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A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  718 ratings  ·  197 reviews
From the author of A Midwife's Tale, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Bancroft Prize for History, and The Age of Homespun--a revelatory, nuanced, and deeply intimate look at the world of early Mormon women whose seemingly ordinary lives belied an astonishingly revolutionary spirit, drive, and determination.

A stunning and sure-to-be controversial book that pieces toget
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Published January 10th 2017 by HighBridge Audio
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Deborah "Some words travel a winding path to their meanings, causing language users confusion over what they actually mean. A word whose definition or usage i…more"Some words travel a winding path to their meanings, causing language users confusion over what they actually mean. A word whose definition or usage is so hotly contested that it never fails to draw attention to itself is called a skunked term. It may be that language users will resolve the problem over time, but until then, what's a writer to do? Today, the story behind fulsome and what to do with this stinky term." - Erin Brenner

I not sure what prompts your question. I read it because I have read other books by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and I liked them. I am also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and I have polygamist ancestors.

I now have a better understanding of these early times in the church instead of just brushing the surface.(less)

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Jan 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, history
"Well-behaved women seldom make history"
- Laurel Thatcher Ulrich


My wife and I named our only daughter Emmeline after Emmeline B. Wells, the 5th president of the Mormon Church's relief society. The reason we felt strongly about using that name was Emmeline B. Wells was both a strong Mormon, a writer, and an early feminist and suffragette. She advocated for a woman's right to vote and edited the Women's Exponent in 1872. She was also the 7th wife of Daniel H. Wells, a Mormon apostle and later mayo
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, history
This is the kind of historical project I would dream of taking on: studying a large collection of journals of every-day people and weaving them together to tell a story about life in a certain society. I loved learning what Ulrich skillfully pieced together.

Utah's pioneer women were criticized and pitied for being victims of polygamy with its apparent patriarchal sublimation, but in truth they were some of the most independent and powerful women of their era. Yes, they did bow in obedience to t
Mar 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
At last. A book on Mormon history that not only includes women, but focuses on women, treating them as complete subjects who led rich and varied lives full of loss, pain, and stalwart faith. I especially loved reading about the many accounts of women administering healing blessings to their fellow sisters. And how sick I felt reading about how Eliza R Snow's forgotten diary would have burned if someone had not pulled it from the burn box because it looked interesting. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich does ...more
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is about much more than polygamy and women's rights, although you'll learn much about those things here. A House Full of Females is a compulsively readable cultural history of the first forty years of the Latter-day Saint experience told from the ground up. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich expertly weaves together scraps from diaries, letters, and other day-to-day records created in ink, cloth, memory, and other materials—all of which are used to examine the development of Mormon theology and cu ...more
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lds, history
Others can do a better job evaluating Ulrich's arguments, but I'll say that her book is invaluable in its reconstruction of Mormon women's lives between 1835 and 1870. What engaged me most was the staggering variety of these women's experiences and their adaptations to the vicissitudes of life, including remarriage, housework, and social organizations.
Shaina Robbins
Apr 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved this less than I wanted to, but it was still an impressive and much needed work of history. A decent amount of scholarship has been done about the intersection between polygamy and women's rights between the late 1860s and the 1890s (a FASCINATING time in Mormon women's history), but there hasn't been much written about the lead-up to those years. Ulrich's work fills that gap. Unreasonably, I was a little disappointed that A House Full of Females didn't cover 1870 on, since it would be w ...more
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The most impressive part of this large book was the meticulous research and general gathering of artifacts- diaries, poems, letters, quilts, and daguerrotypes, that was required to produce such a detailed look into polygamy and early feminism within the Mormon church. I had the opportunity to attend a lecture and reading with Laurel and her enthusiasm and no-nonsense responses to difficult questions ("Do you really believe Joseph Smith saw Jesus Christ?") definitely influenced how much I enjoyed ...more
Morgan Taylor
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really appreciated this book. It was a deep social history which I haven't really read before, so it took me some time to get through. It was refreshing to read an early history of the women of the LDS church written by a historian who attempted to deliver unbiased facts the best she could. It was heartbreaking to realize what depth of struggle these women experienced. Growing up I heard the stories of physical hardship and sacrifice, but its sad to realize that there is a whole part of emotio ...more
Conor Hilton
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating history that focuses on the lived and day-to-day realities of women in early Mormonism. Women's voices are centered throughout the text as it draws from their journals and other writings to paint a picture that's less interested in the grand, sweeping shifts and movements and more defined by the every day lived experiences of people, especially women, in the early Church. The book is crammed with interesting details and anecdotes and well worth your time. Occasionally I lost sight ...more
May 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A women’s history of the Mormons from 1835-70. Ulrich, a Harvard Mormon historian, masterly sorts through contemporary documents, journals, and materials to emphasize female voices during a period dominated by male authority and sources.

We cover so many interesting episodes. The foundation of the Relief Society was originally motivated to be a strictly humanitarian organization. Joseph repurposed it, making it a moral society, introducing priesthood ordination, and encouraging women laying on ha
This is primarily a narrative history of a central group of Mormons in the mid-19th century. It traces their trials and triumphs from joining the faith, creating communities in the Midwest, the migration westward, and settling in the Utah territory. It also provides travels across the world as some of the main characters set off on missions to England and Hong Kong, among other places.
Ulrich's "in" to the narrative is the lives and roles of women in these formative years of mormonism and mormon
Man, this was so impressive. I'm amazed by the sources and stories Ulrich found to pull from, given the difficulty of preserving and finding records/letters/diaries kept by average women. She does such a great job of helping us see what life was like for these pioneer women and how much they sacrificed and accomplished, often on their own (with husbands away on missions or spread between plural families). One thing that stood out to me was how often families lost babies and children to illness a ...more
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is a very scholarly work minutely detailing the lives of some of the Mormons who, due to religious persecution, left the eastern United States for Utah. After 387 pages of reading I am left with no clear idea of why people found Mormonism so appealing, leaving home family, friends and sometimes non-Mormon husbands behind. Also it was never made clear what Mormon women derived from plural marriage or, in view of the fact that Mormon women did not greatly outnumber Mormon men, what happened t ...more
Jan 16, 2017 rated it liked it
I was a little disappointed in this book. I so admired Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale and looked forward to reading this one especially after watching an interview with her about it but have to disagree with her position about Mormon women's independence during the early years of the church. I think she is somewhat biased as a lifelong Mormon. While it is true that women throughout the country had little autonomy, the only reason Mormon women were able to have some leadership was because their husban ...more
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2017
This was an interesting read. Yes, it read like a history book, but I thought the author did a great job writing what occurred in the early history of the church without bias or sugar coating it. I learned some things, made some connections and had insights into some aspects of early church history that, at times, made me a little uncomfortable, but I'm Ok with that. I came away with a renewed reverence for those women! I admire their strength. I like a book that gets better and better the furth ...more
This book was an in-depth look at the rise of plural marriage in the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a particular emphasis on the views of the women who practiced it. I wish I'd found the time to write a better review right after reading it. At the time, I wanted to think it over a bit before writing something, and then the holiday season overtook me and here it is nearly 2 months later and my memory fails me.

The significant take-away from this book, for me, was getting to
Apr 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With a controversial title it was less “thrilling” in nature, yet better than expected for understanding the daily lives and thoughts of pioneer women. I found this to be a page turner and easy to read while summarizing 50 years of history and hundreds of journal entries. Cohesive and informative. It was perspective changing to read their journey west as we deal with “Covid-19.” I had greater insight and understanding of JS and BY and found myself rooting for the RS to return. Favorite part was ...more
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A House Full of Females is a history exploring Mormon polygamy as it unfolded, written by one of our country's foremost historians. Laurel based the book on journals and letters of women (and some men), writings that were recorded as the marriage system developed, with the intent to understand people's true and immediate reactions to it. As a modern Mormon woman confronting a history of polygamy (as we all must), I am so glad Laurel wrote this book and glad I read it. It's uncomfortable history, ...more
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio-books
I was happy to find this book in an audio edition and learned a lot as I listened. I should just be grateful that a niche book like this made it to audio, but I found myself super annoyed at the incorrect pronunciation of most of the LDS jargon. It seems like as an audio reader/narrator of a book like this, getting those words right would be a priority. At best it diminished my enjoyment and at worst I couldn’t figure out the word she was saying.
Dec 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this history. I love the author’s voice and I love the incredible research that was put into this book. I always love when I can accurately see a different time period through an author’s words. Although it felt a little choppy in parts, the research was exhaustive and so welcome. I’ve always felt annoyed at the dominant narrative of the Church regarding polygamy & this book helped clarify the truth of what went on in the mid-1800s, how the women on both sides of polygamy fe ...more
Feb 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
I learned to love history books as a kid when I read historical fiction and wanted to know what was 'true' in those books. I've always been fascinated to hear stories of how people lived and this book is made up of women's stories from the beginning of the LDS church. I knew a little bit of the story from historical novels (dating back to one I still remember from 7th grade by Annabel & Edgar Johnston!). We are lucky that the journals of some of the women and men who lived through these times ar ...more
Mar 11, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a little hard to review, probably because I love Thatcher-Ulrich so much. It honestly wasn't quite as interesting as I hoped it would be. It seemed like a lot of the same thing over and over again. It was extremely thorough and very much a historian-written book, not in any way a faith-based book. I know a lot about Mormon history and there was a lot here I didn't know. I enjoyed the insights into prominent Mormon leaders. I felt like you could really see them as humans struggling with n ...more
May 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one I marked up like crazy with happy faces, frowny faces, angry scribbled notes, you name it! It is very comprehensive for the time period. I read a lot of Mormon history but I didn't know too much about those early years in Utah. I particularly enjoyed the stories of women in San Bernardino, CA and how they managed polygamy there as well. (Hint: Not so well.) A lot of the stories are from letters between men and women as the men served missions abroad. (I never knew LDS missionaries we ...more
Steven Peck
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I will never think about polygamy and the Mormon Church the same way. Hearing it from the voices of women who experienced it was was remarkable. Their stories told from journals and letters gave a sense of immediacy and heft to their accounts. I hope the history continues. I think historians will have a better sense of this book's import because it assumed knowledge of the church's historical framing that many times went beyond mine and I would have liked a better contextualization of how these ...more
Julie Rowse
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-reads
I always love reading history, but I haven't really delved into much of Mormon history because most of the time I'm too busy reading YA or WWII books. As I read this book, I fell in love with all the messiness of my faith. I felt comforted by the history that women and Mormonism have always had complicated feelings--what I've been feeling the past 15 years isn't anything new. I felt inspired by what the women of the 19th century did...truly awestruck, if I'm being honest. I don't know that I wou ...more
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A masterpiece of Mormon scholarship. Ulrich's narrative skills are unparalleled. Without getting too theoretical, she brilliantly dissects the tension between charismatic female authority and a patriarchal priesthood structure that dominated in the early Church. Sets the stage better than anything previously for Mormon women's enthusiastic involvement in the national suffrage movement.
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I thought that this book would be specifically about the link between Utah women's voting rights and polygamy. Instead, this book is mostly about the role of women in the early days of the church. It gives the reader a sense of how polygamy played out in Mormon society, how different women's roles looked like in the early days of the church, and why Brigham Young tried to strip women of their authority after the death of Joseph Smith.

This book also gives us insight into how women felt about pol
When I was a sophomore, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich visited my college, lectured, and sat in on some history classes. I very earnestly asked her how she could reconcile being a feminist historian with being a Mormon, as the church was the one place in my life where I was explicitly told I couldn’t aspire to the the same as the boys. She was a little flustered, clarified she wouldn’t call herself a *feminist* historian, and essentially said she compartmentalized her scholarship from her religious fait ...more
May 18, 2020 rated it really liked it

The is a book written using a historian framework based largely off primary sources such as journals and letters. It’s an important addition to the narrative of early converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pioneers and the settling of the West. The fact that it’s written highlighting the experience of women at that time is at once vital and secondary. You can easily read this as a way of gaining more insight into everyday people’s experiences but you should read it to le
Feb 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Ulrich uses diary entries, letters, and other primary sources to relate the history of polygamy and its reception amongst Mormon women, beginning with its practice by Joseph Smith and continued practice after his death. Some interesting points:

1) There were few babies born from second, third, etc. wives until Brigham Young became president of the church.
2) There were several divorces when women found that they desired more emotional attachment from their spouses.
3) Some first wives were okay wi
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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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“We have some of the meanest spirits among us on earth. The net has halled in good and bad,” 0 likes
“In a signed affidavit, William Law affirmed that Hyrum Smith had read to him a revelation “so called” that authorized certain men to have more than one wife. Jane Law added her own statement, explaining that the purported revelation “set forth that those women who would not allow their husbands to have more wives than one should be under condemnation before God.” Their statements were powerful because they were simple, straightforward, and true.” 0 likes
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