Laurel Thatcher Ulrich Biography
By Sarah Pearsall, Oxford Brookes University, and Kirsten Sword, Indiana University
A Pail of Cream
“I was raised to be an industrious housewife and a self-sacrificing and charitable neighbor, but sometime in my thirties I discovered that writing about women’s work was a lot more fun than doing it.” So declared Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in her most recent book, Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History.1 Even before this epiphany—indeed by the time she was in the fifth grade—Laurel knew she wanted to be a writer. Her first publication, “Sugar City Magic,” appeared in Seventeen in 1957, when she was a sophomore studying English and journalism at the University of Utah. This first venture into print was a fanciful account of the Christmas season in her small Idaho hometown, made even more fanciful by the magazine’s New York editors. In an effort to evoke pastoral ideals, they converted an episode in which a sheep farmer brought lamb chops to Laurel’s family for Christmas breakfast (itself somewhat embroidered) into one in which a dairy farmer carried a pail of cream to them (though no dairy farmer in Idaho in the 1950s would have put cream in a pail). Laurel thus learned early on and vividly the ways that writers and editors alike re-fashion stories and even homely details to suit particular purposes: a valuable lesson for someone who ended up being a historian, as well as a writer.2
Although they lived in Sugar City, the Thatchers were closer to the salt of the earth. Laurel Thatcher was born on July 11, 1938, the descendant of some of the earliest and the most prominent pioneer settlers in Utah and Idaho. Her father, John Kenneth Thatcher, was a schoolteacher and superintendant, a state legislator and a farmer. Her mother, Alice Siddoway Thatcher, was a homemaker with an abundance of housewifely skills (from whom Laurel learned to jar the piccalilli she still makes). Laurel’s parents encouraged all their children to pursue an education. Laurel’s two brothers, Conley and Gordon, and sister Layle are all professionals. They were also brought up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), as generations of their ancestors had been. Although it is sometimes forgotten, the Mormon church was founded as a religion of rebels. This LDS-based radicalism has long been a part of the Thatcher family, and it has informed many of Laurel’s writings about her experiences in the LDS church, including her 1995 co-authored book (with Utah poet Emma Lou Thayne), All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir.
When she gave the valedictory address at the University of Utah’s graduation in 1960, Laurel had recently married an engineering student, Gael Ulrich, and was pregnant with their first child, Karl. Her speech opened with a reference to a contemporary Newsweek article, promising an unhappy future for “Young Wives with Brains” who had to choose between their Phi Beta Kappa pins and diaper pins. Her own long career has pulled apart the premises behind this false set of choices.3 Like many women who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, Laurel put her role as a wife and mother before her own professional aspirations. The Ulrichs moved to Boston in 1960, so that Gael could get a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Here and later in Durham, New Hampshire (where Gael became a professor at the University of New Hampshire), Laurel engaged in a wide array of activities. She was a busy mother, giving birth to five children between 1960 and 1975: Karl (b. 1960), Melinda (b. 1963), Nathan (b. 1964), Thatcher (b. 1969), and Amy (b.1975). She was active in the LDS church, joining with feminist-minded Mormon women to write, edit, and publish A Beginner’s Boston as well as a periodical, The Exponent II, which paid tribute to the suffragist Mormon women who had published The Exponent in the late nineteenth century. She also managed to study part-time, earning an M.A. in English at Simmons College in 1971 and a Ph.D. in history at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in 1980.
A Rose Blanket
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich never intended to become an early American historian. She chose this area at UNH because it was an especially strong field there, anchored by Darrett and Anita Rutman and Charles Clark. These mentors encouraged Laurel’s obvious talents as both a historian and a writer. Her first scholarly article, “Vertuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668–1735,” focused on those godly women who provided the backbone of New England society, yet who had remained largely hidden in history.4 In this article, as in all her work, Laurel took an arcane, even seemingly trivial, subject and brought it magically to life. In tropes from New England sermons, Laurel identified ideals informing these women’s lives. The piece demonstrated her genius both for finding in all kinds of texts a drama that few others appreciated, and also, more significantly, the ways in which their repetitive, seemingly tedious qualities mattered. She delves so deeply into such patterns that she develops insights that elude less patient and less gifted people (which is to say, most of us). This method informed her first book, Good Wives, which examined the roles filled by women in colonial New England.5 Sociological theories about gender roles current in the 1970s are evident in the book’s questions, but it continues to resonate because it was beautifully structured around categories that had meaning for its historical subjects. Biblical archetypes framed each section. In the chapters on Jael, for instance, Laurel considered women who transgressed for a larger purpose, and how their actions—even killing Indians in the dead of the night—could be sanctified depending on the circumstance. Many points Laurel developed in Good Wives continue to influence the historiography, such as the notion that women might engage in men’s tasks in approved ways even in the most patriarchal systems if they were acting as “deputy husbands.”
Laurel’s ability to find significance in mundane patterns has served her well in subsequent work, including her extraordinary third book, The Age of Homespun, which made use of objects as texts.6 Building on the insight that “[b]ecause far more women were accustomed to using needles than pens, textiles may offer the richest unexplored body of information in early American women’s history,” Laurel focused this book around textiles and other objects themselves, as well as the women who had produced them.7 The Age of Homespun captured both the beauty and the “dark underside” of American pastoral mythology. Laurel has direct experience of both; that Seventeen story was one relatively benign example of the power of pastoral ideology to smooth and erase the texture of rural life. The Age of Homespun showed how American pastoral myths have cloaked the “wolf of commercialization in sheep’s clothing.” Soothing images of simplicity and harmony have masked urban poverty, the hard realities of rural life, and the violence that characterizes much of American history.8 By tracing the complex, often contradictory history of individual objects, from an Indian basket to a wooden chest, Laurel upended pastoral myths (even those represented in careful needlework itself) and sketched the thriving, sometimes painful world of women’s economic production that lay beneath them. Her prizewinning 1998 William and Mary Quarterly article on the gender division of labor in New England was drawn from this research.
Laurel’s eye for patterns served her well in The Age of Homespun, where she attended to the very warp and weft of tablecloths, linen, and rose blankets: blankets embroidered in the corner with a “compass rose.” Part of the analysis of material artifacts depended on knowing a very great deal about their construction, about the weave structures and embroidery forms common in the period. She needed to know whether she was looking at homemade or machine-made material, and she also needed to gauge the level of skill shown in the textiles themselves. As she noted, “Eighteenth-century women exchanged weaving drafts the way later generations exchanged recipes, using a language intelligible only to them.”9 Laurel’s infinite patience in learning this language allowed her to appreciate the significance of these items, and to convey that significance to others. For instance, she discovered that New England women embroidered their own rose blankets, copying but also elaborating on English motifs. In so doing in the years after the American Revolution, they cleverly “transformed an English import into an American icon, simultaneously demonstrating household independence and rural pride.”10 When one of us organized a conference at Cambridge University, Laurel, as the keynote dinner speaker, passed around a blanket in the formal dining hall of Sidney Sussex College—surely a first—demonstrating to the audience how to read the fabric as she had learned to do. This episode encapsulates not just her ability to find the importance of what others have dismissed, but also to engage her readers and listeners in doing so. She makes people care about warp and weft, about wheels and looms, because she shows what is meaningful about these objects, and she writes so beautifully that one cannot help but be drawn into her prose.
“Clear and spring like. Grew cold at Evening. Snowd some. I have been at home. Irond my cloaths &c.” This minimal entry, penned by Martha Moore Ballard in April 1806, hardly constitutes the most immediately evocative entry into the world of early American women.11 However, Laurel, in what is probably her best-known work, A Midwife’s Tale, managed to extricate a stunning vision of one woman’s life from such cryptic passages. In typically modest fashion, Laurel notes that she found this diary by accident; she had driven from Durham to Augusta, Maine, on another research task and figured she might as well have a look at the diary when she had finished her other research early. Serendipitous yes, but hardly accidental: Laurel saw in this voluminous but not especially inspiring cloth-bound diary a promising resource that other historians had failed to appreciate fully. She began to work with the diary in the early 1980s, and when she received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Grant for 1983, Gael took over care of the children and the house so that she could focus on it full time. It was nevertheless a difficult balancing act. A diary entry of Laurel’s own vividly captured a week spent helping their youngest daughter march in a Memorial Day parade, running a school fair game with Gael that involved “chasing yellow & green tennis balls in a downpour,” working on the diary, and finally sending in what became a successful application for a year-long NEH grant, mailed “thirty seconds before [post office] closing.”12 Implicit reflections on these conflicting demands on her own time account for some of the power of the resulting book, which has been celebrated as a “watershed” and a “paradigm shift” since its publication.13
A Midwife’s Tale showed scholars and general readers alike new ways of imagining the past. “Showing” rather than “telling” is a key distinction here, because the transformative power of this book is not reducible to a pithy set of scholarly key words. Laurel showed us that viewing the world through the writings of one woman in a remote corner of the globe could spur fundamental reassessment of long-established narratives. Laurel’s painstaking reconstruction of Martha Ballard’s life and community revealed a female-managed, life-cycle-driven economy, a female-managed medical practice, female regulation of communal sexual practices, and the “private politics behind public issues like imprisonment for debt.” Martha’s story transcended entrenched, competing narratives within women’s history, which alternately celebrated the early modern past as a “golden age of household production” or as a “political void from which later feminist consciousness emerged.” It also demonstrated that economic, medical, legal, religious, and demographic histories need to understand the experiences of women (and of ordinary people more generally), or risk being simply wrong. A Midwife’s Tale’s methodological innovations have carried its influence beyond these specific fields and given Martha’s story global reach.14
One of us now teaches an entire course anchored by books that, as Linda Colley’s recent contribution to the genre puts it, chart “a world in a life, and a life in the world,” and among which “reminiscent of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale” appears as a book jacket blurb.15 The juxtaposition with more recent scholarship reinforces the depth and lasting quality of Laurel’s achievement. A Midwife’s Tale moves students to see significance where they previously did not. It can persuade a classroom full of young men keen on the study of violent revolution to care about the “ordinary” heroism of an aging woman who was not particularly interested in politics, and who was dismayed by masculine violence in her family and community. Two decades after its publication, it still challenges readers to question beliefs about things they assumed to be timeless. At the same time, it reminds us that the mundane daily struggles that still define most people’s lives, and particularly women’s lives, have meaning. In honoring Martha Ballard’s ability to endure the burdens of her time, place, and sex, Laurel pushes readers to reconsider not only how they endure their own burdens, but also to think broadly about how they might change them.
A Midwife’s Tale remains a book that not only educates, but inspires. It inspired a number of us in the rising generation to become historians. It has even inspired some of our students to become midwives. On its publication, it inspired scholarly review committees to bestow it with numerous awards, including the Bancroft Prize in American History, the American Historical Association’s John S. Dunning and Joan Kelly Memorial Prizes, and the Berkshire Conference of Women’s Historians Book Prize. Laurel was the fourth woman, and A Midwife’s Tale the first work of women’s history, to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize since the award’s inception in 1917. The book also presumably influenced the MacArthur Foundation, which awarded Laurel a “genius grant” in 1992.
The book also inspired other creative minds. Its many accolades helped secure NEH funding for filmmaker Laurie Kahn-Leavitt, who made it into a documentary and then, in turn, into dohistory.org, an early and still useful and influential experiment in digital history. The documentary captures both Martha’s world and Laurel’s scholarly one, demonstrating to its audience how historians (especially immensely smart and well-organized ones like Laurel) conduct their research. The web site takes the participatory narratives of the book and film a step further. Visitors can read Martha Ballard’s diary itself, along with many of the primary sources that Laurel used to reconstruct her story. The project’s name itself—dohistory.org—rehearses Laurel’s scholarly and pedagogical commitments to teaching others to engage history by doing history. The exceptional popularity of the book, and the even larger audience attained through expansion to other media, gave Laurel insights into the way readers engaged with text and into how history is “primary way of creating meaning” for all of us.16 This is an insight that carried into her most recent project.
A Bumper Sticker
Indeed, Laurel is the only historian we know whose scholarship is responsible for a bumper sticker (and T-shirts, greeting cards, magnets, and mugs). “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” wrote Laurel in that 1976 article on New England sermons, as she contrasted the forgotten “daughters of Zion” with well-remembered New England witches and rebels such as Anne Hutchinson. Her statement was used in a popular work of women’s history, picked up by a collective who wanted to make a statement with their T-shirts, and so launched into the world. Frequently misquoted and not necessarily given full attribution (or certainly permission for use by its original author), as a slogan her words have taken on a life of their own: sometimes admirable, sometimes a little alarming.
Laurel chronicled this strange history in her fourth and most recent book, Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History. She used her own words to investigate what had struck such a chord and to consider a number of women who had made history and how they had done so, “through action, through record-keeping, and through remembering.”17 This book spans a far wider range of times and places than her previous work had done, but still there is Laurel’s insistent focus on patterns, context, and details. As she concludes the book, “Details keep us from falling into the twin snares of ‘victim history’ and ‘hero history.’ Details let us out of boxes created by slogans.”18
Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History grew out of Laurel’s efforts to introduce undergraduates in a large lecture course to the connections between “Women, Feminism, and History.” She dedicated it to her students. The challenge for the course and book alike was to persuade an audience eager for uplifting narratives of women’s power and progress (most easily told through a history of feminism) of the historical importance of the full range of women’s experiences: of the need to remember that “women have been on both sides of most revolutions,” and that invisibility should not be mistaken for unimportance.19 This book is accordingly a meditation on how history is made—in both events and through memory and historical writings—as well as a study of malleable and historically varied meanings of good (and bad) behavior for women.
Laurel has herself in many respects been a well-behaved woman: housewife and mother, active member of the LDS church, and generous teacher. Yet she has consistently confounded expectations as to what such a “well-behaved woman” might do and achieve. Consider, for example, Laurel’s response to the discovery that Harvard’s lavishly renovated Barker Center for the Humanities had retained Teddy Roosevelt’s antler-laden chandeliers as well as his portrait and dozens of images of prominent men, but boasted not a single portrait of a woman. She had recently been teaching Virginia Woolf’s reflections on the legacy of women’s exclusion from higher education to a class full of undergraduate women, and so felt called to pursue the matter. We suspect that Laurel’s kindly air and modest demeanor may have slightly wrong-footed those in charge of the renovation, because they rather patronizingly explained to this nice lady that since women had not been admitted to Harvard until recently, there were no portraits of them. Women had not been part of Harvard’s history, the female lead-architect informed her, concluding their conversation by saying: “you can’t re-write history.”
Laurel has consistently proven that you can indeed re-write history, and she has been a leader in doing so. She, along with others, were so astonished at the way the many women in Harvard’s past had been erased that she led an effort to return them to public view, organizing a conference and later editing a volume of essays: Yards & Gates: Gender in Harvard & Radcliffe History (2004). The impetus for this effort was not simply to recover achievements that had been slighted and forgotten, but also to recognize the ways an imagined, womanless past can impinge on our present sense of possibility.
Laurel has transformed Harvard’s history in more respects than one. If there were no senior women in the portraits on the wall at Harvard, there were not too many more in the classrooms. We recall only two other women out of thirty or so tenured members in the history department when Laurel arrived in 1995. Laurel started at Harvard as a joint appointment in history and women’s studies, and began to alter a department that had recently been identified as one “in crisis” into something far more dynamic. It was not an easy task. However, the history department at Harvard University now looks and feels quite different than it did in 1995. Laurel deserves much of the credit for this transformation.
Laurel’s kindness and compassion can lead others to underestimate the radicalism of her institutional and scholarly interventions. We have watched administrators and seminar speakers alike presume that a deceptively simple question means that they have little to fear. Laurel can be a fierce critic in the nicest of ways, and her questions to speakers will often be the sharpest they receive. Her students know full well that a powerful intellect and an impatience with foolishness mean she demands the best of others, as she does of herself. We have been the beneficiaries of her gift for approaching issues from oblique angles, in ways that others would not even consider.
We were all stumped. Laurel had begun that week’s meeting of an early American graduate seminar by passing around a mystery object and asking us to identify what it was. Oh, we came up with some good (and some terrible) guesses, but, loath as Harvard students are to admit ignorance and defeat, no one could name the curious wooden object. Laurel revealed that it was a niddy-noddy, used for winding skeins of hand-spun yarn. She was at that time working on The Age of Homespun, and she used it to make a point about those material objects that most historians ignore, and how their use as historical sources might force a re-thinking of conventional narratives. It was an extraordinarily memorable teaching moment, one of many we can recall, in both her graduate and undergraduate classes.
In her teaching as in her scholarship, Laurel pulls apart the creative process, making it accessible and engaging to many audiences at once. She invites her readers and students to participate in the process of discovery and interpretation. Insofar as it is possible, she trains her students in her particular art of being simultaneously simple and complex. By reaching deep into scholarship in her teaching, she teaches in a way that encourages students to become scholars themselves. Laurel never shies away from putting together ambitious, original courses, whether large core lecture courses or smaller seminars. She makes even large survey courses into chances for dialogue, participation, and discovery. She allowed multiple versions of the introduction to one of her articles, and the painstaking comments of its editor, to be used in a reading packet, in order to help history majors learn how to revise their own essays. As she develops and refines undergraduate courses, she turns them into opportunities through which her graduate assistants and undergraduates alike take advantage of Harvard’s resources, whether through encounters with Native American basketwork in the bowels of the Peabody Museum, or through experiments developing and using new tools for digital pedagogy. She invites collaboration from her graduate students, so that we have been honored to see obscure primary sources we found in archives brought into large survey classes. Projects that start in her courses often carry over into exhibits and resources available to the wider public.
Laurel’s tireless teaching activity carries into her work with her own graduate students. In her first year on the Harvard faculty, Laurel began an early American writing group. From its inception, Laurel organized this group as a meeting of equals discussing their writing: Laurel and other senior faculty present their work and receive the same scrutiny as that given to the first fledgling dissertation proposals of third-year graduate students. We have grown as writers and historians thanks to this group (we may also have grown in waistlines, as there were often pizzas and cookies to share, too). The group has itself become much larger in recent years, as the number of early Americanists on the faculty has also expanded considerably. Still, that spirit of support and equality has remained.
A Baby Quilt
In the first bleary weeks after the birth of our first children, we each received a treasured package: a baby quilt Laurel had made. This is just one of many ways in which Laurel’s graduate mentoring is so exceptional. She is tender yet sharp, endlessly enthusiastic about our research and abilities even when (especially when) we are not, and always incisive in her comments. Even after leaving her office after having had a chapter politely ripped to shreds, we would feel uplifted and inspired. We did not always understand her points until months later because she has an uncanny ability to see where research is going much sooner than one actually does oneself. She is so accessible that she seems sometimes to reply to e-mails before they have been sent, so fast do the replies come. She works quietly but constantly to help find funding for her students. Working as her research assistants (and probably providing little useful material) gave us the chance to find sources and topics that became our own books (although we don’t blame her for this!). She is a model of professional and personal commitment for her students. Her wisdom and unerring moral instinct have also inspired us. This is why many of us nominated her for the Harvard University mentoring award she won in 1998, and why we even now eagerly celebrate her work and life.
Laurel knows what it means to pass lessons on. She still owns the quilt she received as a baby from her maternal grandmother; her grandmothers, her mother, her sister, and her daughters are all excellent seamstresses. She knows that imparting skills to the next generation is part of one’s legacy, however unsung at times that legacy might be. We hear ourselves repeating her advice to our own students. “Get all the butter from the duck” is Laurel’s homely way of exhorting a researcher to work hard to get all the points out of a source. She has always encouraged her students to avoid “cookie-cutter” projects, which helps to explain why we work on such a diverse array of topics. When we have nevertheless found ourselves haunted by the fact that there was someone else working on a similar project somewhere in the world, she would remind us that every writer suffers sleeplessness over this issue, but that no one ever writes the same book. Her literary advice has been unerring, though she sweetens critical pills with the reminder that readers are nearly always right about problems, but not necessarily about solutions. She has taught us to look to favorite passages as the ones that often need to be cut, because we cling to these beloved bits even when their purpose is no longer clear. When faced with an interpretive challenge, she encourages us to “make the problem the solution,” turning the difficulty into a strand of the analysis. Much of this advice applies not only in writing, but also in life.
“Life is long,” Laurel sagely reminds us. She understands better than most the challenges of simultaneously sustaining professional and personal lives. Some of us have had to make hard choices about this balance, and Laurel has supported us throughout these tricky processes. Laurel has had a true helpmeet in her own husband, Gael, who has encouraged her to blossom as the writer she always wanted to be. He has done so in his actions—taking care of the kids or making dinner so Laurel could work on her books—and in his own generous encouragement. Laurel learned how to nurture and also to instruct from being a mother and grandmother to her children and grandchildren. People tend to think that being an active partner and parent must affect a career badly; Laurel knows differently. She has demonstrated more clearly than most that families can help as well as hinder work, and that they teach their own lessons and bring their own joys. She has celebrated us and others as people and as family members, as well as scholars, teachers, and colleagues: hence the baby quilts as well as all those comments on work, and the countless reference letters.
The objects that frame this story—from a pail of cream and an old diary to bumper stickers and baby quilts—offer only a scant summary of Laurel’s rich and variegated life. They do, however, stand witness to her exceptional ability to make us all appreciate the abiding significance of homely stuff. As she observed in that 1976 article, “the real drama is in the humdrum.” This premise has not made it onto bumper stickers, but Laurel has patiently made it the basis for a career in which she has drawn readers and listeners and viewers and website users and students into places many had never expected to go. In so doing, she has instructed, delighted, and inspired. Her equally extraordinary ability to combine seamlessly so many roles—gifted writer, industrious housewife, forceful critic, affectionate family member, generous mentor, tireless scholar, stimulating teacher, charitable neighbor, feminist activist, community leader—is her happy genius. In so many ways, this “vertuous” woman has indeed made history.
1. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History (New York: Knopf, 2007), xxxii.
2. This episode is discussed in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “A Pail of Cream,” Journal of American History 89, no. 1 (2002): 43–47.
3. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “A Phi Beta Kappa Key and a Safety Pin,” in Ulrich and Emma Lou Thayne, All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1995), 150–57.
4. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Vertuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668–1735,” American Quarterly 28, no. 1 (1976): 20–40.
5. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650–1750 (New York: Knopf, 1982).
6. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth (New York: Knopf, 2001).
7. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Of Pens and Needles: Sources in Early American Women’s History,” Journal of American History 77, no. 1 (1990): 200–207.
8. John Demos, “The Age of Homespun: Learning the Past from Objects,” New York Times, November 11, 2001.
9. Ulrich, Age of Homespun, 295.
10. Ulrich, Age of Homespun, 335.
11. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785–1812 (New York: Knopf, 1990), 286.
12. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Martha’s Diary and Mine,” Journal of Women’s History 4, no. 2 (fall 1992): 157–60.
13. Mary Maples Dunn, “DIALOGUE: Paradigm Shift Books: A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich,” Journal of Women’s History 14, no. 3 (fall 2002): 133.
14. Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale, 33–34.
15. Linda Colley, The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History (New York: Pantheon Books, 2007) and Jon F. Sensbach, Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005).
16. Ulrich, “A Pail of Cream,” 47.
17. Ulrich, Well-Behaved Women, xxxiv.
18. Ulrich, Well-Behaved Women, 227.
19. Ulrich, Well-Behaved Women, 227.
Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
Yards & Gates: Gender in Harvard and Radcliffe History. Editor. New York: Palgrave, 2004.
The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785–1812. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.
Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650–1750. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982.
Great Expectations (Perspectives on History, January 2009)
Of Cats, Hats, and Remembrance of Things Past (Perspectives on History, February 2009)
Grasping the Gavel (Perspectives on History, March 2009)
Erasing History (Perspectives on History, May 2009)
Mr. Everyman Buys Coal (Perspectives on History, September 2009)
Presidential Sessions at the 124th Annual Meeting (Perspectives on History, November 2009)
The Trouble with History (Perspectives on History, December 2009)