On April 12th and 13th (this coming weekend!) there is a festschrift/retirement event in celebration of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s illustrious career as a Pulitzer and Bancroft Prize winning historian. She joined the history department faculty at Harvard in 1995 and did incredible work to transform the university and mentor students there.
But, as many of us in the Mormon history world know, Laurel was not only prolific author and mentor in the Ivy League halls. She also helped to foster Mormon feminists and upcoming scholars in Mormon history. On April 13th, MHA’s executive director Barbara Jones Brown will be speaking about Laurel’s mentorship in the Mormon history community. She would love to have people send her their experiences with Laurel as a mentor in the Mormon history community. People can do so directly by emailing her (bjonesbrown [at} gmail [dot] com) or they can comment on this post with their experiences.
To get the ball rolling, I will start:
I first met Laurel at MHA in 2013. I had bought her book Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History and I decided to muster up the courage to ask her to sign it. She agreed and opened the book only to find that it was an already signed copy. Oops. I asked her to sign it again because I am an awkward human being.
In 2015, I moved to Boston and reintroduced myself (without mention of the first incident). I asked to audit her Harvard class on the family in American history and she graciously let me do so. This was the beginning of the mentorship relationship that I had with Laurel: she served as an anchor point for me in a vulnerable period for me as I was applying to PhD programs. I am certain that her letter of reference was one of the turning points that got me accepted into two history programs.
Yes, Laurel is a well-decorated historian and Harvard professor. But to me she modelled something beyond just that. During the MHA conference in 2013, I remember watching as she challenged one presenter during the Q&A about the specifics of the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes. Laurel always seemed to me to model a quiet confidence in her ideas and research. She was not afraid to challenge assumptions or prod someone to better articulate their ideas. Laurel managed to strike a fine balance between critical and supportive that we so often long for in mentors.
Please send your experiences to Barbara!