Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is coming to town.
On Tuesday, Jan. 10, she’ll be speaking at Benchmark Books, 3269 South Main, and offering insights into her new book, “A House Full of Females” (Knopf, $35). The book looks at plural marriage and women’s rights during the formative years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Ulrich, you may recall, is the Mormon mom who raised a family before donning her writer’s cap and winning the Pulitzer Prize for her book “A Midwife’s Tale.”
That award served as a springboard to a Harvard career and a stint as president of the American Historical Association. At Harvard, she also taught at the LDS Institute of Religion.
Today she’s seen as one of the nation’s indispensable scholars.
Long before I began reading Ulrich's work, I was reading about her. For me, her own personal history was as compelling as the tomes she published. I admired how her life played out as an exercise in priorities and patience. She took the Old Testament scripture to heart: "To everything there is a season" and a purpose (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
I first read her essay “A Pioneer is not a Woman Who Makes Her Own Soap” in a collection she published with Emma Lou Thayne called “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir.” I thought the book was the LDS book of the year.
Many books have followed, all bearing the Ulrich signature: exhaustive research, a keen attention to domestic detail and a unique knack for breathing life into the “internal history” — the traditions and customs — of LDS life.
“A House Full of Females” (the line comes from a quote from President Wilford Woodruff) adds to that body of work.
It’s only January, but I suspect the book may be the LDS book of 2017.
Where “history writ large” moves among monumental moments, Ulrich’s histories examine the connecting tissue between lives.
Page after page is filled with the warm breath of personal relationships, private grief and spiritual strength.
This, for instance, shows a glimpse inside the mind of Eliza R. Snow.
“On January 7, Eliza offered Brigham and Mary Ann Young a handmade paper emblem to honor their sealing in the Nauvoo Temple. Using a technique common in 19th-century valentines, she cut out two hearts with serrated edges, placing them in opposite directions so that the points overlapped, symbolizing a union of hearts. Then she cut out a paper key and an arrow, weaving their shafts into the points of the hearts to create a love knot. In her poetry, as in Wilford (Woodruff’s) drawings, arrows signified death and keys priesthood authority. With a few snips of her scissors, she had created a visual affirmation of the power of the priesthood to overcome death through the turning of hearts.”
So much has been written about plural marriage that no one book could ever become the last and definitive word on the topic.
But I guarantee Ulrich’s book will change the way you look at the practice for the rest of your life.