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Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History Paperback – September 23, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1976, graduate student Ulrich asserted in an obscure scholarly article that well-behaved women seldom make history. But Ulrich, now at Harvard, made history, winning the Pulitzer and the Bancroft Prizes for A Midwife's Tale—and her slogan did, too: it began popping up on T-shirts, greeting cards and buttons. Why the appeal, Ulrich wondered? And what makes a woman qualify as well-behaved or rebellious? Several chapters of this accessible and beautifully written study are brilliant. In one, Ulrich follows the lead of Virginia Woolf (who invented an ill-fated fictional sister of Shakespeare) by digging into what we know—and don't know—about the women in the Bard's family. In another, she offers a piercing analysis of four 19th-century Harriets—ex-slaves Tubman, Jacobs and Powell, and novelist Stowe—to uncover the interplay of race and gender in questions of liberation. And in a third, richly illustrated chapter, she utilizes a medieval book of days as a window into women's labor through the ages. If other chapters, such as a wide-ranging exploration of the Amazon myth and a rumination on second-wave feminism, don't cohere as tightly or showcase Ulrich's strengths as an extraordinary interpreter of ordinary records, this can be forgiven in a work that is so often sharp and insightful. 26 illus. (Sept. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Unlike her previous works, which focused on a single location, era, or life, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s fifth work of nonfiction takes a broad view of women’s history. Though critics felt that her associations and organizing devices were clever, a few questioned some of the connections between stories. Critics also diverged over Ulrich’s style: some found it dry and academic; others considered it clear and compelling. Ulrich, a pioneer in women’s history in the 1970s and 1980s, continues to produce works that provide a fascinating peek into the pastâ€"into what a woman’s life was, and might still be, were it not for these spirited pioneers whose stories deserve to be remembered.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (September 23, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400075270
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400075270
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #98,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I grew up when that phrase -- Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History -- was always in the background -- on posters, bumper stickers, and mugs. So I was excited to read the book, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who invented the phrase. And I'm glad I did. It taught me about the history of the Amazons (not totally grounded in fact, in turns out), women writers from different eras, and the intriguing Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Bottom line: It's an interesting book, heavy on the history -- perfect if you're in an academic mood.
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Format: Hardcover
I've seen thousands of those bumper stickers and t-shirts stating (incorrectly, as it turns out), "Well-behaved women rarely make history." (I interned at NOW years ago, and they were everywhere!) Learning the source of the quote, which Ulrich explains in her preface to this book, was alone worth reading this book. From such humble beginnings it came!

Ulrich may have bitten off more than she could chew, though, with writing this book. In her attempt to assess the accuracy of her now-legendary quote, she focuses on three prominent female figures in history: Christine de Pizan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Virginia Woolf, then branches out with anecdotes from there. Clearly she had to narrow her focus; "women's history" is too vast and varied to be condensed into a single volume. (In that regard, look at what grade school textbooks have done to American history!) But Ulrich's choice of focus seemed arbitrary and, despite occasionally short forays elsewhere, was distressingly White and Western. Even the torso on the cover is White! Anyone considering writing a similar book in the future, I beg of you: remember to be inclusive! If you can't meet the goal of inclusivity in your target page length, perhaps you need to re-think the whole idea of your book.

So why do I give this book 4 stars despite my criticism? First of all, because any book that aims to tell the stories and histories of women deserves to be read, for reasons Ulrich details excellently in this book. Second, I enjoyed learning more about Christine de Pizan and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Pizan because I'd never previously heard of her, and Stanton because she was complex (and controversial) far beyond her enduring fame as a suffragist.

In sum, this book is a recreational (and educational) read for those interested in the topic, but it should not be a primary source for learning about the histories of women.
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Format: Paperback
I found this book entrancing and strangely moving. It's important to understand what it is and what it is not: Ulrich is a distinguished historian who specializes in women in early America, but this book is neither a monograph on her own research nor a systematic survey of women's history. Instead, it is a very personal inquiry into the questions, "How did women get left out of the master historical narrative?" and "How do we put them back in?" Ulrich tells a little of her own story, which is satisfying to those of us who always wondered how a Mormon housewife with five children ended up becoming president of the American Historical Association. She highlights historical figures who intrigue her, including Christine de Pisan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Jacobs, Harriet Tubman, and Virginia Woolf, and writes about them so eloquently that I now want to go off and read or reread their works. As other reviewers have noted, this isn't a complete or even very systematic book; Ulrich focuses mainly on women as artists and authors, women in politics, and women warriors, and neglects some other dimensions of the topic, such as women as economic agents. But as a long-time fan of Ulrich's work, and as someone who really appreciates good non-fiction writing, I was delighted by this book. It will whet your appetite for deeper inquiry into the subject.
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Format: Paperback
Ulrich inadvertently made the quote famous, but then more than 20 years later, wrote a book with the same name. Now, she had the opportunity to access history in ways she couldn't before, with innumerable sources. Just had the opportunity to interview Ulrich for my blog site - she has some amazing insights. Definitely enjoyed this book, especially if you're into women's history.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This never felt like a high school history book but I think it SHOULD be one! I loved it and have recommended it to many women. It jumps across time, across cultures and across disciplines but isn't choppy. It steadily frames just how amazing the history of womenkind is.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fantastic stories of defiant women. I read this during Hurricane Sandy and felt a sense of empowerment and gratitude for the women that sacrificed so much. I can't imagine a life of not being allowed education, employment & a fair wage, reproductive rights etc... A great gift for women.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The best feature of this book is the wide range of relatively unknown women whose stories are told. The book is very well researched, with vivid storytelling. A must read -- even a textbook -- as an introduction to women's studies at the college level.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Great read. It reinforced my belief in women AND history.
I am a midwife, dedicated to women and their transitions in life , such as motherhood, grandmother hood, and the journey from maiden to mother to matriarch to crone. I learned much. And it reinforced my beliefs and knowledge.
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