Campus & Community

Ulrich receives Kennedy Medal

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First woman to receive John F. Kennedy Medal of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Harvard Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich was honored Wednesday evening (Oct. 14) as the 10th recipient of the John F. Kennedy Medal of the Massachusetts Historical Society. She is the first woman given the award.

Ulrich, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard and a Corresponding Fellow of the Historical Society since 1991, received the medal at the society’s 60th annual dinner, held at the Harvard Club of Boston.

She also addressed the fellows and members of the nation’s oldest historical society on the topic “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,” said 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.

Ulrich has taught at Harvard 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. While a MacArthur Fellow, she worked on the production of a PBS documentary based on that book. 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 know her best for the sentence that escaped from one of her scholarly articles and now appears on T-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 create history. This year, Ulrich is serving as president of the American Historical Association.

The Kennedy Medal is the society’s highest honor. Shortly after President Kennedy’s assassination, the society received several gifts to perpetuate his memory as a member of the society and a friend of historical scholarship. The Historical Society decided to create a medal in his name. Since then, the society has awarded it from time to time to persons who have rendered distinguished service to the cause of history.

Previous recipients 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).