“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” You may have seen that quote on bumper stickers or t-shirts, or maybe you’ve seen it as “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” The quote often appears without attribution. I’ve sometimes seen it attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt and Marilyn Monroe. But who really said “well-behaved women seldom make history?”

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
Pulitzer Prize winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
Ulrich wrote “well-behaved women seldom make history” in a 1976 article about Puritan funeral services. What? You didn’t read it? Pfft.
Okay, I didn’t either.
I did read Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, a book written by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich after she saw her words popping up on bumper stickers and coffee mugs.

In the book, Ulrich explores the strange phenomenon of having her words take on a life of their own while also sharing the stories of some interesting women from history, who may or may not be considered well-behaved and who may or may not be known.

When Ulrich originally wrote, “well-behaved women seldom make history” she didn’t mean that women should misbehave in order to be memorable, which is how the quote is often interpreted. She wrote those words lamenting about the fact that so many women who made positive impacts on society are overlooked by history. Relatively few women have their names remembered. Women like Eleanor Roosevelt and Marilyn Monroe. Not women like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

Quotes are often misattributed. Mary Tyler Mom has told her story of an inspirational quote attributed on a bottle cap to Martin Luther King, Jr. even though the words are from Martin Luther. And of course there are many misattributed quotes floating around on the Internet. Mistakes happen, but I believe in trying to give people credit for their words.

The next time you see the quote “well-behaved women seldom make history” or even “well-behaved women rarely make history” you may not remember Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s name, but I hope you at least remember that those words are not from Eleanor Roosevelt, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Kardashian, or any other celebrity name that may be given credit. Those women have made their own histories.

By Kim Z Dale

If you would like to assert your freedom now click here

The pervasive theme is rebellion.

“The pervasive theme is rebellion.” Laurel Thatcher Ulrich begins her new book, “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History,” struggling to explain — understand — the appeal of an aside she made in the spring 1976 issue of an academic journal, a comment that has become a popular slogan printed on T-shirts and coffee mugs and bumper stickers, usually without her permission and often without attribution. It was in an article for “American Quarterly,” about the pious and extremely well-behaved colonial women described by Cotton Mather as “the hidden ones,” that Ulrich made her now familiar observation, Her study of wives and mothers and daughters as they were remembered in funeral eulogies, the sole record of women who lived and labored in silent obscurity, illustrates a critical point. Much of what is characterized as female “misbehavior” is a matter of voice — of a woman insisting she be heard, paid not only attention, but also the respect due a being as fully human and necessary as a man. Given millenniums of patriarchy, the issue of women speaking out is necessarily that of their speaking out of turn. The mostly male forums of public life may patronize women with token attention and even, sometimes, take their words seriously, but they rarely if ever pay attention to a woman as they would to a man, without consciously taking her sex into account. Defined broadly by Ulrich as “women warriors,” Amazons make history because they misbehave; they assert their presence in a world that instructs women to remain silent, submissive. Hillary Clinton, who famously refused to “bake cookies” in the background of her husband’s career, is an Amazon, destined to be as much the property of myth as of history, between which lies a vast and unfixed common ground. The celebrated Rosa Parks didn’t happen onto the stage of American history but was cast for her myth-ready appeal. The president of the Montgomery, Ala., N.A.A.C.P. interviewed women arrested for refusing to give up their bus seats, rejecting unusable candidates — an unwed mother, for example — before he found Parks, whose stainless reputation made her suitable for championing a cause. Parks’s good behavior was as necessary as her “bad,” itself confined to voicing her refusal to comply with segregation. As Hillary Clinton well knows, to claim an audience is to submit to muckraking, and while an exposé can enhance the career of an Amy Winehouse or a Paris Hilton, it can halt political aspirations. It behooves an ambitious woman to be judicious in her misbehavior. Women have long perceived their status, at least in the United States, as analogous to that of blacks (and, by extension, other people of color). Here we’ve arrived at the 21st century yet to become citizens first and women second, our successes still the exception and never the rule in any career that isn’t inherently decorative, or doesn’t require changing sheets or bandages, or taking off clothing. That women don’t have voices but female voices is obvious from the way our vote is courted, our leanings studied as if influenced by whim or superstition or, heaven forbid, hormones (never a problem for men, of course). ULRICH considers the women’s suffrage movement in the chapter titled “Slaves in the Attic,” addressing the subjugation of race and gender as twin forms of slavery, a stance taken by anti-abolitionists themselves, who legitimized it with biblical discussions of who was to serve whom. Her portraits of four 19th-century women named Harriet, three runaway slaves — Powell, Tubman and Jacobs — and the novelist Beecher Stowe, provide a surfeit of answers to the question Ulrich frames at the end of “Amazons,” of where women’s “fury comes from and why it will not go away.” Whether scripted as “angels in the house” or slandered as whores for the sexual freedom that enhances a man’s prowess, women continue to struggle against the restrictions of patriarchy. If it feels like a leap of faith to look forward to when we will be citizens first and women second, Christine de Pizan offers a plan for the meantime. “Redefining the boundaries of womanhood” through a highly selective review of the past, she wrote a history of her sex that she could accept — a recipe for shoring up female sanity if ever there was one.

Source: By New York Times

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a professor of history at Harvard University. Her expertise is early American women’s history, as demonstrated in her books A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (1990), which won the Bancroft Prize, and A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870(2017).

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