Making Women's History
A few weeks ago I interviewed Exponent II Founding Mother Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. She read some passages from her latest book, Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, and she answered my questions about historical writing and research. You can listen to the first segment of our chat via podcast. The second half of our discussion will be posted to the Making History Podcast later next week.
Laurel mentions the Exponent II (even showing an image of the front cover) at different points in her book. Speaking of her own attempts at “making history,” she writes:
“My friends and I called our feminist newspaper Exponent II to honor a nineteenth-century pro-suffrage periodical launched by Mormon women in Utah in 1872. Most of us had grown up knowing about the heroism of pioneer ancestors who had participated in the epic trek across the United States, but until we had discovered old copies of the original Woman’s Exponent, few of us knew anything about early Mormon feminism. We did not know that Utah women voted and held office fifty years before women in the eastern United States, not that polygamists’ wives has attended medical school, published newspapers, and organized cooperative enterprises. Reading their words, we were astonished at how confidently these pioneer women insisted on their right to participate in public life and work…we found in their lives models for religious commitment, social activism, and personal achievement that seemed far more powerful that the complacent domesticity portrayed in popular magazines or in our own congregations.”
Laurel closes her book with a potent rumination about women who “make history.” She says that “well-behaved women make history when they do the unexpected, when they create and preserve records, and when later generations care.”
My question for you, is whether you fit into any of these categories? Are you making history by doing something unexpected or my keeping records? And do you think that today’s generation cares about the lives of their foremothers in the same way that Laurel and her sisters cared about early Mormon women?
And one last question: do you own a t-shirt, mug, sticker, totebag, or other paraphernalia with Laurel’s now-famous phrase? (Me, I’ve got the bumper sticker but it graces my favorite water bottle rather than the rear of my car…)