A look at the world of early Mormon women whose seemingly ordinary lives belied an astonishingly revolutionary spirit, drive, and determination revealed through more than two dozen nineteenth-century diaries, letters, albums, minute-books, and quilts left by first-generation Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, the never-before-told story of the earliest days of the women of Mormon "plural marriage," whose right to vote in the state of Utah was given to them by a Mormon-dominated legislature as an outgrowth of polygamy in 1870, fifty years ahead of the vote nationally ratified by Congress, and who became political actors in spite of, or because of, their marital arrangements. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, writing of this small group of Mormon women who've previously been seen as mere names and dates, has reconstructed these textured, complex lives to give us a portrait of who these women were and of their "sex radicalism"--the idea that a woman should choose when and with whom to bear children.
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: Objects and Stories in the Making of an American Myth (2001), she has incorporated museum-based research as well as more traditional archival work. Her most recent book is Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History (2007). Her major fields of interest are early American social history, women's history, and material culture. Professor Ulrich's work is featured on the web at www.dohistory.org and www.randomhouse.com.
"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 mayor of Salt Lake City.
That conflict, or apparent conflict, between early Mormon feminism and polygamy is a rich and fascinating territory. It is complex, fluid, and sometimes appears contradictory. However, in the hands of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, this absorbing aspect of women, faith, family, suffrage, and the early Mormon church becomes a tapestry sewn together by various voices through Ulrich's well-honed skill at analyzing early diaries, notes, letters, poems, albums, and the even quilts of members of the LDS faith (primarily women) from the beginning of the LDS church through 1870 (the year women's suffrage passed in the territory of Utah*).
For those who are unfamiliar with Ulrich, she was the one who made famous the phrase: "well-behaved women seldom make history". She also wrote the landmark book, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. This landmark book was (and is) very influential for subverting many ideas of pre-industrial labor, gender roles, and HIStory. She is Harvard's 300th Anniversary University Professor, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Bancroft Prize, former President of the American Historical Association, and is a Guggenheim and MacArthur fellow. She is just a bad ass. If we ever have another daughter, we might just name her Laurel and buy her a diary.
* It was later repealed under the Edmunds–Tucker Act and was eventual returned in 1896 when Utah became a state, but that will probably need to wait until Professor Ulrich writes A House Full of Females, Part 2: 1870 to present.
Not my favorite. It was horrifically sad, tragic and dismal. No doubt the research was extensive, but like most nonfiction books of this nature, it definitely had a slant. Omit this, spend 4 pages on that, barely mention this, yada yada, yada.
I know, it is just a pet peeve of mine....but I like my nonfiction the same way I like cheesecake. I prefer the whole thing and not just a slice....and that is what this felt like. It was just a slice of the story.
This also felt really long, probably because it was. I listened to the audio. The narrator had a pleasant voice, but another pet peeve is when simple words are mispronounced. Being from Alaska, when I listen to stories with my home state as the setting, I expect the names to be pronounced correctly. Even though the names and words in this book aren't nearly as complicated as some Alaskan names are, it still needs to be correct. So 2 stars.
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 the challenge of plural marriage, but in doing so they subjected themselves to God more than men. Within their homes they were often called on to provide economic and familial management for years at a time while their husbands served far-flung missions. Many plural wives were obstensibly heads of their own households, as their men divided their time between families. Beginning in the 1840s they organized Relief Societies and other service-oriented councils that gave them leadership experience that was later called upon by national women's suffrage leaders. Women were granted the vote in Utah in 1870, before any state in the Union other than Wyoming, and exercised this right with pride. Utah wives also possessed easier access to divorce than their American contemporaries, because Mormon marriages (plural or monogamous) could be dissolved by "mutual consent," while in the rest of the United States a judgment of guilt (generally proven adultery) was required. I was surprised at how many plural wives actually did divorce their polygamist husbands.
As I read excerpts from many of these women's journals, I felt such pride in these cultural and actual ancestors of mine. Most of them didn't particularly want to be plural wives, but they had testimonies of the Gospel, and determined to live what they didn't fully understand. I see this as evidence of their strength. I'll admit that the primary sources quoted made me think less of some of the pioneer men; after learning about William Clayton's wandering eye I was perturbed to read from his diary that Brigham Young was ready to teach him about plural marriage and "give me a favor which I have long desired." I can't say that I'm persuaded by Orson Pratt's assertion that polygamy was for the woman's benefit because "the promulgation of monogamy ha[s] brought horrendous evils on the earth, including the prostitution, degradation, and misery of women." And it broke my heart to hear first wife Emma Clawson's feelings about her husband's young bride, "a new wife is a new thing, and I know it is impossible for him to feel any different towards her just at present, still it make[s] my heart ache to think I have not the same love."
Polygamy is a tough subject, and perhaps some LDS church members would rather not read this book. Ulrich is an upstanding Mormon, but she is also a scholar, and she doesn't paint things in a too-rosy light. Reconciling this difficult part of my religion's history with my love and loyalty to the church today is not easy, but I think it's an important thing for which to strive. A House Full of Females is a valuable tool for this undertaking.
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 an honor to our Mormon foremothers by telling their stories--through incredibly meticulous research--with dignity, honesty, and love, thus crediting their vital contributions to the success of early Mormonism.
This is a book I will read again. It is full to the brim with my people. All the lines from which my father descended were these, many-wived men and one-husband-at-a-time-women. Their convictions were deep and their commitment to being a peculiar people even deeper. Until it wasn't. There are so many stories riddled through my family lines that have missing or turned facts, with wholly disingenuous outcomes that it was a relief to have the words of a real, live scholar on my specific people. What really happened? I know some of it, and in some cases even more than is here, but there were others that had answers to questions in these pages. And some mysteries still remain, sadly.
Yes. I will read this again. Would love to ask questions of this author . . .maybe she knows how to solve my mysteries. Or where to look. Regardless of my quandaries, I respect the honest, forthright information shared, untwisted and just the facts.
No matter what, it is absolutely amazing how creatively people will design their societies to accommodate their perceived needs - long before their laws catch up to adjudicate either for or against said designs. And by then, there is often a pattern established that even if abolished, retains an echo that never is completely silenced.
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 wonderful to see that scholarship done really, really well by someone like Ulrich. Oh well.
No one can reconstruct an entire society based on the writings of everyday people the way Laurel Thatcher Ulrich can. She's a master of writing social histories (if you haven't read The Midwife's Tale, her Pulitzer Prize-winner, go do it now). In that respect, A House Full of Females doesn't disappoint. Using letters, diaries, meeting minutes, and even quilts, she analyzes the experience of early Mormon women as polygamy was first introduced and was eventually made public knowledge. She follows the Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo to Utah and beyond, trying to understand and faithfully represent their attitudes and experiences with plural marriage. These are the years when the strangest and most secretive stuff happened in regard to polygamy, so I loved reading a history done by a true historian (not an apologist) who also happens to be LDS. She knows the history and culture of the church and is respectful of the claimed spiritual experiences of her subjects, but she's still a historian. She's very honest and appropriately analytical about the past, and I'm so happy that high-caliber history about the LDS church has been coming forward more often in recent years.
Side note: I did find it odd that so much of A House Full of Females was pulled from Wilford Woodruff's diary. Ulrich explains that he was probably the most prolific journal writer in early Mormon history, but it still seems curious to me that a book about women's history was largely based on a man's diary.
Where the book fell short for me was in its discussion of the women's rights movement. Ulrich touches on it, but I wish it had been more fully integrated throughout A House Full of Females. I came away with a better understanding of the history of polygamy, but I don't feel like I understand any better than I did before where Mormon women's support of the suffrage movement in the 1870s and beyond came from. I feel like, since the title suggests it, Ulrich might have done a better job of integrating the story of Mormon women with the national women's rights movement. That material is there. Nineteenth century ideas about woman as the "angel of the home" and the family's moral guardian directly translated into women's view of themselves as the nation's moral guardians. It seems to me like those narratives would have blended in so well with Ulrich's discussions of polygamy.
But now I feel ridiculous because I'm talking abut how someone like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich could be a better historian. She's still the best.
A warning for audiobook listeners. I wish so much that either the publishers had chosen a reader familiar with Mormon terminology or that the chosen narrator had done some research. Susan Ericksen mispronounces things all over the place in ways that will bother LDS readers or anyone who knows Mormon lingo. Names like Lamanites, Nephi, Zion, Zina, and SO MANY others are consistently mispronounced. It felt like she hadn't even tried to learn the typical pronunciation, and that really bothered me. It reflects poorly on Ulrich's work and might cause LDS readers to question the validity of the research, which is really unfortunate. It's not the book's fault - it's the audiobook reader's.
Final thought: I was bummed that Emmeline B. Wells was only mentioned once, because she's my absolute hero. It makes sense because she didn't become prominent until right around the end of the time period covered, but I just love her and want everyone to know her. That is all.
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 culture. Ulrich's book upends traditional narratives using the voices of Mormon women—voices which have too often been unheard in previous accounts, voices preserved in long-forgotten records stored in old breadboxes or woven into quilts passed down through the years.
As a new history, A House Full of Females surely ranks among the best books about early Mormonism.
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 to the "left over" men. Although I did learn things about Mormons and their persecution that I did not know, I found the book a very difficult read with little reward in terms of an understanding of what motivated all of the sacrifices made by the Mormons, especially the women who gave up so much.
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.
I have to give this five stars for the amazing work of historical research that it represents. It is a fair and (I think) objective account focusing on Mormon womens’ points-of-view on the issues that were important to them; home, faith, family, survival, art and politics. It demonstrates the incredible amount of good that the Societies of these determined and strong women were able to accomplish.
It moves smoothly through the early days and beginnings of the polygamy practice, through the Nauvoo era and on to the Salt Lake Valley. It is a historical account; not a story and so can feel long and scholarly, but for members of the Mormon church, there are plenty of well-known characters to follow along.
Ulrich examines the workings of feminism and patriarchy as they affect the lives of this American religious community. She refers to diaries, newspapers, poems, pictures and quilts as well as what we know from formal and legal records and the laws in effect at the time. She focuses on what we know, and isn’t afraid to say when the records are lacking in information. She also includes information on relations with the native people of Utah.
They were especially fierce in the area of political rights; During the long fight over plural marriage nothing outraged Mormon women more than the notion that they were simply pawns of the patriarchy. At a mass meeting of women held in the tabernacle in 1886 they emphatically denied; “that we vote otherwise than according to our own free choice, and point to the fact that the ballot is absolutely secret in Utah as proof that we are protected in voting for whom and what we choose with perfect liberty.”
I listened to this, and I think that was a very good choice for keeping me moving along although her professional voice took some of the “grit” out of the pioneer quotes that were included.
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 and appreciated this book. My favorite parts were the poems written by sisters, particularly Eliza R. Snow, which illustrated difficulties, doubts, hopes and wishes of Mormon women, many of which I share. I felt an increased sense of pride for the Relief Society after learning of its controversial origins. Feminism is "in" right now and the gathering of women is more popular and fashionable than ever. This is not a criticism of modern-day feminism, but a little humble brag that I have been a member of one of the oldest girls-only clubs in the United States since I graduated high school. I have always struggled with the patriarchal nature of Mormonism, and while this book did not erase every criticism and doubt, it certainly softened my heart and increased my understanding and faith in a religion I often throw my hands up in frustration. I think many will also enjoy the candid diary entries and letters from, these, for lack of a better word, sassy women of the mid-1800s. This book is thorough, well-written and surprisingly entertaining. I highly recommend for those interested in women's roles within the Mormon church, Mormon women and polygamy and all my feminist Mormon sisters <3
Mormonism has always been a faith of second chances. How else did its early adherents persist in building one promised Zion after another, even when the early ones failed? In the same way, confidence in new beginnings allowed earnest female leaders to turn the other cheek when officious men disparaged their religious gifts or denied the promises they believed God had given them. Living in their religion, they learned wisdom by the things that they suffered, and when the opportunity came in 1870, they defended the right to speak for themselves.
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 emotional hardship and sacrifice that is not openly talked about. While being refugees time and time again these women were trying to come to terms with polygamy and having husbands called on crazy long missions. Its sad to me that it took me nearly 30 years and active searching to have a fuller idea of these female pioneers. I wish we would talk about these things more openly.
As and LDS woman I am attempting to understand polygamy and see how this doctrine fits in with my faith. Although this book didn't really help answer my questions fully I think it is a good historical starting point. I'm grateful Laurel Thatcher Ulrich took on this topic. I really admire her.
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 of the grand narrative, but I gained a richer understanding of the emotions and motivations of those on the ground.
A fantastic reflection of the complexities of early Mormonism, particularly polygamy and other shifts. The book captures the multi-faceted reactions to these different elements of the lived Mormon experience for those that are just removed from the center of the stories that we usually tell.
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 husbands were constantly being sent on missions, thus forcing their wives to take care of themselves.
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 hands to heal the sick.
Eliza R. Snow, the secretary, wrote extensive minute from those early meetings. When later published in the 1850’s, her minutes were heavily edited to remove much of the priesthood autonomy that Joseph bestowed on them. For instance, the phrase, “I now turn the key to you” had been changed to “I now turn the key in your behalf.” Emma used the society to fight against polygamy, forcing Joseph to give strong public denials of his practice in it. This in turn gave fuel to William Law, who knew Joseph was vehemently lying. Ulrich notes, “By holding her husband accountable for his public statements, Emma had made him even more vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.” (113) Law published the Nauvoo Expositor, which demonstrated Joseph’s polygamy. Joseph had the publication and press destroyed, leading him be incarcerated in Carthage.
Brigham blamed Emma and the Relief Society for Joseph’s death. In August 1845, he officially disbanded the Society. “When I want Sisters to get up Relief Society I will summon them, but until that time, let them stay at home. If you see females huddling together veto the concern and if they say Joseph started it, tell them it is a damned lie for I know he never encouraged it.” “What are relief societies for?” he asked. “To relieve us of our best men - They relieved us of Joseph and Hyrum - I don’t want the advice or counsel of any woman.”
Although said out of mourning, Brigham’s distrust of women lasted for decades. Women met informally in spiritual meetings, speaking in tongues, laying on of hands, and in moral admonitions from Winter Quarters on. Again, the meetings and organizations maintained activity at the grass roots level. In Jan. 1854, women of no connection, met on their own initiative to organize the Indian Relief Society, making clothes for the natives. By June, Brigham had asked these societies to proliferate. These organizations operated independently from each other. The general Relief Society was finally organized in Dec. 1867, with Eliza R. Snow at the head.
Ulrich covers polygamy with great equanimity. The faith, religious devotion, and spirituality shines, as does the pain and sorrow. The suffering was largely kept away from public scrutiny. Vilate Kimball wrote a poem following the birth of her a new son,
The Lord has blessed us with another Son Which is the seventh I have Born May he be the father of many lives. But not the Husband of many Wives.
On another occasion, she pleads for her husband’s continued affection in the face of other, younger, women.
Forget me not though brighter eyes May beam with sparkling fire Forget me not though fairer forms May cause thee to admire
Ulrich observes, “Vilate suffered because of polygamy, but she was not going to admit that to anyone who showed disrespect for her faith.” (233)
The author takes great care to note the constant behind-the-scenes presence and contributions of women. She notes one “rare example of Eliza [R. Snow]’s actually claiming credit for the work she did behind the throne.” (372)
Those are just some previews. The book covers Iowa and the overland trail in details I hadn’t seen before. She covers the early missions to India and Hong Kong as well as the Utah War, Pioneer Day, colonizing, and relationships. Excellently written. Always thoughtful and careful around controversy. It paints a broader, more complete, more complex picture of our heritage.
If you don’t have time to read the book but want more discussion, see last summer’s excellent Book Club by a round table of Mormon Scholars.
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 are still available.
The author gives an overview of the creation of the LDS church because of course Plural marriage would not have existed or have been important to the Mormons without it becoming a tenet of their religion. Nevertheless it was interesting to find out that not every Mormon was involved in a plural marriage in the 19th century and also that it was very strongly encouraged of the leadership. It almost became a requirement for those in leadership positions and the leaders were the men who took the most plural wives.
After reading the book I still don't get the feeling that most plural wives were that thrilled with it. Yes, it meant that no one who wanted to be married would be left single. Making a home in Utah & the West -- and the many moves that happened before that could certainly be helped with more adult hands to help with the never ending work of life. However, the Mormon women were excellent at drawing together to help each other in any case; having their husband marry another woman often left the first & subsequent wives feeling that their relationship with their husband was becoming marginalized and they certainly had to learn to share his finite amount of time. I certainly enjoyed this book and like the historical novels that sent me looking up the 'real' history, this book has sent me out looking up more information on the Mormons and their history.
Unless you are an independent scholar who likes to peruse primary sources in all your spare time, you will probably find something in this volume that you didn't know or consider before regarding plural marriage. Ulrich allows the reader to reach their own conclusion, if they can. Though it may not change your opinion of the practice or those who practiced it, this book will definitely add nuance to your understanding of them. Some of the things I found most interesting were the facts about the state of marriage and divorce and the laws governing them in the nation as a whole around this time period. They were among many reasons given by women in public and in their own diaries for why they chose plural marriages. One example: no-fault divorce was the standard in Utah territory, a rarity in the nation. Divorce and remarriage were much more common than elsewhere in the nation, and most who left plural marriages chose to remarry into other ones rather than seek a monogamous relationship. That surprised me. If you are a Latter-day Saint, this book will also challenge you to consider your own relationship to past and current church leaders, without the book being critical of them. Again, Ulrich lets you develop your own opinion, but makes it impossible for you to leave it unconsidered. I recommend this book highly.
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 and accident. And it was really interesting to read about how women fought publicly for their right to worship (which especially included polygamy) while feeling personal pain over the practice. (Also, this was in no way Ulrich's stated thesis but reading this book makes me even more convinced that polygamy sucks. There are some heartbreaking stories in here.)
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 new ideas and organizations and trying their best. I guess my main complaint is that I wasn't sure what the author was trying to say/do with this book. All in all, I'm glad I read it and if you are a Mormon history buff, this is a must read.
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 further you read, and this was one of those.
This really is an excellent book, full of really solid research and tons of information, I just had the unfortunate circumstance of reading during the trump/kavaugh travesty, and so emotionally all this very good history landed on my heart as a great big "men are terrible and have been hurting us for always and I'm really sick of it and please make them stop, they're never gonna stop". And so, this book filled me with sadness and admiration for my very strong foremothers and anger and so many things. So read it, but also self-care, so much self-care.
Details, details, details! So many good details in this book. (And extensive footnotes too.)
I've read enough Mormon history to know the events and their timelines. This book adds color to those events with the words of the people that lived them. Yes, I learned more about how polygamy was practiced, but I also learned what these people's lives were like in so many other ways too.
I've long known Wallace Stegner's famous quote that "their [Mormon pioneer] women were incredible." This book will show you how and why that is true.
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 read the first-person thoughts and feelings of women who were asked to participate in this most peculiar institution. It was a struggle, as can be expected, but each of them came to it in their own terms and for their own reasons. For those of us who are far separated from this practice by time and our own experience, I think we must respect these women and their decisions.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a descendant of a polygamist marriage, and a student of 19th century America, this history is something with which I have long grappled. There was much in this book that I already knew, but much more that I did not, and I'm grateful to Ulrich for her research and her treatment of the subject.
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 learning about the 14th wars album quilt. I would love to read the book about it now and see it in person.
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, but there is great beauty and strength in some of these stories, as well as sorrow and angst. (And, sigh, Brigham.) As she did in her Pulitzer-prize winning history of a Maine midwife, Laurel shines a light on little detailed scraps of these women's lives and uses them to color the sketch of who they were as real people.
I took several months to read this and found it fascinating. I love Ulrich's extensive detail exclusively from direct sources during the time period. I bought another book by her the day I finished this one.
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.
Staunchly 4 stars. A book full of intertwining histories and events many Mormons are familiar with but never quite told through this lens. Many of these events are interconnected and made Mormon and Church History more rich in my opinion. The practice of polygamy is always an eyebrow raiser and this was no exception. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich tells the story as objectively as possible and presents multiple views that laud the practice and those that walked away. For anybody curious about a woman's perspective from this time period will be very satisfied with this book.
This is a spellbinding account of the women that participated in the early growth and dissemination of the LDS Church. The trials and obstacles they faced were overwhelming. Their grit and determination were more than equal to the task. Laural Thatcher Ulrich has honed her skills over years of recounting the great lives of ordinary people. I took pleasure in seeing a closeup view of the faith of my childhood.