News Story

Mormon Pulitzer Prize–Winning Historian Speaks to McGill University Audience

Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich — the celebrated Harvard historian, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — spoke to 65 students and academic faculty on October 26, 2017, at the McGill University Birks Heritage Chapel. Her lecture took place during Women’s History Month in Canada, a time when the nation celebrates the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society.

Professor Ulrich spoke about plural marriage and women’s rights in early Mormonism. Mormons practiced plural marriage from the early 1840s until 1890, when Church President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which ended the practice. She reminded the audience, “History will surprise you.” She noted that people have many stereotypes about Latter-day Saint women in early Utah, but they don’t know that these women enjoyed rights and freedoms unique to women of their era, such as obtaining the right to vote.

“When Utah gained statehood in 1896, it did so as a suffrage state — ahead of most others,” said Ulrich.

The lecture was the fourth in a series of annual lectures since 2014 and was co-sponsored by CREOR (McGill’s Centre for Research on Religion) and Université de Montréal, Chaire en gestion de la diversité culturelle et religieuse.

Professor Daniel Cere (centre), School of Religious Studies, McGill University, worked with G. Eric and Catherine Jarvis, co-directors of public affairs in Montreal for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to organize the event.

Jay Glowa, president of the Montreal Quebec Mount Royal Stake of the Church, attended the lecture with his wife, Fatima. He said, “I was inspired as I learned of the positive change ordinary women, from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds, were able to effect within their religious and social communities simply by working together to try and make their homes and the world a better place.”

During the lecture, Professor Ulrich spoke of a quilt that was prepared in 1857 by the Salt Lake City 14th Ward women’s Relief Society as a fundraiser. Sixty-three women contributed to the quilt, which was auctioned off and ultimately cut in half to be given to two of the purchaser’s children. Over 100 years later, the halves of the quilt were reunited, with both halves still in excellent condition. Each quilter provided a unique message or design, including her signature, which provides insight into the lives and thoughts of the Mormon women who worked together to make the quilt.

Ulrich also gave a graduate seminar at Concordia University on October 27, 2017, entitled “Digging into Diaries,” in which she taught principles of historical research to 20 students and faculty. She shared diary excerpts of Carolyn Crosby, an early Canadian Latter-day Saint. She also encouraged everyone to keep a diary so that personal histories will not fade with time.

Catherine Jarvis, co-director of public affairs for the Church in Montreal, interviewed Professor Ulrich to discuss women’s history and the importance of diaries in understanding the past. Ulrich stated, “We want to know how change unfolds in the lives of ordinary people. Even more than that, we want to know how ordinary people create change by the decisions they make in their everyday lives.”

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