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Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,454 ratings  ·  296 reviews
They didn't ask to be remembered, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Laurel Ulrich wrote in 1976 about the pious women of colonial New England. And then she added a phrase that has since gained widespread currency: Well-behaved women seldom make history.Today those words appear almost everywhere on T-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, plaques, greeting cards, and more. But what do ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 4th 2007 by Knopf (first published 2007)
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Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
Shelves: meridian, non-fiction
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 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I loved this book. It was like sitting next to a pool with your feet in the water: not a true deep dive, and you are aware that there could be more fun in the water even if it is more work, but it's a perfectly pleasant activity all on its own. A splash of 1960s activism history here. A sploosh of witch trials there. A sprinkle of great women writers. I'm one to be satisfied with an afternoon of sitting by the side of a pool. It's cooling, you're still participating--- ((this metaphor will break ...more
Feb 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Interesting look at women in history. I like the use of literature in terms of De Pizan and Woolf.
Oct 11, 2007 rated it liked it
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 rated it did not like it
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 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This is a look at women through-out the centuries who have challenged the prevailing stereotypes and roles to which their particular era and culture assigned them and succeeded in "breaking the mold" to live more satisfying lives. (For those who don't know, the author is the woman who coined the phrase that provides the title of this book, never imagining that a line in a scholarly article intended for a select audience would "go viral" to become a well-known and popular slogan.) It's also a his ...more
Diana C. Nearhos
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
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Marvelous snippets of the history of women.
Here are some parts that I found intriguing...
(1) "Although the ostensible moral is that God will protect the innocent, the operable theme is that earthly systems often fail." page 79
(2) The description of the traditional family on page 124.
(3) Alice Walker's story on page 207-208.
(4) I loved learning about Harriet Jacobs and more about Harriet Gunman and Harriet Beecher Stowe in the "Slaves in the Attic" chapter.
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
It took me a long time to read this book, as I read it in small bites. As is her style, Ulrich packed so much valuable information into every chapter, every paragraph. It was almost overwhelming sometimes, but always educational and enlightening.
Jennifer Mangler
I was hoping to learn about women I didn't know. I did, a bit, but not as much as I'd hoped. This is really an introduction to lots of women in history, most of whom, if you're interested in women's history, you'll already know.
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great intro/summary of women's history.
Mar 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book. The very short version is that it's a great bridge between pop history (the broad sweep of the topic + tendency to jump around from person to person or culture to culture are way more common in that genre) and academic history (Ulrich can interpret/analyze primary sources, uses tons of detail and nuance, and footnotes extensively to show her work), perfect for someone who reads the former and doesn't think they'd enjoy the latter.

"Details provide the contexts in which Wollston
Mar 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
May 27, 2016 rated it liked it
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
Apr 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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
Benjamin Fasching-Gray
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book attempts to summarize the history of women - their exclusion from it, their expected place in it, and how modern women have attempted to rectify centuries of injustice. This is a lot to try and cover, but Ulrich does a good job at making it readable.

At times I felt like there was a litany if stories as opposed to a strong pull-through, and because I didn’t know many of the women she referenced a lot of names and stories melded together. (I do have a bunch of new additions to my “must r
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
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
Sarah Stevens
Jan 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic non-fiction review of women in history. It covers feminists from the 16th century up to modern days. It gives great explanations of women's history (including the lack of), the fight for equality, the laws, everything I didn't know! So very interesting. This author would be an amazing teacher to take a class from !
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
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."
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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.” 12407 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.” 73 likes
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