MHS News

Well-behaved Woman Makes History

MHS Presents Kennedy Medal to Noted Harvard Scholar

Ulrich accepts the Kenndy Medal from Dennis Fiori and Bill ClendanielApproximately 100 guests were in attendance on the evening of 14 October as Prof. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich was honored as the 10th recipient of the John F. Kennedy Medal of the Massachusetts Historical Society at the Harvard Club of Boston. Ulrich, a Corresponding Fellow of the MHS since 1991 and 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University, was presented with the medal as part of the Society’s 60th Annual Dinner. She addressed the Fellows and Members of the nation’s oldest historical society with a talk entitled “A Mormon Apostle in Boston: Sightseeing, Riot, and Martyrdom.”

“Throughout her career Professor Ulrich has mixed very distinguished scholarship with an ability to cross conventional academic boundaries, which has greatly enriched our understanding of history,” stated Bill Clendaniel, chair of the Society’s Board of Trustees. “In addition, she has helped make American history relevant and thought-provoking to a wide audience through her PBS documentary and the popular use of her phrase ‘well-behaved women seldom make history.’ That she is the first woman to receive the Kennedy Medal also gives the Society particular pleasure.”

Professor Ulrich has taught at Harvard University since 1995. Formerly professor of American history at the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of many articles and books on early American history, including A Midwife’s Tale, which won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for History. During her tenure as a MacArthur Fellow, she worked on the production of a PBS documentary based on A Midwife’s Tale. In The Age of Homespun (2001), she explored museum artifacts as sources for history, an approach she has taken in much of her recent teaching. Some people know her best for the sentence that escaped from one of her scholarly articles and now appears on tee shirts, bumper stickers, and other paraphernalia. Her 2007 book, Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History, tells the story behind the “accidental slogan” and asks what it means to make history. This year, Professor Ulrich is serving as President of the American Historical Association.

The John F. Kennedy Medal is the Society’s highest possible honor. Shortly after President Kennedy’s death, the Society received several gifts designated for use in any appropriate way to perpetuate President Kennedy’s memory as an active member of the Society and a great friend of historical scholarship. The MHS determined to create a medal in President Kennedy’s name and commissioned eminent artist and MHS Fellow Rudolph Ruzicka to design the medal. Since then, the Society has presented 10 honorees with the Kennedy Medal, awarded from time to time to persons who have rendered distinguished service to the cause of history. It is not limited to any field of history or in fact to any particular kind of service to history. The previous recipients of the medal are Samuel Eliot Morrison (1967), Dumas Malone (1972), Thomas Boylston Adams (1976), Oscar Handlin (1991), Edmund S. Morgan (2002), Alfred DuPont Chandler, Jr. (2003), Bernard Bailyn (2004), John Hope Franklin (2005), and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (2006).

In addition to honoring the fallen American president, the Kennedy Medal naturally connected Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, also an MHS Fellow, to the Society in a personal fashion. He and his sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, were involved in past conferrals of the medal, including the MHS bicentennial dinner in 1991 where he presented the Kennedy Medal to Oscar Handlin and the 2006 evening honoring medal recipient Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Earlier this past summer, Senator Kennedy was invited to present the medal to Ulrich. Due to the senator’s passing and the grief of his family, MHS President Dennis Fiori and Chair of the Board Bill Clendaniel presented the medal to Ulrich on behalf of the Society.


Image Credit: Michael Lutch

Published: Thursday, 15 October, 2009, 12:00 AM