By Eric Johnson
A 12-part Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast series on this essay aired in November 2014.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came out with another “Gospel Topics Essay” titled “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo.” The essay covers early polygamy, focusing especially on Joseph Smith. There are positives in this article, though there is much more than can be said. As historian D. Michael Quinn said, “With these articles, the church went ‘about 75 percent as far as they could have, and that’s good news. It is miles ahead of where church headquarters has been willing to go before.” (Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 23, 2014, p. A4) In this review, we will include the entire article (underlined) with our additional comments. Please be aware, some comments have been made tongue-in-cheek, but they do reflect the opinion of this writer who, quite frankly, is thoroughly disgusted with Joseph Smith’s polygamous ways and only desires the full truth to be told.
Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo
Latter-day Saints believe that monogamy—the marriage of one man and one woman—is the Lord’s standing law of marriage.1
Of course, while this statement is true today, it certainly wasn’t true before the “Manifesto” was given in 1890. LDS representatives are certainly providing some head-scratching quotes regarding this article. For instance, church historian Steven E. Snow told the New York Times about why the church is producing the Gospel Topics essays:
There is so much out there on the Internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history. We need to be truthful, and we need to understand our history. I believe our history is full of stories of faith and devotion and sacrifice, but these people weren’t perfect.
Wait a minute! Why did Snow use the word “perfect”? Nobody said they were. Rather, the early practicers of polygamy were following God’s commands as directed by the early LDS leadership. The implication Snow gives is that these “stories of faith and devotion and sacrifice”–including Joseph Smith– did not involve full obedience. But they (and Smith included) believed they were being obedient to God’s commands! As far as being “truthful” in an essay such as this, the church is revealing some information (which we commend) but still not telling, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.” As we will see in this review, the Mormon Church website is certainly not a “safe place” for a person to gather all the facts. This is the purpose of this response.
In biblical times, the Lord commanded some of His people to practice plural marriage—the marriage of one man and more than one woman.2
This is false! God never commanded anyone to ever practice plural marriage! (If so, the Mormon is obligated to provide any supporting biblical passages to support such an unbiblical notion.)
In footnote 2, three Standard Work passages are referenced: “Doctrine and Covenants 132:34–39; Jacob 2:30; see also Genesis 18.” The first two LDS scriptures are not accepted by Christians and are therefore not applicable to this discussion. As far as Jacob 2:30 is concerned, let’s provide the context:
27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.
Notice how the ancient Americans were supposedly told that monogamy (one man, one woman) is God’s norm. The only exception, verse 30 says, would be to “raise up seed unto me.” This is a reference to having children. Consider how Joseph Smith married at least 33 women. If having children is the only possible purpose of plural marriage, we must wonder:
- Where are all the descendants of Joseph Smith? It is a fact that Joseph Smith did have sexual relationships with most of his wives. As LDS scholar Todd Compton writes on page 12 of his classic work In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith,
Because Reorganized Latter Day Saints claimed that Joseph Smith was not really married polygamously in the full (i.e., sexual) sense of the term, Utah Mormons (including Smith’s wives) affirmed repeatedly that he had physical sexual relations with them—despite the Victorian conventions in nineteenth-century American culture which ordinarily would have prevented any mention of sexuality.
- Why did Smith marry three of his wives who were over 50 and therefore past child-bearing age?
- Why did Smith marry other men’s wives? As Compton writes on page 15 that
fully one-third of his plural wives, eleven of them, were married civilly to other men when he married them. If one superimposes a chronological perspective, one sees that of Smith’s first twelve wives, nine were polyandrous.
It would seem that these husbands could do very well on their own producing children.
In this essay, the only biblical passage mentioned to support the idea that God commanded biblical saints to practice plural marriage is Genesis 16. Here is what the first verses of this chapter say:
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
The Mormon might like to point to verse 3 where it says Hagar was given to Sarai’s “husband to be his wife.” In the context, however, this is nothing more than a reference that Abram and Hagar joined together in a sexual union. As one commentary points out:
The phrase “to be his wife” in verse 3 is merely a euphemism for sexual intercourse. That is clear from the phrase that immediately follows it as well as from the original request (v.2). The context makes it clear that Hagar remained the slave not of Abraham, but of Sarai.
It also says,
Even after the agreement between Sarai and Abram (v.2), Hagar is still considered her maidservant (v.3). The language is important. It is not Abram who takes Hagar into his tent, but Sarai gives Hagar to Abram. Sarai is in charge. After Abram slept with Hagar and conceived, not only Sarai (v.5) but also Abram still talks about Hagar as Sarai’s servant (v.6), not as his (new) wife. Furthermore, the narrator continues to call Sarai “her mistress” (v.4).
All throughout Genesis we find Sarai addressed as Abraham’s wife many times (11:29,31; 12:5,17,18,20; 13:1; 16:1,3; 17:15,19; 18:9,10; 20:2,7,11,12,14,18; 23:3,19) by the narrator, by Abraham, or by God himself. Hagar is never called the wife of Abraham, whether by Abraham, or by Sarah, or by God and only once by the narrator in the above discussed verse 16:3.
Hagar herself speaks to the angel about “my mistress Sarai.” She does not question her status as a servant of Sarai. It is not the status but mistreatment by Sarai which is the issue.
More importantly, when the angel of the LORD appears to her he addresses her as “Hagar, servant of Sarai,”not as “Hagar, wife of Abram.” The messenger from God surely knows her proper title and position. And the angel gives her the command, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”
With that as a background, we see that:
1) God does not tell Abram to take a second wife because it was Sarai’s idea.
2) Hagar was not considered to be a second wife by Sarai, Abram, or the Angel of the Lord.
This is not a good reference that should be used to support the doctrine of polygamy, whether yesterday or today.
Some early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also received and obeyed this commandment given through God’s prophets.
While Joseph Smith says he received D&C 132 from the Lord, this section is not something accepted by Evangelical Christians.
After receiving a revelation commanding him to practice plural marriage, Joseph Smith married multiple wives and introduced the practice to close associates. This principle was among the most challenging aspects of the Restoration—for Joseph personally and for other Church members. Plural marriage tested faith and provoked controversy and opposition. Few Latter-day Saints initially welcomed the restoration of a biblical practice entirely foreign to their sensibilities. But many later testified of powerful spiritual experiences that helped them overcome their hesitation and gave them courage to accept this practice.
While this was a biblical practice for some—notably, Jacob, David and Solomon—it certainly was not the normative. After the time of Solomon in the 10th century BC, plural marriage doesn’t appear to be practiced, including by all of the prophets of God. In the New Testament times, polygamy doesn’t appear to be an option for the Christian believers. When Paul talks about the rules for marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, plural marriage is not even discussed. Verse 2 assumes monogamy when it says,
But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.
Grant Palmer makes a great point when he writes,
It seems highly improbable however, that God would bring back or “restore” an ancient cultural custom that was not a doctrine. There is no evidence in the Old or New Testament that God commanded or directed any prophet or king to practice polygamy. It was a cultural thing practiced as a preference by some. Personal relationships within polygamist families were difficult and not very successful in the Old Testament. More important, none of the Old or New Testament prophets, including Jesus, said that polygamy or monogamy was necessary for reaching celestial glory. Conversely, Joseph Smith taught, “No one can reject this covenant [polygamy] and be permitted to enter into my glory. For all .. must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.” (Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo.)
While the writers of this essay can use words like “spiritual experiences” and “courage to accept this practice,” they fail to mention the many abuses in plural marriage relationships that have been documented not only by historians but the women themselves.
Although the Lord commanded the adoption—and later the cessation—of plural marriage in the latter days, He did not give exact instructions on how to obey the commandment.
It says, “He did not give exact instructions on how to obey the commandment”? Yet God most certainly did. For example, according to Leviticus 18:
Verse 17: “‘Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness.”
Verse 18: “‘Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.”
But Joseph Smith married three pairs of sisters:
Verse 20: “‘Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s wife and defile yourself with her.”
We’ll address Smith’s polyandry later. With these verses as a backdrop, it is nothing less than disingenuous to say that God “did not give exact instructions on how to obey the commandment.” According to History of the Church 1:368, Joseph Smith finished his own translation of the Bible in July 1833. Surely he knew about Leviticus 18. If this essay was meant for the church to come “clean” about its past history, then making inaccurate statements such as this is not the way to handle the situation.
Significant social and cultural changes often include misunderstandings and difficulties. Church leaders and members experienced these challenges as they heeded the command to practice plural marriage and again later as they worked to discontinue it after Church President Wilford Woodruff issued an inspired statement known as the Manifesto in 1890, which led to the end of plural marriage in the Church. Through it all, Church leaders and members sought to follow God’s will.
The best way to “follow God’s will” is to abide by His revelation, the Bible. When Joseph Smith claims that he has been told by God to practice plural marriage, more scrutiny ought to have been applied by the membership.
Many details about the early practice of plural marriage are unknown. Plural marriage was introduced among the early Saints incrementally, and participants were asked to keep their actions confidential. They did not discuss their experiences publicly or in writing until after the Latter-day Saints had moved to Utah and Church leaders had publicly acknowledged the practice. The historical record of early plural marriage is therefore thin: few records of the time provide details, and later reminiscences are not always reliable. Some ambiguity will always accompany our knowledge about this issue. Like the participants, we “see through a glass, darkly” and are asked to walk by faith.3
There is plenty of written works available to understand the “early practice of plural marriage.” One excellent book on this topic includes LDS scholar Richard Lyman Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling Paperback.This will help provide a better understanding of what this man was all about. Another excellent choice is In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, as Mormon scholar Todd Compton gives details about Joseph Smith’s 34 wives. Some of it will (or, at least, it should) shock you. Another book on polygamy that I think is worth a read is Richard Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy: A History. And Mormons Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery wrote Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith that is brutally honest regarding Joseph’s philanderous ways and his dysfunctional relationship with Emma.
Indeed, much is known about early polygamy. Just read the academics (and all of the above are Latter-day Saint authors).
The Beginnings of Plural Marriage in the Church
The revelation on plural marriage was not written down until 1843, but its early verses suggest that part of it emerged from Joseph Smith’s study of the Old Testament in 1831. People who knew Joseph well later stated he received the revelation about that time.4
The presupposition in Mormonism is that Joseph Smith was a moral man. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the First Presidency, stated,
As we remember and honor the Prophet Joseph Smith, my heart reaches out to him in gratitude. He was a good, honest, humble, intelligent, and courageous young man with a heart of gold and an unshaken faith in God. He had integrity. (“Precious Fruits of the First Vision,” Ensign, February 2009, p. 7).
As the October 2014 conference, Apostle Neil L. Andersen stated,
I testify that Joseph Smith was an honest and virtuous man, . . . (“Joseph Smith,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2014, p. 31).
When the history is understood, how can this be said?
The revelation, recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132, states that Joseph prayed to know why God justified Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon in having many wives. The Lord responded that He had commanded them to enter into the practice.5
Abram, we have shown, was not polygamous. Out of the list given in this paragraph, Isaac also was not polygamous. As far as the others, I politely ask for the LDS scholars to provide specific references to show that this was God’s command for these men rather than their personal preference. As mentioned earlier, there is no biblical reference that can be utilized to show that God “had commanded them to enter into the practice.”
Latter-day Saints understood that they were living in the latter days, in what the revelations called the “dispensation of the fulness of times.”6 Ancient principles—such as prophets, priesthood, and temples—would be restored to the earth. Plural marriage was one of those ancient principles.
And again, plural marriage was not the normative practice or an “ancient principle.” This can only be supported if it can be shown that God commanded this practice. Even if the early LDS Church wanted to restore biblical practices, polygamy would not be on the list.
Polygamy had been permitted for millennia in many cultures and religions, but, with few exceptions, was rejected in Western cultures.7
And for good reasons it was rejected! For the most part, Western countries—including the United States—have morals based on Christian principles. Plural marriage is more commonly found in African and Islamic cultures, which are not based in Christianity. Therefore, this practice was not easily embraced in the West because it defied the basic understanding of “one man and one woman,” which is what Christianity (and even Mormonism) holds to today.
In Joseph Smith’s time, monogamy was the only legal form of marriage in the United States. Joseph knew the practice of plural marriage would stir up public ire. After receiving the commandment, he taught a few associates about it, but he did not spread this teaching widely in the 1830s.8
Here’s the problem. Over and over again, the church teaches that something does not become doctrine until it is approved by the leadership as well as the membership. Standards are not supposed to change based on the whims on a single individual, even if emanates from the president of the church (i.e. Joseph Smith). If Smith did receive a commandment from God, where is the proof? How could faithful Latter-day Saints know besides trusting the word of their founder?
When God commands a difficult task, He sometimes sends additional messengers to encourage His people to obey. Consistent with this pattern, Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.9
While there are a number of accounts of this story, they are second- or third-hand accounts, none of them originating earlier than almost a decade after Smith’s death. For example, Mary Elizabeth Lightner doesn’t tell the story until 1902, sixty years after she claimed to have been told the story by Smith.
Regardless of what Smith may have claimed about an angel who threatened him with a sword, there were no eyewitnesses to Smith’s account. To believe this story, a person must place complete trust in Joseph Smith. And still, let’s be honest, the story makes no sense. First of all, it must be asked why no biblical patriarch or prophet received a similar threat for not practicing the “Principle.” (We have no record that any biblical figure was ever told by God or an angel to practice polygamy.) Second, the way Smith ended up practicing plural marriage and not producing children (that we know of) does not coincide with the direction of Jacob 2:30. (After all, we know Joseph had the means to produce children and so did these women, as the majority had children with their husbands.) And if we accept this story as true, a great amount of trust must be given to Smith, just as is necessary for believing the First Vision account or the encounter with Moroni and the gold places. Too many Mormons trust Joseph Smith even when there are plenty of reasons to doubt his stories.
Finally, let’s admit that the story seems strange. It is claimed that Smith was threatened by the angel on three different occasions (from 1834-42) for him to practice polygamy. Yet Smith remains silent for many years before doing what he was told to do. And though he apparently disobeys this commandment for a time, still Mormons consider him to be an honorable prophet?!
Let’s bring this into a modern context. Suppose the current president claims that he received a personal revelation more than a decade ago. He claims he was told to practice homosexuality. (This is just as unacceptable for Mormons today as polygamy was in the early 19th century.) And let’s pretend that this “prophet, seer, and revelator” engaged in homosexual practice during this decade with a number of men before finally producing a revelation saying he was told by God to do so. In fact, he says, an angel with a sword threatened him three times until he reluctantly did what he was told. Would the membership think that this prophet’s sexual practices were justified because of his claim that God told him to do it? Most Latter-day Saints would be appalled…and for good reason. As the essay admits in the next paragraph, Smith took his first plural wife, 16-year-old Fanny Alger, a decade before he wrote down D&C 132. In addition, he didn’t produce the “revelation” on the “plurality of wives” until July 12, 1843, when he had already married 29 of his (at least) 34 wives. Why is Joseph Smith given a free pass to practice a doctrine that God hadn’t been announced to the church? Why wasn’t a church vote required to bring this doctrine to the LDS people? These questions ought to bother an honest Latter-day Saint.
Is it possible Smith was good at making it appear he had God’s approval to perform illicit acts? As Grant Palmer points out:
Smith had his own highly questionable methods of getting females to say yes to his proposals from 1841-1844. Claiming to possess the religious “keys” to “bind” or “loose” on earth and in heaven is a power that seems to have made him feel increasingly invincible before God. In January 1842, he told seventeen year old Martha Brotherton after she hesitated to accept Brigham Young’s offer of being his plural wife: “Just go ahead, and do as Brigham wants.. I know this is lawful and right before God.. I have the keys of the kingdom, and whatever I bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever I loose on earth is loosed in heaven.” Martha not only declined the offer, but published her story in the July 15, 1842 St. Louis Bulletin.
Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents.10 Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger. After the marriage with Alger ended in separation, Joseph seems to have set the subject of plural marriage aside until after the Church moved to Nauvoo, Illinois.
So here is an admission that Smith practiced plural marriage before it ever became a doctrine in the LDS Church. According to Compton, “nineteenth-century Mormons, however, regarded the Smith-Alger relationship as a marriage.” (In Sacred Loneliness, 28) Smith was 27 and Alger was 16 when they were married in 1833.
At the time, Fanny was living in the Smith home, perhaps helping Emma with house work and the children. Ann Eliza Webb recalls, “Mrs. Smith had an adopted daughter, a very pretty, pleasing young girl, about seventeen years old. She was extremely fond of her; no mother could be more devoted, and their affection for each other was a constant object of remark, so absorbing and genuine did it seem”.
Joseph kept his marriage to Fanny out of the view of the public, and his wife Emma. Chauncey Webb recounts Emma’s later discovery of the relationship: “Emma was furious, and drove the girl, who was unable to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet, out of her house”. Ann Eliza again recalls: “…it was felt that [Emma] certainly must have had some very good reason for her action. By degrees it became whispered about that Joseph’s love for his adopted daughter was by no means a paternal affection, and his wife, discovering the fact, at once took measures to place the girl beyond his reach…Since Emma refused decidedly to allow her to remain in her house…my mother offered to take her until she could be sent to her relatives…” http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/02-FannyAlger.htm
Emma had been in the dark concerning many of Smith’s plural marriages. Perhaps the following story was one reason she did not like Fanny:
In an 1872 letter to Joseph Smith III, William McLelline wrote: ‘Again I told her [Emma] I heard that one night she missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. She went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction! She told me this story was verily true. (In Sacred Loneliness, 35)
Some may insist that this story is made up or inaccurate. Yet
Book of Mormon witness, Oliver Cowdery, felt the relationship was something other than a marriage. He referred to it as “A dirty, nasty, filthy affair…” To calm rumors regarding Fanny’s relationship with Joseph, the church quickly adopted a “Chapter of Rules for Marriage among the Saints”, which declared, “Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with…polygamy; we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife…” This “Article on Marriage” was canonized and published in the Doctrine & Covenants. In 1852, the doctrine of polygamy was publicly announced, thus ending eighteen years of secret practice. “The Article on Marriage” became obsolete and was later removed. Footnote
Plural Marriage and Eternal Marriage
The same revelation that taught of plural marriage was part of a larger revelation given to Joseph Smith—that marriage could last beyond death and that eternal marriage was essential to inheriting the fulness that God desires for His children. As early as 1840, Joseph Smith privately taught Apostle Parley P. Pratt that the “heavenly order” allowed Pratt and his wife to be together “for time and all eternity.”11 Joseph also taught that men like Pratt—who had remarried following the death of his first wife—could be married (or sealed) to their wives for eternity, under the proper conditions.12
When D&C 132 was given in 1843, celestial marriage certainly only meant plural marriage. Today, though, many Latter-day Saints don’t grasp the historical interpretation of this term. As Bill McKeever writes,
Like many other unique doctrines brought about by the LDS Church, celestial marriage has gone through its share of redefining and development. Today, celestial marriage merely means to be married for time and eternity in an LDS temple. To the 19th century Mormon, celestial marriage was synonymous with plural marriage. Mormon historians concede that celestial and plural marriage were at one time inseparable. According to David John Buerger, “Celestial marriage was applied to and equated with plural marriage until the late nineteenth century” (The Mysteries of Godliness, p. 59). Thomas G. Alexander, on page 60 of his Mormonism in Transition, wrote, “Generally, the terms ‘new and everlasting covenant’ of marriage, ‘celestial marriage,’ and plural marriage were thought to be equivalent.” When compelled by the U.S. government to abandon plural marriage in the late 1800s, LDS leaders redefined celestial marriage. For example, President Heber J. Grant and his counselors stated in 1914, “Celestial marriage-that is, marriage for time and eternity-and polygamous or plural marriage are not synonymous terms. Monogamous marriages for time and eternity, solemnized in our temples in accordance with the word of the Lord and the laws of the Church, are Celestial marriages” (Messages of the First Presidency 5:329).
The sealing of husband and wife for eternity was made possible by the restoration of priesthood keys and ordinances. On April 3, 1836, the Old Testament prophet Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple and restored the priesthood keys necessary to perform ordinances for the living and the dead, including sealing families together.13 Marriages performed by priesthood authority could link loved ones to each other for eternity, on condition of righteousness; marriages performed without this authority would end at death.14
Marriage performed by priesthood authority meant that the procreation of children and perpetuation of families would continue into the eternities. Joseph Smith’s revelation on marriage declared that the “continuation of the seeds forever and ever” helped to fulfill God’s purposes for His children.15 This promise was given to all couples who were married by priesthood authority and were faithful to their covenants.
To accomplish a marriage for “time and all eternity,” Mormons are taught this ordinance must be solemnized in LDS temples. Yet where in the Bible does it say that marriages ever took place in the Jerusalem temple? For more information, see here.
Plural Marriage in Nauvoo
For much of Western history, family “interest”—economic, political, and social considerations—dominated the choice of spouse. Parents had the power to arrange marriages or forestall unions of which they disapproved. By the late 1700s, romance and personal choice began to rival these traditional motives and practices.16 By Joseph Smith’s time, many couples insisted on marrying for love, as he and Emma did when they eloped against her parents’ wishes.
Latter-day Saints’ motives for plural marriage were often more religious than economic or romantic. Besides the desire to be obedient, a strong incentive was the hope of living in God’s presence with family members. In the revelation on marriage, the Lord promised participants “crowns of eternal lives” and “exaltation in the eternal worlds.”17 Men and women, parents and children, ancestors and progeny were to be “sealed” to each other—their commitment lasting into the eternities, consistent with Jesus’s promise that priesthood ordinances performed on earth could be “bound in heaven.”18
The first plural marriage in Nauvoo took place when Louisa Beaman and Joseph Smith were sealed in April 1841.19
Just as he did with Alger,
Joseph kept his relationship with Louisa Beaman secret from all but a select few. He also kept it secret from Emma. His earlier attempts to begin the practice in Kirtland had presented severe trauma for Emma, and Joseph knew that she would not willingly share him with another woman. (Mormon Enigma, 95)
In fact, it appears certain that Emma—though she knew about some of Smith’s later marriages—was clueless about the majority of them. Mormon writers Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery make this very clear in Mormon Enigma. For further information about their book, consider our 43-part podcast series.
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12 Part 13 Part 14 Part 15 Part 16 Part 17 Part 18 Part 19 Part 20 Part 21 Part 22 Part 23 Part 24 Part 25 Part 26 Part 27 Part 28 Part 29 Part 30 Part 31 Part 32 Part 33 Part 34 Part 35 Part 36 Part 37 Part 38 Part 39 Part 40 Part 41 Part 42 Part 43 May 6-July 18, 2013 (Book review)
Joseph married many additional wives and authorized other Latter-day Saints to practice plural marriage. The practice spread slowly at first. By June 1844, when Joseph died, approximately 29 men and 50 women had entered into plural marriage, in addition to Joseph and his wives. When the Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, at least 196 men and 521 women had entered into plural marriages.20 Participants in these early plural marriages pledged to keep their involvement confidential, though they anticipated a time when the practice would be publicly acknowledged.
If this was a practice that God intended for people to practice, then why was everyone keeping it a secret? If God really instructed D&C 132, as Mormons believe he did, there should be shouting from the rooftops to explain God’s provision. Never does God command His people keep secrets.
When it comes to the topic of plural marriage, Joseph Smith was a liar. The answer is an unqualified yes. When it appeared that Emma would cause Joseph embarrassment, he claimed that he would no longer pursue other women. As Mormon Enigma explains:
In the most serious crisis of their marriage, Joseph backed down. He told Emma that he would give up his wives. But he confined to Clayton that he did not intend to keep his word. (158)
Smith had married all of his 33 wives by the late fall of 1843. So how in the world could he have said the following in the late spring of the following year, just a month before he was shot and killed?
What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers. I labored with these apostates myself until I was out of all manner of patience. (Joseph Smith, “Address of the Prophet—His Testimony Against the Dissenters at Nauvoo,” delivered Sunday, May 26, 1844. Printed in History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 408-412)
Shouldn’t this be considered a lie? How do Latter-day Saints justify this deception by their church’s founder?
Nevertheless, rumors spread. A few men unscrupulously used these rumors to seduce women to join them in an unauthorized practice sometimes referred to as “spiritual wifery.” When this was discovered, the men were cut off from the Church.21 The rumors prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy but were silent about what Joseph Smith and others saw as divinely mandated “celestial” plural marriage.22 The statements emphasized that the Church practiced no marital law other than monogamy while implicitly leaving open the possibility that individuals, under direction of God’s living prophet, might do so.23
Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage
During the era in which plural marriage was practiced, Latter-day Saints distinguished between sealings for time and eternity and sealings for eternity only. Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone.
Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings. The exact number of women to whom he was sealed in his lifetime is unknown because the evidence is fragmentary.24 Some of the women who were sealed to Joseph Smith later testified that their marriages were for time and eternity, while others indicated that their relationships were for eternity alone.25
It really doesn’t matter whether Smith married five women or fifty. Just taking a second wife and believing that to be legitimate is “polygamy,” regardless of how many wives a man had. In the same way, a man who has sex with even one woman (or fifty) was is not his wife has participated in “sexual immorality.”
Did “eternity alone” relationships with Joseph Smith not involve sex? We’ll discuss that a little later. For more on this topic, see here.
Most of those sealed to Joseph Smith were between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of their sealing to him. The oldest, Fanny Young, was 56 years old.
According to Todd Compton, Rhoda Richards was 58 when she married Smith on June 12, 1843, which would make her the oldest. (Three of his wives were in their 50s.) As far as saying “most” of these women were married to Smith between 20-40 is a pretty extensive timeline. If we change this to decades, though, the numbers look like this:
Ages 14-19: 10 wives
Ages 20-29: 10 wives
Ages 30-39: 10 wives
Ages 40-49: No wives
Ages 50-56: 3 wives
Using this more sensible layout, Smith married an equal number of women in the teens, twenties, and thirties. It is misleading to leave Smith’s teenage wives out of the statistic.
The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph’s close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday. Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens.26
Something that is “legal” is not necessarily moral or right. For example, iIt was legal in the 1950s in the South to make African Americans sit in the back of the bus. It was legal in Germany for Hitler to round up Jews and kill them. It is legal today for women to abort their preborn babies. And in Utah today, it’s legal for a 15-year-old to marry with a parent’s permission. Is the average 15-year-old mature enough to get married and possibly have children? It’s legal, but is this really appropriate?
To even suggest that 14 was a normal marrying age is certainly misleading. Consider the following:
There is no documentation to support the idea that marriage at fourteen was “approaching eligibility.” Actually, marriages even two years later, at the age of sixteen, occurred occasionally but infrequently in Helen Mar’s culture. Thus, girls marrying at fourteen, even fifteen, were very much out of the ordinary. Sixteen was comparatively rare, but not unheard of. American women began to marry in their late teens; around different parts of the United States the average age of marriage varied from nineteen to twenty-three.
In the United States the average age of menarche (first menstruation) dropped from 16.5 in 1840 to 12.9 in 1950. More recent figures indicate that it now occurs on average at 12.8 years of age. The mean age of first marriages in colonial America was between 19.8 years to 23.7, most women were married during the age period of peak fecundity (fertility). Mean pubertal age has declined by some 3.7 years from the 1840’s.
The psychological sexual maturity of Helen Mar Kimball in today’s average age of menarche (first menstruation) would put her psychological age of sexual maturity at the time of the marriage of Joseph Smith at 9.1 years old. (16.5 years-12.8 years =3.7 years) (12.8 years-3.7 years=9.1 years)
The fact is Helen Mar Kimball’s sexual development was still far from complete. Her psychological sexual maturity was not competent for procreation. The coming of puberty is regarded as the termination of childhood; in fact the term child is usually defined as the human being from the time of birth to the on-coming of puberty. Puberty the point of time at which the sexual development is completed. In young women, from the date of the first menstruation to the time at which she has become fitted for marriage, the average lapse of time is assumed by researchers to be two years.
We must remember that Smith didn’t just marry one teen but a total of 10. They are
- Fanny Alger 16
- Sarah Ann Whitney 17
- Lucy Walker 17
- Flora Ann Woodworth 16
- Emily Dow Partridge 19
- Sarah Lawrence 17
- Maria Lawrence 19
- Helen Mar Kimball 14
- Melissa Lott 19
- Nancy M. Winchester 14
Again, whether it’s one teen plural wife or ten, does it matter? After all, Smith was a man in his 30s who was already married to Emma? How can any of this be justified (with or without the Bible)?
Out of these girls, Helen Mar is probably the most mentioned, and her story has to be one of the most interesting. Listen to Helen’s account of her marriage according to her 1881 autobiography (spelling intact):
Just previous to my father’s starting up his last mission but one [June 10, 1843], to the Eastern States, he taught me the principle of Celestial marriage, and having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet Joseph, he offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet’s own mouth. My father had but one lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter how cruel this seemed to the mother whose heartstrings were already stretched untile they were ready to snap asunder for his had taken Sarah Noon to wife & she thought she had made sufficient sacrifise but the Lord required more. I will pass over the temptations which I had during the twenty four hours after my father introduced me the principle & asked me if I would be sealed to Joseph who came next morning & with my parents I heard him teach & explain the principle of Celestial marriage—after which is said to me, “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that . . . of your fathers household & all of your kindred.” I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward. None but God & angels could see my mother’s bleeding heart, when Joseph asked her if she was willing, she replied “If Helen is willing I have nothing more to say.” She had witnessed the sufferings of others, who were older & who better understood the step they were taking, & to see her child, who had scarcely seen her fifteenth summer, following in the same thorny path, in her mind she saw the misery which was so sure to come as the sun was to rise and set; but it was all hidden from me.
What an incredible responsibility was laid at the feet of a 14-year-old girl! As Compton says,
As in the case of Sarah Whitney, Joseph gave the teenage daughter responsibility not only for her own salvation but for that of her whole family. Thus Helen’s acceptance of a union that was not intrinsically attractive to her was an act of youthful sacrifice and heroism. (In Sacred Loneliness, 499)
Hindsight revealed to Helen that getting married to Smith was a bad choice. As Mormon Enigma explains,
Apparently the Kimballs had not fully explained to Helen what the marriage would involve. “I would never have been sealed [married] to Joseph, had I known it was anything more than a ceremony,” Helen later confided to her mother.
Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being “for eternity alone,” suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations.27 After Joseph’s death, Helen remarried and became an articulate defender of him and of plural marriage.28
Again, if Jacob 2:30 is accurate—that the “raising of seed” is the only reason for polygamy—then why did Smith marry this 14-year-old in the first place? Yet there is “no suggestion that the relationship did not involve sexual relations.” Referring to a poem written by Kimball, Compton writes:
Though the interpretation of these lines has been debated, it appears that Helen, when she married Smith, understood that the marriage would be ‘for eternity alone,’ and that it would leave her free to marry someone else for time. But apparently this was not the case, as is shown by a number of factors. First, there is no evidence elsewhere that Smith ever married for eternity only, not including ‘time.’ . . . Second, Helen’s later history shows that Joseph was protective of her, as he had been with another young wife, Flora Woodworth, and tried to shield her from the attentions of young men. This would not be consistent with a marriage for eternity only. Third, the rest of the poem shows that Helen’s ‘blissfull hopes’ of teenage romantic freedom were dashed. She had misunderstood the meaning of the marriage to Smith. . . .So apparently Helen had expected her marriage to Joseph Smith to be for eternity only, then discovered that it included time also. (In Sacred Loneliness, 500)
Compton adds on page 501:
Helen had married Smith when she was very young, that she was told that the salvation of her whole family depended on the marriage, and that she initially had a different perception of the meaning of the marriage than the reality turned out to be, which her writings support.
Grant Palmer has an interesting persepctive on how Smith–a man in his 30s–was able to convince teenagers, including Kimball, to marry him, often with the approval of the parents:
Claiming heavenly sealing keys to “bind and loose” gave Smith tremendous power over church members. He used it as an inducement to persuade at least three and probably four young females to accept his proposals between mid-July 1842 and mid-May 1843. Sarah Ann Whitney, Helen Mar Kimball, Lucy Walker and perhaps Flora Woodworth–all between the ages of fourteen and seventeen were persuaded by this approach. Newel K. Whitney, Sarah Ann’s father was promised by Smith to receive “eternal life to all your house, both old and young,” by having Sarah Ann marry him. He told Helen Mar Kimball in front of her father, Heber C. Kimball, that: “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household & all of your kindred.” Helen Mar felt pressure do this even though she didn’t want to because “the salvation of our whole family depended on it.” Lucy Walker, like the other two girls was told by Smith that by marrying him, “that it would prove an everlasting blessing to my father’s house.” But after several hesitations, Lucy was informed of the other side of Smith’s sealing power. He told her that rejecting his offer would bring eternal damnation. Of his marriage proposal to her, Smith said: “It is a command of God to you .. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.” Flora Ann Woodworth may have also been persuaded by her parents Lucien and Phoebe Woodworth, “to marry [Smith] to secure her family’s salvation.”
If sexual relations were not important, why then did Smith need to marry Kimball in the first place?
Following his marriage to Louisa Beaman and before he married other single women, Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married.29 Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone.30 Other women left no records, making it unknown whether their sealings were for time and eternity or were for eternity alone.
To have the church admit that polyandry, not polygamy, took place in about a third of Smith’s marriages is a startling admission! It’s not news to historians and Christian apologists, but the very fact that the church is admitting to this publicly is exciting.
Here are Smith’s polyandrous wives:
Lucinda Morgan Harris (though there is some doubt by some LDS historians)
Remember, each of these women were already married to living husbands! While LDS leaders so often point to the polygamy of the biblical characters, how often did polyandry take place? We can find not even one case. How did Smith justify this?
Whether the marriages were for time alone or time and all eternity, there is absolutely no indication that Smith ever married a woman without the idea that sex would be involved. As Todd Compton explains,
In conclusion, though it is possible that Joseph had some marriages in which there were no sexual relations, there is no explicit or convincing evidence for this (except, perhaps, in the cases of the older wives, judging from later Mormon polygamy). And in a significant number of marriages, there is evidence for sexual relations. (In Sacred Loneliness, p. 15)
LDS historian Richard Bushman wrote,
Partly to maintain secrecy, Joseph could not have spent much time with [Louisa] Beaman or any of the women he married. He never gathered his wives into a household–as his Utah followers later did–or accompanied them to public events. Close relationships were further curtailed by business. Joseph had to look after Emma and the children, manage the Church, govern the city, and evade the extradition officers from Missouri. As the marriages increased, there were fewer and fewer opportunities for seeing each wife. Even so, nothing indicates that sexual relations were left out of plural marriages. (Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling [New York: Knopf, 2005], 438-39)
In these polyandrous marriages, the original husband remained married to the woman and still had sexual relations to her. As Compton explains,
Joseph would allow the wife to continue living with her first husband after such a marriage. There were no divorces as a result of his polyandrous marriages. But the first husband probably recognized that he and the wife were married only until death, while Smith was married to her for eternity as well as for time. (In Sacred Loneliness, 20)
Compton shows how this concept these polyandrous wives did not have sexual relations with Smith is folly. He wrote:
Some historians have proposed the interpretation that Joseph either had no marital relations with his ‘polyandrous’ wives, if the husband was faithful to the church,or that the ‘first husband’ had no marital relations with the woman. Such a theoretical relationship has been called ‘pseudo-polyandry.’ However, the Josephine Lyon Fisher affidavit argues against this. . . . Another piece of evidence used to show that polyandrous wives were married only for eternity, not for time, is the interview with Zina Huntington Jacobs, which, as we have seen, is unsatisfactory for taking either side of the argument. In the same, way, Mary Elizabeth Lightner’s statement that she was married to Smith for eternity (as a polyandrous wife) has been used to show that she was not married to him for time; but she elsewhere specifically and repeatedly stated that she was marred to him for time and eternity. Patty Sessions, another polyandrous wife, wrote in a genealogical record that she had been married to Joseph Smith ‘for Eternity,’ but to clarify, wrote above the line, ‘time and all eternity.’ Therefore there is no good evidence that Joseph Smith did not have sexual relations with any wife, previously single or polyandrous. On the other hand, there is evidence that he did have relations with at least some of these women, including one polyandrous wife, Sylvia Sessions Lyon, who bore the only polygamous offspring of Smith for whom we have affidavit evidence. (In Sacred Loneliness, 21)
Therefore there is no good evidence that Joseph Smith did not have sexual relations with any wife, previously single or polyandrous. On the other hand, there is evidence that he did have relations with at least some of these women, including one polyandrous wife, Sylvia Sessions Lyon, who bore the only polygamous offspring of Smith for whom we have affidavit evidence. (In Sacred Loneliness, 21)
There are several possible explanations for this practice. These sealings may have provided a way to create an eternal bond or link between Joseph’s family and other families within the Church.31 These ties extended both vertically, from parent to child, and horizontally, from one family to another. Today such eternal bonds are achieved through the temple marriages of individuals who are also sealed to their own birth families, in this way linking families together. Joseph Smith’s sealings to women already married may have been an early version of linking one family to another. In Nauvoo, most if not all of the first husbands seem to have continued living in the same household with their wives during Joseph’s lifetime, and complaints about these sealings with Joseph Smith are virtually absent from the documentary record.32
Think about it. If you are a married man and another married man comes in and then marries your wife, would you have any problems? To appease these husbands, Smith apparently made promises of spiritual blessings they would receive. Therefore, there was probably only private, not public, complaints. But what kind of man would allow for this to happen? And what type of man would force this type of situation upon another man? If I had lived during this time and Smith came around my wife, he would have regretted it.
And just where is the biblical precedence for this type of relationship anyway. None, whatsoever!
One of the tactics used by Smith to get other men’s wives was sending these men to the foreign mission field. Palmer explains:
A second method Smith used to get females to say yes to his proposals was to send family males on a mission that might or did object to his advances. For example, unlike his approach of obtaining parental permission of the Whitney’s, Kimball’s, and the Woodworth’s, before asking for their young daughters hand in marriage, Smith directly approached young Lucy Walker only after sending her father, John Walker, on a mission. He also sent Horace Whitney on a mission because he felt that Horace was too close to his sister Sarah Ann, and would oppose the marriage. Smith married Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde, a year before her husband Orson, an Apostle, returned from his mission. He also approached Sarah Pratt while her husband Orson, an Apostle, was on a mission.
Just get the man out of the way and then marry the girl. Sounds a bit manipulative, doesn’t it?
These sealings may also be explained by Joseph’s reluctance to enter plural marriage because of the sorrow it would bring to his wife Emma.
Poor Joseph, he had to suffer so! God required too much of him, I suppose. Imagine the horror Latter-day Saints have with Warren Jeffs, the leader of the largest polygamous church in the world. Warren Jeffs was no different than Joseph Smith. For more on Jeff, check this out.
He may have believed that sealings to married women would comply with the Lord’s command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships.33 This could explain why, according to Lorenzo Snow, the angel reprimanded Joseph for having “demurred” on plural marriage even after he had entered into the practice.34 After this rebuke, according to this interpretation, Joseph returned primarily to sealings with single women.
According to earlier in the article, this angel (if he even existed) appeared to Smith between 1834 and 1842. This paragraph said he must have “returned primarily to sealing with single women.” OK, let’s just take the marriages of Smith after 1842 (that is, 1843). He took on 17 new wives; two of the 17 wives (Ruth Vose Sayers and Elvira Cowles Holmes) were married to other men. Granted, he slowed down his polyandrous ways. But just because only two of the wives are married (15 are single), does the church really want us to believe that this somehow shows the integrity of Joseph Smith? Whether he married one or twenty women who were already married to living husbands, the fact remains the same: Joseph Smith didn’t stop practicing what the essay infers was not the moral thing to do.
Another possibility is that, in an era when life spans were shorter than they are today, faithful women felt an urgency to be sealed by priesthood authority. Several of these women were married either to non-Mormons or former Mormons, and more than one of the women later expressed unhappiness in their present marriages. Living in a time when divorce was difficult to obtain, these women may have believed a sealing to Joseph Smith would give them blessings they might not otherwise receive in the next life.35
Some suggest that Smith only married other men’s wives because they belonged to unhappy marriages. This simply is not true, according to Compton on page 16 of In Sacred Loneliness:
Another theory is that Joseph married polyandrously when the marriage was unhappy. If this were true, it would have been easy for the woman to divorce her husband, then marry Smith. But none of these women did so; some of them stayed with their ‘first husbands’ until death. In the case of Zina Huntington Jacobs and Henry Jacobs–often used as an example of Smith Marrying a woman whose marriage was unhappy–the Mormon leader married her just seven months after she married Jacobs and then she stayed for years after Smith’s death. Then the separation was forced when Brigham Young (who had married Zina polyandrously in the Nauvoo temple) sent Jacobs on a mission to England and began living with Zina himself.
Compton also writes:
None of these women divorced their ‘first husbands’ while Smith was alive and all of them continued to live with their civil spouses while married to Smith. Some have suggested that the first husbands in these marriages were generally disaffected from Mormonism or were non-Mormon and that Smith married the women to offer them salvation. In such cases, the women would have wanted to be married to Smith as a righteous husband who could bring them exaltation. If so, one would have expected the women to leave the unworthy men. The totality of the evidence, however, does not support this theory. In the eleven certain polyandrous marriages, only three of the husbands were non-Mormon (Lightner, Sayers, and Cleveland) and only one was disaffected (Buell). All other husbands were in good standing in the church at the time Joseph married their wives.
It is frustrating to have the church not tell the full truth in a paper that is supposing to be fessing up. As Richard Bushman —again, a faithful Latter-day Saint—explains it, this essay falls short in telling the truth. He told the Salt Lake Tribune:
The piece ‘doesn’t draw out how excruciating that relationship was or the amount of hypocrisy that was involved. . . . Joseph was in an impossible situation. If he revealed what was going on, he would have brought down fury from both Mormons and outsiders. If you want to call that lying, I guess he was lying. (October 23, 2014, p. A4)
For this, Smith is supposed to be exonerated?
The women who united with Joseph Smith in plural marriage risked reputation and self-respect in being associated with a principle so foreign to their culture and so easily misunderstood by others. “I made a greater sacrifice than to give my life,” said Zina Huntington Jacobs, “for I never anticipated again to be looked upon as an honorable woman.” Nevertheless, she wrote, “I searched the scripture & by humble prayer to my Heavenly Father I obtained a testimony for myself.”36 After Joseph’s death, most of the women sealed to him moved to Utah with the Saints, remained faithful Church members, and defended both plural marriage and Joseph.37
There are many, many women who were married to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs–78, to be exact–who would defend their marriage to the one man. Maybe they were brainwashed or perhaps they were scared to not have anyone to call a husband. Just because Smith’s wives were “so easily misunderstood” doesn’t make their actions right. If being misunderstood makes an act moral, then (using the example from earlier in this paper) homosexuality must be lifted up as well because many homosexuals are looked down by many in society today.
Joseph and Emma
Plural marriage was difficult for all involved. For Joseph Smith’s wife Emma, it was an excruciating ordeal. Records of Emma’s reactions to plural marriage are sparse; she left no firsthand accounts, making it impossible to reconstruct her thoughts. Joseph and Emma loved and respected each other deeply. After he had entered into plural marriage, he poured out his feelings in his journal for his “beloved Emma,” whom he described as “undaunted, firm and unwavering, unchangeable, affectionate Emma.” After Joseph’s death, Emma kept a lock of his hair in a locket she wore around her neck.38
Actions speak louder than words. As described, Joseph is a
- philanderer / adulterer (take your pick of the term)
- deceiver / liar (again, take your pick)
- wife stealer
- sexually immoral pervert
Ah, but Emma kept a lock of his hair in her locket. Should this make everything OK?
After Smith died in 1844, Emma publicly denounced polygamy. (Does this evidence counter the testimonies of Smith’s other wives who defended polygamy in later years?) When interviewed, she said she knew nothing about her husband marrying other women. For example:
Q- “Do you believe that your husband, Joseph Smith died true to his profession?”
Emma – “I believe he was everything he professed to be.”
Q – “Did he have any more wives than you?”
E – “Not to my knowledge.”
Q – “Did he receive the revelation on plural marriage?”
E – “Not to my knowledge.” (Mormon Enigma, 298)
In another interview, she said that “he had no other wife but me; nor did he to my knowledge ever have. . . .He did not have improper relations with any woman that ever came to my knowledge.” (301)
Perhaps she denied Smith’s polygamy to protect her children or even their church (the Reorganized church based in Independence, MO). Or maybe she conveniently “forgot.” Whatever the reason, it’s obvious that she had either parted with reality or was content lying, just as her husband did.
Emma approved, at least for a time, of four of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages in Nauvoo, and she accepted all four of those wives into her household. She may have approved of other marriages as well.39 But Emma likely did not know about all of Joseph’s sealings.40 She vacillated in her view of plural marriage, at some points supporting it and at other times denouncing it.
Except for a short period of time in 1843, Emma–Smith’s lawfully wedded wife–always opposed polygamy. Smith had to go behind her back in order to marry the majority of the women. And secrecy played a major role in these relationships. Consider the following letter written by Smith to one of his plural wives:
…my feelings are so strong for you since what has passed lately between us…it seems, as if I could not live long in this way; and if you three would come and see me…it would afford me great relief… I know it is the will of God that you should comfort me now in this time of affliction… the only thing to be careful of; is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty… burn this letter as soon as you read it; keep all locked up in your breasts…You will pardon me for my earnestness on this subject when you consider how lonesome I must be… I think emma wont come tonight if she dont, dont fail to come tonight… (The Strange Marriages of Sarah Ann Whitney, pp. 4-5)
In his book Sidney Rigdon: Portrait of Religious Excess, Richard S. Van Wagoner wrote on pages 293-294:
A multitude of Mormon records provides irrefutable evidence for Smith’s prerogative with an array of women, many of them just a few years older than his own children. And while the prophet now stands astride the Mormon world like a colossus, in Nauvoo he maneuvered within the charisma of his own mystique to defy both church, Nauvoo City, and Illinois marriage laws, as well as to conceal his behavior from his wife Emma. This equivocal deportment, secreted by a deferential and circumspect group of men and women, created two cultures in Nauvoo—one where monogamy and fidelity prevailed—the other where eros and duplicity seemed to subvert the highest moral values, and where exonerating the ‘Lord’s Anointed’ became more important than telling the truth.
Probably nobody does a better job describing the angst Emma suffered with plural marriage than Mormon writers Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery:
Joseph’s choice of women as plural wives gradually put a wedge between Emma and her friends as long as she remained either ignorant of the practice or opposed it. By late summer 1843 most of Emma’s friends had either married Joseph or had given their daughters to him. Her sister-in-law, Agnes Coolbrith, was married to Joseph; another sister-in-law, Mary Fielding, had consented to the marriage of her husband Hyrum Smith and her sister Mercy. At least five women in her own household were Joseph’s plural wives. Whether Emma knew about them or not, the women would not have been sympathetic to Emma while she opposed plural marriage. As a result, she became isolated from her friends and associates, and through the next four years this isolation would become more and more acute. (Mormon Enigma, 147)
To get Emma to go along with polygamy, D&C 132 was conveniently introduced. According to God in this section, if Emma did not allow her husband to marry other women, there would be consequences:
Contrary to the tone of the 1830 Elect Lady revelation, the new revelation was threatening and strident. First, Emma was commanded to ignore an unexplained previous instruction that seemed to have been given as a test. Then, ‘Let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me,’ the revelation continued, stating flatly that Joseph would receive from the lord ‘an hundred-fold of this world, of wives’ if she would not obey. Emma could either accept more wives willingly or she could have them forced upon her. . . . One paragraph directly instructed Emma. ‘And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord.’ . . . But the message of the revelation seemed clear: whatever discomfort might result, Emma’s place was at Joseph’s side. (Mormon Enigma, 153)
The plural marriages organized by Joseph caused a great division in his marriage to Emma. Wagoner writes:
This dichotomy left Joseph’s and Emma’s marriage hanging by a thread. Emma spent the last three years of her husband’s life jealously battling his errant yearnings, more than once threatening to return to her family in New York. On one occasion, according to Smith’s private secretary, she threatened that if he continued to “indulge himself she would too.” Although Emma apparently countenanced two of her husband’s 1843 sealings—to Emily and Eliza Partridge—she recanted within a day and demanded that Joseph give them up or “blood should flow.” Her change of heart came after she found Joseph and Eliza Partridge secluded in an upstairs bedroom at the Smith home. The realization that the sealing represented more than a “spiritual marriage” or “adoptive ordinance” devastated her. (Sidney Rigdon: Portrait of Religious Excess, 293)
By the time Emma “approved” of four marriages in mid-1843, Joseph already has at least 16 polygamous wives. Since the authors of this essay decided to bring it up, let’s tell the story based on the authors of Mormon Enigma:
For two months, from March to May, Joseph appears to have talked with Emma about plural marriage. He apparently used their rides together to teach her the necessity of the endowment and sealing. There is no evidence that she ever opposed him on any doctrine but plural marriage. Convinced that it was necessary for her salvation and essential to their continued relationship, she may have decided to compromise with Joseph. In May 1843 she finally agreed to give Joseph other wives if she could choose them. (142)
So Smith works hard and manipulates Emma to agree because her eternal future is at stake. She finally consents as long as she gets to choose the women. The story continues:
Emma chose the two sets of sisters then living in her house, Emily and Eliza Partridge and Sarah and Maria Lawrence. Joseph had finally converted Emma to plural marriage, but not so fully that he dared tell her he had married the Partridge sisters two months earlier. Emily said that ‘to save family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed. . . [Emma] had her feelings, and so we thought there was no use in saying anything about it so long as she had chosen us herself.’ Emily also remembered that Emma ‘helped explain the principles to us.’ . . . On May 23, 1843, Emma watched Judge James Adams, a high priest in the church who was visiting from Springfield, marry Joseph to Emily and Eliza Partridge in her home. (142-143)
Ahh, so Joseph had already married these two women, but in order to keep peace and not upset Emma, there was a conspiracy to keep this their little secret. (What kind of man would do this to his wife?) Notice Emma’s later reaction:
Emma’s capitulation, however, was only momentary. Emily wrote that “Emma seemed to feel well until the ceremony was over, when almost before she could draw a second breath, she turned, and was more bitter in her feelings than ever before, if possible, and before the day was over she turned around or repented what she had done and kept Joseph up till very late in the night talking to him.” (143)
The story gets even more interesting:
William Clayton’s diary entry for that same day explains why Emma was angry. Joseph told Clayton that he “had had a little trouble with sis. E[mma].” He had been with Eliza Partridge in an upstairs room when he heard someone on the stairs and quickly shut the door ‘not knowing who it was and held it. [Emma] came to the door & called Eliza 4 times & tried to force open the door. Prest. [Smith] opened it & told her the cause etc. She seemed much irritated.’ Why would Joseph have held the door until Emma had called Eliza Partridge’s name four times? Did Emma believe that Joseph and Eliza were hiding something from her? Emily remembered that Emma “‘kept close watch on us. If we were missing for a few minutes and Joseph was not at home the house was searched from top to bottom and from one end to the other and if we were not found the neighborhood was searched until we were found.” (143)
The story continues:
Emma was not successful in keeping Joseph from meeting with his wives. Emily Partridge would one day testify under oath that she ‘roomed’ with Joseph on the night of her second marriage to him while Emma, she believed, was in the house at the time. She also testified that she had ‘slept with him’ between her first marriage and the second ceremony. (144)
Again, I ask, what kind of husband would do this to his wife? This woman lived in fear that he was having sex with these other wives! While the church essay wants the reader to think that Emma approved of polygamy, the facts prove otherwise.
In the summer of 1843, Joseph Smith dictated the revelation on marriage, a lengthy and complex text containing both glorious promises and stern warnings, some directed at Emma.41 The revelation instructed women and men that they must obey God’s law and commands in order to receive the fulness of His glory.
Smith could write whatever he wanted, but did God really want Emma and these other women to live such disrespectful lives? Did He really intend for the men to have their sexual fantasies fulfilled?
The revelation on marriage required that a wife give her consent before her husband could enter into plural marriage.42 Nevertheless, toward the end of the revelation, the Lord said that if the first wife “receive not this law”—the command to practice plural marriage—the husband would be “exempt from the law of Sarah,” presumably the requirement that the husband gain the consent of the first wife before marrying additional women.43 After Emma opposed plural marriage, Joseph was placed in an agonizing dilemma, forced to choose between the will of God and the will of his beloved Emma. He may have thought Emma’s rejection of plural marriage exempted him from the law of Sarah. Her decision to “receive not this law” permitted him to marry additional wives without her consent. Because of Joseph’s early death and Emma’s decision to remain in Nauvoo and not discuss plural marriage after the Church moved west, many aspects of their story remain known only to the two of them.
So what was the purpose of the “law of Sarah”? A man asks his wife if marrying another woman is OK. She says no. So now he needs to marry the other woman anyway? Why even bother asking in the first place? Let’s be straightforward: polygamy was never commanded by God and was never His will.
Trial and Spiritual Witness
Years later in Utah, participants in Nauvoo plural marriage discussed their motives for entering into the practice. God declared in the Book of Mormon that monogamy was the standard; at times, however, He commanded plural marriage so His people could “raise up seed unto [Him].”44
Of course, here we are back to Jacob 2:30 in the Book of Mormon: the only reason, the Nephites were told, for polygamy to ever be made lawful.
Plural marriage did result in an increased number of children born to believing parents.45
While this sounds logical, it actually isn’t true. From page 64 of our book Answering Mormons’ Questions, we quoted from Stanley Ivans’ essay “Notes on Mormon Polygamy”:
While polygamy increased the number of children of the men, it did not do the same for the women involved. A count revealed that 3,335 wives of polygamists bore 19,806 children, for an average of 5.9 per woman. An equal number of wives of monogamists taken from the same general group bore 26,780 for an average of 8. This suggests the possibility that the overall production of children in Utah may have been less than it would have been without benefit of plurality of wives.
As far as Joseph Smith. I once again ask:
- How many children did he have with these other women? (At best, there was one.)
- Why did Smith marry other men’s wives? Couldn’t these men have supplied the necessary sperm?
- Where in the Bible does it teach that polygamy is allowed if children are produced?
Some Saints also saw plural marriage as a redemptive process of sacrifice and spiritual refinement. According to Helen Mar Kimball, Joseph Smith stated that “the practice of this principle would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith.” Though it was one of the “severest” trials of her life, she testified that it had also been “one of the greatest blessings.”46 Her father, Heber C. Kimball, agreed. “I never felt more sorrowful,” he said of the moment he learned of plural marriage in 1841. “I wept days. … I had a good wife. I was satisfied.”47
The decision to accept such a wrenching trial usually came only after earnest prayer and intense soul-searching. Brigham Young said that, upon learning of plural marriage, “it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave.”48 “I had to pray unceasingly,” he said, “and I had to exercise faith and the Lord revealed to me the truth of it and that satisfied me.”49Heber C. Kimball found comfort only after his wife Vilate had a visionary experience attesting to the rightness of plural marriage. “She told me,” Vilate’s daughter later recalled, “she never saw so happy a man as father was when she described the vision and told him she was satisfied and knew it was from God.”50
Lucy Walker recalled her inner turmoil when Joseph Smith invited her to become his wife. “Every feeling of my soul revolted against it,” she wrote. Yet, after several restless nights on her knees in prayer, she found relief as her room “filled with a holy influence” akin to “brilliant sunshine.” She said, “My soul was filled with a calm sweet peace that I never knew,” and “supreme happiness took possession of my whole being.”51
Mormons can say how much sacrifice was required for the practice of polygamy. But just because there was a “trial” producing “sorrow” does not make this practice right. And just because a person has good feelings that it is moral doesn’t make it necessarily so.
Not all had such experiences. Some Latter-day Saints rejected the principle of plural marriage and left the Church, while others declined to enter the practice but remained faithful.52Nevertheless, for many women and men, initial revulsion and anguish was followed by struggle, resolution, and ultimately, light and peace. Sacred experiences enabled the Saints to move forward in faith.53
Polygamy is a despicable sin. Victims are everywhere. If this is in doubt, just consider the effects polygamy has had on Warren Jeffs’ followers.
The challenge of introducing a principle as controversial as plural marriage is almost impossible to overstate. A spiritual witness of its truthfulness allowed Joseph Smith and other Latter-day Saints to accept this principle. Difficult as it was, the introduction of plural marriage in Nauvoo did indeed “raise up seed” unto God. A substantial number of today’s members descend through faithful Latter-day Saints who practiced plural marriage. The Church acknowledges the contribution of scholars to the historical content presented in this article; their work is used with permission.
Church members no longer practice plural marriage.54 Consistent with Joseph Smith’s teachings, the Church permits a man whose wife has died to be sealed to another woman when he remarries. Moreover, members are permitted to perform ordinances on behalf of deceased men and women who married more than once on earth, sealing them to all of the spouses to whom they were legally married. The precise nature of these relationships in the next life is not known, and many family relationships will be sorted out in the life to come. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to trust in our wise Heavenly Father, who loves His children and does all things for their growth and salvation.
Here is an interesting question. Very soon, polygamy may very well become legal in the United States. When this happens, what will the church’s position be? Will it return to LDS doctrine? If not, why not? The reason it was taken away originally is because the U.S. told the church to cease. It seems like allowing this practice again is a natural step, maybe even God’s way to allow the Mormon Church to legally practice the “Principle.”
This issue is very sensitive for many Latter-day Saints. How many will leave the church realizing how perverted Joseph Smith really was?!
See more on the issue of polygamy by clicking here.
For more responses to the Gospel Topics Essays, click here.
- See “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”; Jacob 2:27, 30.
- Doctrine and Covenants 132:34–39; Jacob 2:30; see also Genesis 16.
- 1 Corinthians 13:12; Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe,” Ensign, May 2013.
- See Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record 6 (May 1887): 232–33; “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star 40 (Dec. 16, 1878): 788; Danel W. Bachman, “New Light on an Old Hypothesis: The Ohio Origins of the Revelation on Eternal Marriage,” Journal of Mormon History 5 (1978): 19–32.
- See Doctrine and Covenants 132:1, 34–38.
- Doctrine and Covenants 112:30; 124:41; 128:18.
- “Polygamy,” in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John Bowker (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 757; John Cairncross, After Polygamy Was Made a Sin: The Social History of Christian Polygamy (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974).
- Lorenzo Snow, deposition, United States Testimony 1892 (Temple Lot Case), part 3, p. 124, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 13:193; Ezra Booth to Ira Eddy, Dec. 6, 1831, in Ohio Star, Dec. 8, 1831.
- See Brian C. Hales, “Encouraging Joseph Smith to Practice Plural Marriage: The Accounts of the Angel with a Drawn Sword,” Mormon Historical Studies 11, no. 2 (Fall 2010): 69–70.
- See Andrew Jenson, Research Notes, Andrew Jenson Collection, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Benjamin F. Johnson to Gibbs, 1903, Benjamin F. Johnson Papers, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; “Autobiography of Levi Ward Hancock,” Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
- Parley P. Pratt, The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, One of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. (New York: Russell Brothers, 1874), 329.
- Hyrum Smith, sermon, Apr. 8, 1844, Historian’s Office General Church Minutes, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
- These were the same priesthood keys Elijah had given to Apostles anciently. (See Matthew 16:19; 17:1–9; Doctrine and Covenants 2.)
- Doctrine and Covenants 132:7; 131:2–3.
- Doctrine and Covenants 132:19–20, 63; see also “Becoming Like God.”
- Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage (New York: Viking Penguin, 2005), 145–60; Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500–1800, abridged ed. (Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books, 1985), 217–53.
- Doctrine and Covenants 132:55, 63.
- Doctrine and Covenants 132:46; Matthew 16:19.
- Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage has been discussed by Latter-day Saint authors in official, semi-official, and independent publications. See, for example, Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” 219–34; B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930), 2:93–110, Danel W. Bachman and Ronald K. Esplin, “Plural Marriage,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2:1091-95; and Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Brigham Young University, 2002), 343–49.
- Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013),1:3, 2:165.
- Joseph Smith, Journal, May 19, 24, and 26, 1842; June 4, 1842, available at josephsmithpapers.org. Proponents of “spiritual wifery” taught that sexual relations were permissible outside of legalized marital relationships, on condition that the relations remained secret.
- In the denials, “polygamy” was understood to mean the marriage of one man to more than one woman but without Church sanction.
- See, for example, “On Marriage,” Times and Seasons, Oct. 1, 1842, 939–40; and Wilford Woodruff journal, Nov. 25, 1843, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Parley P. Pratt, “This Number Closes the First Volume of the ‘Prophet,’” The Prophet, May 24, 1845, 2. George A. Smith explained, “Any one who will read carefully the denials, as they are termed, of plurality of wives in connection with the circumstances will see clearly that they denounce adultery, fornication, brutal lust and the teaching of plurality of wives by those who were not commanded to do so” (George A. Smith letter to Joseph Smith III, Oct. 9, 1869, in Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Oct. 9, 1869, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).
- Careful estimates put the number between 30 and 40. See Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy,2:272–73.
- See Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 2:277–302. Despite claims that Joseph Smith fathered children within plural marriage, genetic testing has so far been negative, though it is possible he fathered two or three children with plural wives. (See Ugo A. Perego, “Joseph Smith, the Question of Polygamous Offspring, and DNA Analysis,” in Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster, eds., The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy [Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2010], 233–56.)
- J. Spencer Fluhman, “A Subject that Can Bear Investigation’: Anguish, Faith, and Joseph Smith’s Youngest Plural Wife,” in Robert L. Millet, ed., No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues (Provo and Salt Lake City: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2011), 104–19; Craig L. Foster, David Keller, and Gregory L. Smith, “The Age of Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives in Social and Demographic Context,” in Bringhurst and Foster, eds., The Persistence of Polygamy, 152–83.
- Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Autobiography, , Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
- Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith, Editor of the Lamoni (Iowa) “Herald” (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882); Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1884).
- Estimates of the number of these sealings range from 12 to 14. (See Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997], 4, 6; Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:253–76, 303–48.) For an early summary of this practice, see John A. Widtsoe, “Evidences and Reconciliations: Did Joseph Smith Introduce Plural Marriage?” Improvement Era 49, no. 11 (Nov. 1946): 766–67.
- Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:421–37. Polyandry, the marriage of one woman to more than one man, typically involves shared financial, residential, and sexual resources, and children are often raised communally. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith’s sealings functioned in this way, and much evidence works against that view.
- Rex Eugene Cooper, Promises Made to the Fathers: Mormon Covenant Organization (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1990), 138–45; Jonathan A. Stapley, “Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 53–117.
- For a review of the evidence, see Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:390–96.
- Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 440.
- See Lorenzo Snow, deposition, United States Testimony 1892 (Temple Lot Case), part 3, p. 124.
- The revelation on marriage provided powerful incentives for a marriage performed by priesthood authority. (See Doctrine and Covenants 132:17–19, 63.)
- Zina Huntington Jacobs, autobiographical sketch, Zina Card Brown Family Collection, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; spelling modernized.
- The historical record is striking for the lack of criticism found among those who had once been Joseph Smith’s plural wives, although most of the wives left no written record.
- Joseph Smith, Journal, Aug. 16, 1842, in Andrew H. Hedges, Alex D. Smith, and Richard Lloyd Anderson, eds., Journals, Volume 2: December 1841–April 1843, vol. 2 of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2011), 93–96, available at josephsmithpapers.org; Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, ed., Joseph Smith III and the Restoration (Independence, MO: Herald House, 1952), 85.
- Jenson, “Historical Record,” 229–30, 240; Emily Dow Partridge Young, deposition, United States Testimony 1892 (Temple Lot Case), part 3, pp. 365–66, 384; Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 13:194.
- Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 2:8, 48–50, 80; Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 473.
- Doctrine and Covenants 132:54, 64. The warning to Emma Smith also applies to all who receive sacred ordinances by authority of the priesthood but do not abide the covenants associated with those ordinances. See, for example, Psalm 37:38; Isaiah 1:28; Acts 3:19–25; and Doctrine and Covenants 132:26, 64.
- Doctrine and Covenants 132:61. In Utah, the first wife was part of the plural marriage ceremony, standing between her husband and the bride and placing the hand of the bride in the hand of the husband. “Celestial Marriage,” The Seer 1 (Feb. 1853): 31.
- Doctrine and Covenants 132:65; see also Genesis 16:1–3.
- Jacob 2:30.
- On the question of children, see note 6 of “Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah.”
- Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Why We Practice Plural Marriage, 23–24.
- Heber C. Kimball, Discourse, Sept. 2, 1866, George D. Watt Papers, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, transcribed from Pitman shorthand by LaJean Purcell Carruth.
- Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 3:266.
- Brigham Young, Discourse, June 18, 1865, George D. Watt Papers, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, transcribed from Pitman shorthand by LaJean Purcell Carruth; see also Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 11:128.
- Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, an Apostle: The Father and Founder of the British Mission (Salt Lake City: Kimball Family, 1888), 338; see also Kiersten Olson, “‘The Embodiment of Strength and Endurance’: Vilate Murray Kimball (1806–1867),” in Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Volume One, 1775–1820, ed. Richard E. Turley Jr. and Brittany A. Chapman (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 137.
- Lucy Walker Kimball, “Brief Biographical Sketch,” 10–11, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
- Sarah Granger Kimball, for example, rejected plural marriage in Nauvoo but came west with the Saints. Many of the individuals who rejected plural marriage, including Emma Smith, later became members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
- For example, see “Evidence from Zina D. Huntington-Young,” Saints’ Herald, Jan. 11, 1905, 29; Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, “Mary Elizabeth Rollins,” Susa Young Gates Papers, Utah State Historical Society.
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “What Are People Asking about Us?” Ensign, Nov. 1998; “Polygamy,” Newsroom, topics page.