Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Paperback, 2008




Vintage (2008), Edition: Reprint, 320 pages


"They didn't ask to be remembered," historian 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 on T-shirts, bumper stickers, and more--but what do they really mean? Here, Ulrich ranges over centuries and cultures, from the fifteenth-century writer Christine de Pizan, who imagined a world in which women achieved power and influence, to the writings of nineteenth-century suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and twentieth-century novelist Virginia Woolf. She contrasts Woolf's imagined story about Shakespeare's sister with biographies of actual women who were Shakespeare's contemporaries. She uses daybook illustrations to look at women who weren't trying to make history, but did. Throughout, she shows how feminist historians, by challenging traditional accounts of both men's and women's histories, have stimulated more vibrant and better-documented accounts of the past.--From publisher description.… (more)

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½ (58 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member kaelirenee
The best part of this book was the introduction, in which the author explains how her saying became a halmark of bad girl feminists. Ulrich first looks at the influences of three female authors: Christine de Pezan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Virginia Woolf. She focuses on their disillusionment at
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the coverage of women in history and how they aimed to rectify things. She also examines evidence of well-behaved women who showed up in various places in history, namely in artwork.

Spots of this book are actual page-turners. Other spots (and unfortunatly, most of the book) is fairly dull, not because of the subject material, but because of the author's repetition of her theme and restatement of earlier passages. However, this book is worth the read for the introduction and first two chapters alone.
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LibraryThing member kaulsu
Overall, I enjoyed it...but each chapter seemed to get a bit old before it was finished. In that sense, it could have used some editing! But a great reference book of all creative things feminine. Indexed.
LibraryThing member lauriebrown54
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
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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 years of many people digging through old manuscripts to find the women in history. Now days women’s history books and courses are commonplace, but back when Ulrich wrote that sentence, that was just starting. She frames her book using the work of three women writers: Christine de Pizan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Virginia Woolf. De Pizan- a professional writer who supported her children with her pen in the 1400s- wrote a book about past women who had achieved power and influence, coming up with queens, warriors, poets, saints, inventors and more with which to people a city of ladies. Christine was ahead of her time, bringing up problems women faced, including violence against them. Stanton was a suffragist and abolitionist with a tremendous writing output. Her autobiography, Eighty Years and More, chronicles the making of a rebel. Told by her father upon the death of her last brother that he wished she were a boy, she figures out that to become a boy, one must become educated. She took care of that, besting the boys in school. Virginia Woolf, writing in the first half of the 20th century, satirized women’s legal and social positions in Orlando, and in A Room of One’s Own, writes primarily about women and fiction but also goes into why women are poor compared to men and why there was so little literature produced by women in the past- because of legal and societal restrictions. These three were pioneers of writing about women’s history, who were rediscovered in the latter half of the 20th century, who were the inspirations for women’s history.

The book is not just about women *in* history but about the movement to bring the history of women to everyone’s attention. Well told in a reader friendly format, this book should be required reading for young women who take their rights for granted.
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LibraryThing member sublunarie
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
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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 time - have overlooked. I liked reacquainting myself with the stories of women I had previously learned about (Pizan is one of my favorite historical women). Some women's stories were shocking, some made you cheer, and some hit very close to home.

This is a great place to start for anyone interested in women's studies, history in general, or women's history in particular. It's a great primer for all three fields and I could see it having a strong affect on someone in high school or freshman year of university.
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LibraryThing member mirikayla
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).
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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 well-put together and went quickly for me because it was so fascinating.
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LibraryThing member gayla.bassham
My main objection to this book is that I think devoting an entire book to a famous phrase that you yourself coined is maybe a touch self-aggrandizing. Having said that, I loved this exploration of women's history. It's not a survey -- Ulrich uses various examples to illuminate exactly what she was
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trying to say when she first wrote "Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History." (It's not necessarily what you think.) My favorite chapter was the discussion of slave narratives, although I also have a soft spot for Christine de Pizan so I liked reading about her, too.
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LibraryThing member lycomayflower
Back in the seventies, Ulrich coined the phrase that serves as the book's title in a history article. As it became more and more widely used as a slogan, she decided to write a book about women in history centered around that idea. There's a lot of great info in here about various women, but I'm
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afraid much of it felt like just one thing after another to me. It didn't really all hang together. YMMV.

***For Book Clu
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LibraryThing member CatherineBurkeHines
I like feminist history; it's like a long drink of cool water.
LibraryThing member LyndaInOregon
Ulrich, who coined the title phrase in a 1976 scholarly article, spends a fair amount of time here discussing how it took on a life of its own, before settling down to explain what she meant.

The problem, she says, is not that well-behaved women don't make history, but that historians haven't done a
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very good job of reporting on their achievements. Late 20th-century feminists have pretty well created women's history as a legitimate field of study, less through excavation of potshards than through the patient tracking down of those faint records left in letters, journals, and oral history which show ordinary women doing what needed to be done, and building much of the world we recognize today.

She also takes a look at some less-well-behaved women -- Christine de Pizan, who wrote 'The Book of the City of Ladies' at a time when most women not only did not write -- they did not read; abolitionist and women's suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton; and protofeminist writer Virginia Woolf.

There are passing mentions of many notable points and individuals in the first feminist movement of the mid-19th century, and the "second wave" that came along 100 years later, but few are handled in great detail. The book does, however, provide an excellent jumping-off point for further reading with extensive source notes.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Even if you don’t recognize her name, you’re most likely familiar with historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s most famous sentence: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” This sentence is part of a scholarly article that Ulrich published in 1976. Decades later, Ulrich revisits her viral
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meme and the many ways it has been interpreted, often by women who proudly proclaim it as their slogan. Ulrich uses works by three women authors as a lens to examine how this statement has been true for women from the Middle Ages until the present day: Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan, Eighty Years and More by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. Ulrich’s writing hits the sweet spot between scholarly heft and popular appeal.
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Physical description

320 p.; 5.19 inches


1400075270 / 9781400075270
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