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A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 10, 2017
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Excitement about Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s
A HOUSE FULL OF FEMALES
“Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a historian’s historian. For more than three decades, she has dazzled her profession with archival discoveries, creative spark and an ability to see ‘history’ where it once appeared there was none to be seen . . . In the best ways, A House Full of Females remains a work of traditional ‘women’s history,’ a straightforward exploration of women’s lives and experiences on their own terms . . . The work of dedicated and imaginative historians like Ulrich allows us access to lost worlds.”
—Beverly Gage, The New York Times Book Review
“As crucial as it is fascinating . . . It’s no secret that history is full of people, often women, whose usually unpaid labor allowed famous men to make their marks on the world. Their stories don’t always make it to the official record books, but historians like Ulrich make sure they’re not forgotten.”
—Lily Rothman, Time
“Movingly portrays believers’ early struggles . . . Ulrich is a gifted historian whose works have forged new paths in women’s studies.”
—M.J. Andersen, The Boston Globe
“This empathetic account of the women of early Mormonism focusses on the doctrine of polygamy, first articulated by Joseph Smith in 1843. Ulrich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, explores complex and contradictory responses to a practice seen by Mormons as answering a divine imperative to procreate; with many wives, a man could beget dozens of “spirits” of the faith. Ulrich describes the daily lives of these women in attentive detail, their sorrows (child-mortality levels were high), their stubborn strength, and their willingness to defy social norms. To the astonishment of the outside world, the same women who vigorously defended multiple marriages also fought for—and won—female suffrage.”
—The New Yorker
“O pioneers! Ulrich stitches together diaries, poems, meeting minutes, and quilt designs into a fascinating history of women’s lives. Tough doesn’t even begin to describe it—they drove wagons across the frozen Midwest, bore and buried children, spoke in tongues, farmed, and organized relief societies while the men traveled on missions. (They drank and danced too.)”
—Christine Smallwood, Harper’s Magazine
“A remarkable labor of love. Laurel Ulrich brings her readers inside Mormon life during the two formative generations of this distinctively American religious community. Her close and insightful reading of diaries and letters especially, in addition to a wealth of other records (including an extraordinary quilt), enable her to convey an appreciation of why Mormons committed to their faith—notwithstanding the persecution and privations they faced crossing the country and building their pioneer settlements. Ulrich even enables outsiders to understand how polygamy functioned and why Mormon women embraced and defended it against Victorian condemnation. A House Full of Females is the richest work on the social history of religion in a generation.
—Richard Brown, University of Connecticut
“The reader who opens A House full of Females is truly privileged to have Laurel Thatcher Ulrich as their guide into the circles of strong women who defended plural marriage before Utah voted to give the vote to women. Ulrich takes us inside early Mormon communities, house by house, arriving with her well-honed archival skills of reading between the lines of diaries preserved in bags stitched of drapery fabric and piecing together the scraps of correspondence left behind to interpret a past that is especially meaningful to her, carved as it was out of the West by her own forebears. A truly extraordinary read.”
—Janet Polasky, author of Revolutions without Borders
“Pulitzer-winner Ulrich gives readers a day-to-day look at the hardships early Mormons endured as pioneers and religious outlaws but also takes a broader view of longer-term changes in the religion . . . Impeccable scholarship and a fascinating topic.”
About the Author
LAUREL THATCHER ULRICH was born in Sugar City, Idaho. She holds degrees from the University of New Hampshire, University of Utah, and Simmons College. She is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and past president of the American Historical Association. As a MacArthur Fellow, Ulrich worked on the PBS documentary based on A Midwife's Tale. Her work is also featured on an award-winning website called dohistory.org. She is immediate past president of the Mormon History Association. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Top Customer Reviews
For those souls who want an idealized history about idealized people may have trouble with this book, but I found it faith promoting. I will go as far as saying this is the best view of what life was like for Mormons during this time period I've read. I have studied and read about Mormon history for decades.
Those who are interested in Mormon history, history of the west and/or women's issues should read this book. I give it my highest recommendation.
A House Full of Females is her most ambitious project to date. Like stars that guide a 17th century ship's navigator through a long and complex journey, Ulrich gathers more than two dozen nineteenth-century diaries, letters, albums, minute-books, and quilts left by first-generation Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, into a casebook that reveals the largely mysterious story of the earliest days of the women of Mormon's sojourn into "plural marriage". These unsung women were granted the right to vote in the state of Utah by a Mormon-dominated legislature as an outgrowth of polygamy in 1870, nearly half-a-century ahead of the women's vote nationally ratified by Congress. They probably became political combatants in spite of, or because of, their peculiar marital arrangements.
Ulrich carefully outlines early Mormon history without yielding to the temptation to sensationalize its remarkably non-traditional elements. She is a scrupulous historian who never seems to wander far from the fascinating evidence she uncovers and which she allows to speak for itself without unnecessary or unwarranted conjecture on her part. Where she chose a single diary to highlight in A Midwife's Tale, this time Ulrich skillfully selects entries from a multitude of diaries, gradually building an historical landscape that features both width and depth. The women who were present at the onset of plural marriage adopted a natural reticence in discussing events, often resorting to a kind-of descriptive code or a clever form of emotional misdirection in order to distance themselves from what must have been a highly disruptive and unsettling series of experiences. Ulrich is remarkably adept at uncovering the truth about these non-traditional arrangements between men and women without even a hint of prurience. I was constantly impressed with her objectivity even as she exhibited a great deal of compassion for the actors in this multi-generational drama.
As in her previous books, Ulrich proves that the sum of her evidence is greater than its parts. She does more than reveal the nature of the early growth of Mormonism in the massive amount of details she discusses. As that fascinating story unfolds, we are also privy to witnessing first-hand the impact of The Second Great Awakening, a Protestant religious revival movement during the early 19th century in the United States. The movement began around 1790, gaining a great deal of momentum and religious fervor by 1800 and, after 1820, resulted in the rapid rise in membership among Baptist and Methodist congregations whose preachers led the burgeoning movement. A House Full of Females is also a portrait of the young nation's reaction to the Enlightenment and the founding father's rational vision of republican democracy. America is given to large pendulum swings throughout its history and this one was a powerful one whose impact is still being felt today.
By carefully choosing a topic whose importance is revealed in the numerous interactions between its actors, Ulrich re-creates a long-gone America of homespun domestic objects, while highlighting everyday transient events that are the fabric of temporally distant lives as revealed in numerous diary entries. From her voluminous evidence, Ulrich discovers the origins of the vast political and religious events which resulted from the fervor and pent-up energy flowing through the still-developing nation. As in her previous books, Ulrich takes the reader on a journey from the specific to the general, from the small home-crafted item to a vanished America that's only visible in the sepia tones of history. She is a careful and fair-minded historian gifted with a superb imagination and a skillful writer. A House Full of Females is fascinating history but its importance lies in that it's the history of ordinary people who are actors in an extraordinarily unique and non-traditional series of events. Ultimately, it isn't Mormonism that's the focus of this history but the ordinary men and especially women who created it simply by being alive at a fateful moment in time.This is social history at its absolute best.