“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
I used to detest this saying. So often I associated it with women really behaving badly – like fighting on a reality show you can’t stop watching.
But recently I read about the woman who wrote this little line and why. In 1976, a Harvard historian emeritus, (specializing in the study of women and Pulitzer-prize winning author) *Laurel Thatcher Ulrich penned it while authoring an obscure article on puritan funerals. The quote went viral and ever since, it’s everywhere – mugs, t-shirts, posters…!
Ulrich was recently on NPR’s Dianna Douglas’s terrific podcast Zion’s Suffragists (FASCINATING!) After listening to Ulrich and Douglas, I have a completely different perspective about “women behaving badly” in the context of history and winning the right to vote.
I stumbled upon this podcast at the same time I was reading a terrific book: AT THE PULPIT: 183 YEARS of DISCOURSES BY LATTER-DAY SAINT WOMEN, edited by Ph.D and women’s history scholars Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook (it’s brilliant). At the Pulpit showcases 54 speeches given by women literally at the pulpit between the years 1831 to 2016.
These women are members of my own faith: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. My study of these women has expanded my vision about LDS women and women’s history in general, in the 1800-1900’s.
In history and even today, women of my faith are often portrayed as “timid,” “oppressed,” and under the thumb of a patriarchy.
Growing up, this confused me – have you met my mother? The women I grew up admiring, including my mother, did not fit this stereotype (hello, Sister Bartlett!?). But what of the women of the past? Is timid and oppressed a fair stigma?
I’ve been deep diving. What I’ve found is astounding.
The stigma of oppression, I believe, largely grew out of the practice of polygamy in the 1800’s (something I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand). But what is really interesting, is that it was this issue that forced women in Utah to fight for the right to vote – and they won!
These women living in the desert, living this strange new religion would be the first in the history of the United States to vote with equal suffrage rights: FIFTY YEARS before most women in all of the United States, before the 19th amendment passed (The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex.)
March is Women’s History Month. I will be spotlighting women from At The Pulpit, many of whom are women of the early suffragette movement, and others.
These women were mothers, doctors, teachers, seamstresses, writers, and picketers! Some went to jail! They were deeply spiritual, highly intelligent, excellent speakers, and very articulate.
Were they “Monsters in Petticoats” in need of correction for their “bad behavior”? Or does “behaving badly” just depend on what side you’re on? They certainly challenged culture and the status quo.
Journey along with me this month, tag your friends, share these posts, leave your comments and questions as I introduce and explore the lives of some extraordinary women!