Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and a past president of the American Historical Association. A former MacArthur Fellow, she is the author of many articles and books on early American history, including A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785–1812 (1990), which won the Pulitzer Prize. She is also the author of Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History (2007) and A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 (2017).
This lecture builds on Ulrich's book "A House Full of Females" and argues that a close examination of polygamy as practiced by nineteenth-century Mormons focuses attention on broader patterns of family disruption in English and American families in the early 19th century. Although anti-Mormon propaganda celebrated women who ran away from polygamy, there are multiple stories of women who actually left legal husbands to embrace it. Situating these stories in the history of family law (and in the context of nineteenth-century fictional portrayals of marriage) helps us understand why.