OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Portrait of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

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).

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This lecture compares the life of Patty Sessions, a midwife who was part of the Mormon migration in the 1840s, with Martha Moore Ballard, the subject of my 1990 book, A Midwife's Tale. Born only a few miles from where Ballard lived, Sessions's daily diaries show what did and did not change in the practice of midwifery in the 19th century.
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.