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"Well-behaved women seldom make history." - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

On the last day of Women’s History Month 2023, our team would like to highlight this quote from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian:

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

– Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

This insightful sentence comes from a graduate school paper Ulrich published in the American Quarterly in spring 1976. It stayed hidden there until author Kay Mills used a slightly altered version (replacing “seldom” with “rarely”) in her 1995 book, From Pocahontas to Power Suits: Everything You Need to Know About Women’s History in America.

In 2020 Ulrich published an essay in BYU Quarterly entitled “Why Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History,” and offered her reflections on the enduring cultural significance of her sentence for women of all backgrounds and identities.

“I don’t know why so many people find my words appealing. Perhaps it is the ambiguity of the term well-behaved. Without a fixed definition, it evokes whatever anxiety a woman might feel about behavioral codes that constrain her power to act. The slogan works because it simultaneously acknowledges and defends misbehavior as a necessary consequence of making history. Yes, well-behaved women can make history. But when they do, they often lose their reputation for being well-behaved.”

She goes on to say:

“Here, I am defining good behavior as playing by the rules, even the unspoken rules, in a person’s own community. In most circumstances, that is a wise thing to do. … Rules hold families and communities together. They keep us safe. But some rules hurt people; others lose their relevance. The first people to figure that out often make history. They refuse to move to the back of the bus. They stop wearing button-up shoes and corsets. They write new laws. Some of them become famous. Most are ordinary people, like us. They make small changes. They push forward into the dark not knowing quite where they are going. Intentionally or not, they make a difference.”

Our mission for Pregnancy & Postpartum Psychosis Awareness Day is to push past the expectations and assumptions that others have for our community of survivors. 

We are more than the story of our worst day.

– Teresa Twomey

We are flipping the script, and telling our stories in ways that maximize the positive and minimize the negative.

We know that conversations must expand beyond a focus on the shocking and scandalous details of psychosis symptoms. 

We are using our experience as survivors, speakers, advocates, community builders, and scholars to fight stigma and to add insight and new perspectives to awareness raising. 

Our voices of lived experience are critical for understanding the many ways this illness varies from its usual portrayals, and to finding the most effective methods for screening and treatment.

We are confident that our efforts will change perceptions and bust stigmas.

We know our voices are valuable and deserve to be heard.

By changing the narrative, we will change outcomes.

"Most [rule-breakers] are ordinary people, like us. They make small changes. They push forward into the dark not knowing quite where they are going. Intentionally or not, they make a difference."

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