domestic workers that followed Rosa Parks bus boycott and walked to work; are they "well-behaved women"? The author would say that they
Kris Munson
Apr 13, 2014 Kris Munson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 03, 2011 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 04, 2015 Benjamin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: resistance, feminism
I picked this up while waiting for something and then picked it up again waiting for something else and, like that, until I realized that I was a third of the way into it and that I was reading it for real. By the time I got near the end, I had put the other ten books I am reading aside to concentrate on this one. So, gripping.
In a very general way, the book is about the history of women: women in the past in general, women who "make history," and how history and historiography eventually learne
Feb 25, 2008 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
It's a very ambitious book, why do I think this? I was deeply engrossed and realized it was only the introductory chapter, not even chapter 1! I was fascinated by the context of the quote "well-behaved women seldom make history" from the woman who spawned it in a paper many, many years ago. But the subsequent explorations of some of these women was too heavy and unanimated. I'm used to authors like Mary Roach that have an angle or a spin that makes it all their own and that was lacking in this b ...more
Sarah Stevens
Jan 18, 2011 Sarah Stevens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 28, 2010 Melissa rated it liked it
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
Feb 25, 2009 Maralise rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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."
May 27, 2011 Jenny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed all of the interesting history of feminism in this book.
Salina Christaria
I was a rule follower for almost half a century, thinking that was among the noblest of virtues. This book helped me break out of that box and see the value in following your convictions as opposed to abiding by rules meant to maintain the status quo. I learned to applaud and esteem the many women who went before me who did NOT follow the rules so that I could wear pants, vote, own property, and take out a bank loan!
Dec 14, 2008 Lyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 06, 2010 Lily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2010
I was hoping for Ulrich to follow up her excellent forward about the book's title with a more complex approach to "women who make history" (including both the women themselves and the historians who make them into history.) Instead, I was somewhat disappointed in the way the book concluded by a one-sided celebration of 70's feminism. However, nobody must be more aware of the blatant bias in this chapter than Ulrich, who spends much of the book speculating on the power of particular historical le ...more
Dec 07, 2007 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 25, 2010 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 26, 2009 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: smart-stuff
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
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
Tamra Karl
Nov 05, 2013 Tamra Karl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” 11978 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.” 67 likes
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