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"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, etc., 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 penned 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.
* It was later repealed under the Edmunds–Tucker Act and was eventual returned in 1896 when Utah became a state, but that will probably need to wait until Professor Ulrich writes A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.
18 of 23 people found this review helpful
Interesting and worth reading. The story tends to wander from time-to-time, though, and might have benefited with more thorough editing to straighten out some of the timelines, characters, and storytelling. There are several discussions of pioneer quilts that are far too long and detailed to maintain my interest. The author also has several long sections which refer to key characters only by pronouns—he or she—so that it becomes a challenge to remember who is actually speaking (a challenge which is possibly exacerbated by the audio format). The narration by Susan Ericksen is sometimes grating. The number of Mormon vocabulary and other words that she mispronounces are numerous and repeated — Moroni, Lamanites, Kirtland, Amasa, prophesied, and Nephi, for example. All things considered, though, it is certainly worth your time.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful