Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: Mormon Historian
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a prize-winning historian and Harvard University professor. Her area of scholarship is early America and the history of women. Her examination of the ordinary life of midwife Martha Ballard, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785–1812, garnered her a Pulitzer Prize. She was also honored with the Bancroft Prize, the John H. Dunning Prize, the Joan Kelly Memorial Prize, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize, the Society for Historians of the Early Republic Book Prize, the William Henry Welch Medal of the American Association for the History of Medicine, and the New England Historical Association Award. The PBS series American Experience also developed her work into a documentary film.
A Midwife’s Tale became a landmark for women’s history, both for the use of Ballard’s personal journal as a primary source, for the revelations it offers into the economic contributions of midwives, and for focusing on common events that other scholars overlook.
In 1976, Ulrich published an article about Puritan funeral services, which included the phrase “well-behaved women seldom make history,” which took on a life of its own, appearing in popular culture. She wrote a book about the ways women shaped history and titled it Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History.
She is also the author of The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth (2001) and Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650–1750 (1982). She is the editor of Yards and Gates: Gender in Harvard and Radcliffe History (2004). She is working on the book A House Full of Females: Mormon Diaries: 1835-1870, to be published by Alfred A. Knopf in January 2017. She is recognized for writing about the “silent work of ordinary people.”
Ulrich was born on July 11, 1938, in Sugar City, Idaho. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and journalism from the University of Utah, where she was also the valedictorian. After the birth of her five children with husband Gael Ulrich, she obtained her master’s degree in English from Simmons College and her doctorate in history from the University of New Hampshire.
She is the coauthor (with Emma Lou Thayne) of All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir, which is a collection of essays about the lives of Mormon women. She was a founding member of the Exponent II, a publication on the experience of Mormon women. Although she is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she is sometimes viewed as a dissident voice.