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Assembling My Atheneum: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

January 10, 2012

If I had unlimited funds, which authors would I want to see filling my bookshelves? That question originally arose from my musings about my home library, and I decided to start a new series to answer it. In Assembling My Atheneum, I’ll discuss the authors whose entire works I’d love to possess, as well as which books of theirs I’ve read, which I already own, and which I’d recommend to those wanting to give them a try. If you’re curious, you can see everyone I’ve featured so far.

I first discovered Laurel Thatcher Ulrich during my reading for Women’s History Month back in 2009 with her Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History. She’s an American historian with a focus on eighteenth-ish century New England women, and she’s also the origin of that famous quote. Most importantly to me, she’s a fabulous author and scholar (a Harvard professor, actually), with a loving attention to detail that makes her work simply fascinating. Funnily enough, Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History is different from her other books: it opens with a discussion of the quote’s life in popular culture and then each chapter describes a different woman whose ‘bad’ (aka contrary to societal norms) behavior made her place in history. It was fascinating, and I knew I had to read more of her! Since then, I’ve read one a year: The Age of Homespun in 2010 and A Midwife’s Tale in 2011. Both were excellent: I honestly can’t choose a favourite! They also cemented her as one of my very favourite authors; unfortunately, I only have one book left (Good Wives, her earliest) to read. Good thing for rereading! And I have my fingers crossed she has another book in the works at the moment. ;)

Sadly, I don’t have any of her books on my shelves at the moment! I would very much enjoy a little complete collection of her works; the only upside of having a favourite author who’s not very prolific is that it’s easier to acquire all of her works. I think she’s the kind of nonfiction author that has ‘crossover’ appeal, so even those readers primarily interested in fiction will probably like her. Really, all of her books are marvelous, so the only advice I have to is to with the one that strikes your fancy most. As for me, I suspect I’ll be requesting Good Wives from the library shortly. And perhaps one of these days I’ll finally get a tee with Ulrich’s famous observation…

12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2012 9:23 am

    How have I never heard of this author? I’ve heard the famous quote, but I always assumed that it was said by someone like, you know… Eleanor Roosevelt or Joan of Arc.

    Thanks for bringing these books to my attention – I think I’ll see if my library has any!

  2. January 10, 2012 10:12 am

    I’ve had a Midwife’s Tale on my shelf for years but haven’t read it. Now I think I should get around to it and to the Well-Behaved Women book too!

  3. January 10, 2012 11:47 am

    I love LTU. I don’t know how I missed “Well-Behaved Women” when it came out a couple of years ago, but at least I’ve read it now! I always think of Exponent II first, because my mom subscribed (and contributed once!) back in the day.

  4. January 10, 2012 12:59 pm

    She sounds like someone I’d like! Thank you for the recommendation, Eva. I’ve put her on my wish list.

  5. January 10, 2012 1:28 pm

    She sounds like an inspirational author whose books I would be proud to own.

  6. January 10, 2012 7:56 pm

    I’ve never heard of Ulrich (or perhaps more accurately, I’ve forgotten I’ve ever heard of her), but her books sound really interesting. I’ll have to note her name down for when I’m feeling like some non-fiction again.

  7. January 11, 2012 8:43 am

    A Midwife’s Tale is the only one that I’ve read, but I should remedy that. I can certainly see why you’ve added her to your Atheneum!

  8. January 13, 2012 5:18 am

    Thanks for mention this writer ,she is new to me and sounds like someone I should look into at some point ,all the best stu

  9. January 13, 2012 7:53 am

    Oh my goodness, I didn’t realise the author of The Midwifes Tale, which you inspired me to wishlist, was the same woman who wrote Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History. Which I have, but had forgot all about until now. Hooray!! I hadn’t made the connection.

  10. January 25, 2012 11:48 am

    I met Ulrich at the Beckshire Women’s History Conference in 1976. She was just starting her dissertation that became Good Wives. Over dinner she was worrying about whether she would find enough source material. Her faculty advisers all thought she was undertaking a hopelss task–women were just too invisible. Now we are all using the kinds of materials she found about women, and thinking as she did, about old sources in new ways.

    “If I had unlimited funds, which authors would I want to see filling my bookshelves?” I like this series and think it is another group you could start. Or maybe another variation of your best books lists.

    I had missed it first time through your site. Too much good to take it all in.

  11. January 31, 2012 9:55 am

    An author I’ve yet to read anything of, though it really sounds like one I’d love as well. We tend to share favorites especially in non-fiction therefore… I must add her to my list. Thanks.


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