Beverly Gage at the New York Times:
Her main interest is in what plural marriage meant for Mormon women in the 19th century, forced to adapt on the fly to a situation they could never have anticipated. This is in some ways a personal question for Ulrich, herself a mother of five and a practicing Mormon as well as a Harvard history professor. All eight of her great-grandparents settled in Utah before the Civil War, members of the faith’s pioneer generation. To ask what it was like for the women who made that journey is also to ask how the modern Mormon Church developed its tight-knit social world, and to think about who mattered within it.
Despite Ulrich’s emphasis on women’s voices and ideas, “A House Full of Females” centers its narrative in part on a man named Wilford Woodruff. An apostle of the church and one of Mormonism’s early converts, Woodruff played a significant role in Mormon history. But his most important quality, from Ulrich’s perspective, is that he kept a detailed diary. That diary paid attention to women, noting on one occasion that the local ward meeting house “was full of females quilting sewing etc.” (thus providing Ulrich with her title). Woodruff married his wife Phebe Carter in 1837 and by all accounts loved her deeply, despite long sojourns apart for missionary work and the difficult deaths of several children. In the mid-1840s, he nonetheless “sealed” himself to two teenage girls, the beginning of a decades-long adventure in polygamy.