Welcome to JosephsWives.com, a page that has been created to help people better understand the truth about the more than thirty wives of Joseph Smith. We invite you to look through the information we have made available here and see that what we are saying is historical fact, not anti-Mormon rhetoric. And please understand what we are not saying:
We are not saying that Joseph Smith should be rejected as a prophet of God solely based on his polygamous and polyandrous ways.
So what are we saying?
- Historically, it can be shown that Joseph Smith was both a polygamist as well as a polyandrist
- Joseph Smith lied to his original wife Emma about his polygamous ways, as she only knew of several.
- Joseph Smith not only took other men’s wives but also married teenagers as young as 14.
- Despite the clear commands not to take sisters or mother/daughter combinations, Smith took had ten wives in such situations.
- Despite his adulterous ways, Joseph Smith never apologized or repented for his actions.
If these points are all true, Joseph Smith was not the virtuous man many Latter-day Saints may think he was.
Defining our terms
Before we go any further, let’s be sure we fully understand the meaning of the terms we will use on this page. According to Merriam Webster, polygamy is the “state or practice of being married to more than one person at the same time.” Because the “gny/gamy” suffix in that word refers to females, polygamy refers specifically to one man marrying–legal or not–two or more women. Meanwhile, polyandry is the “state or practice of having more than one husband or male mate at one time.” Because the “andry” suffix in this word refers to males, this is specifically referring to a woman marrying two or more men.
Joseph Smith’s many wives
First, let’s talk about whether or not Joseph Smith married multiple women. According to history, the answer is definitely yes. Historians–both LDS and non-LDS–agree. In fact, in late 2014, the LDS Church published a Gospel Topics essay titled “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo.” In this essay Smith’s polygamous ways were admitted, as the church admits in a footnote that he had between 30-40 wives. This information on the official church website can be accessed here. (For a review on this page, we invite you to go here.) Here are some of the things admitted on this website–please feel free to go to the website to check it out for yourself:
The first plural marriage in Nauvoo took place when Louisa Beaman and Joseph Smith were sealed in April 1841. Joseph married many additional wives and authorized other Latter-day Saints to practice plural marriage.
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.
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. 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.
How many wives did Joseph Smith have?
The estimates vary. As footnote 24 in the Gospel Topics essay referenced above puts it, “careful estimates put the number between 30 and 40.”
Who were Joseph Smith’s wives?
Many who know about Smith’s polygamous ways may assume that these women must have been widows or “old maids” and their prophet was doing a favor to them by marrying them. However, the idea that Joseph Smith somehow rescued his plural wives from being single is just not accurate. The fact of the matter is that Smith met the majority of his wives when they were just preteens or teenagers. In fact, about a quarter of Smith’s eventual wives (nine of them) were 12 or younger when Smith met them, even as young as 5 (Sarah Ann Whitney) or 6 (Nancy Winchester). Over the years, Smith nurtured these relationships until he married them, with the vast majority of these marriages taking place between 1841 to 1843. At least a quarter of his wives were no older than teenagers when Smith (who was in his late 30s) married them; the majority of his wives were under 30. Only an eighth of Smith’s wives were older than he was at marriage.
As Mormon historian George A. Smith explains,
When the Smiths moved to Ohio in 1831, Joseph there met the majority of his future wives. Most of them were still adolescents—the children of close associates. . . In other words, for a decade prior to Smith’s first plural marriages, he met and established relationships with those who would later become his wives. . . . By the time the Latter-day Saints settled in Illinois, the young women Joseph once met as pre-teenagers had become old enough for him to marry. (Nauvoo Polygamy, pp. 29, 30, 35, 51)
Check out George A. Smith’s list of Joseph Smith’s wives and when Mormonism’s founder met/married these women that was originally published on page 36 of his book.
For another list of Joseph’s wives as recorded by LDS scholar Todd Compton, go here.
More facts about Smith’s wives
- Ten of Joseph Smith’s wives were teenage girls – two of whom were 14. Another pair were 16. The practice of girls marrying this young was not a normal practice even in the 19th century. And it certainly was a very unusual practice when it is considered that Joseph Smith was an already married man in his mid-30s when he married these girls.
- Smith married a mother and her daughter – Patty Bartlett Sessions and Sylvia Sessions Lyon. However, the God said in Leviticus 20:14, “If a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burned with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you.” (Also see Lev. 18:17.)
- Smith married several sets of sisters (Huntingtons, Partridges, Johnsons, Lawrences). However, God said in Leviticus 18:18: “Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister… to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her lifetime” Leviticus 18:18.
- Smith married 11 women who were already married to living husbands. All of these married women lived in ongoing polyandrous relationships with both their husbands and Joseph Smith.
- For a list showing this to be true, click here.
According to Leviticus 20:10,
The man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife… the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
Marrying married women was also considered adultery, according to the LDS Church founder’s teachings. According to D&C 132:61-63,
If any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent… and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else… But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery.
Did Joseph Smith have marital relations with his plural wives?
Many Latter-day Saints have rationalized Smith’s marriages as being nothing more than platonic in nature. According to the 2014 Gospel Topic essay titled “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” the answer is “yes.” This article reports that Smith’s marriages “generally includ(ed) the possibility of sexual relations.” This is in agreement with scholarship. Indeed, “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” (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 12). And “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.” (Ibid., 14-15) Mormon historian Richard Lyman Bushman adds that “nothing indicates that sexual relations were left out of plural marriages.” (Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 439)
Conjugal relationships would make sense, according to the LDS scripture the Book of Mormon. While God is portrayed in Jacob 2:24 as declaring plural marriage “abominable before me,” verse 30 adds that the practice would be allowed only in order to “raise up seed [produce children] unto me.” Yet if producing children legitimizes polygamy, why did Smith marry ten women who were already married to living husbands? Couldn’t these men have been satisfactory “seed” suppliers?
In addition, Bushman says that “not until many years later did anyone claim Joseph Smith’s paternity, and evidence for the tiny handful of supposed children is tenuous.” If raising up “seed” was the lone exception to polygamy, it seems odd that there is little to no evidence that Smith ever produced children through his martial relationships with these multiple wives.
The Gospel Topics essay then rationalizes, “Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens.” The fact is that those in their mid-teens in nineteenth century America rarely married. The average age of marrying in the 1830s and 40s has been estimated (through U.S. Census records) of the early twenties. Even if marriage at this age is legal, this doesn’t make it moral. For instance, while fifteen-year-olds with parental permission are allowed to marry today in the state of Utah, a case could be made that the majority of girls this age are nowhere close to being mature enough—either physically or emotionally—for a lifetime commitment. Besides, few parents today would allow their teen-age daughter to marry someone like Smith who was more than twice her age. In addition, the essay failed to acknowledge that any union between a female of any age and a married man in the nineteenth century was illegal in every state, just as it is today!
Did Emma Smith agree with Smith’s polygamous ways?
Some Latter-day Saints have rationalized Smith’s behavior by saying his wife Emma knew about and encouraged the practice. Actually, Emma Smith approved of plural marriage for only a short time but otherwise was consistent in her rejection of polygamy as well as her husband’s involvement with this practice. In their book Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, LDS researchers Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery clearly show this to be true. For more information on this question, please click here.
Did Joseph Smith know what he was doing was wrong?
First of all, D&C 101 (1835 edition) says, in part, “Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman…” Yet it has been acknowledged that Smith already had a second wife (Fanny Alger) before this supposed revelation from God! The “revelation” also said:
We have given the above rule of marriage as the only one practiced in this church, to show that Dr. J. C. Bennett’s “secret wife system” is a matter of his own manufacture; and further to disabuse the public ear, and shew [show] that the said Bennett and his misanthropic friend Origen Bachelor, are perpetrating a foul and infamous slander upon an innocent people, and need but be known to be hated and despise. In support of this position, we present the following certificates:-
We the undersigned members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and residents of the city of Nauvoo, persons of families do hereby certify and declare that we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and we give this certificate to show that Dr. J. C. Bennett’s “secret wife system” is a creature of his own make as we know of no such society in this place nor never did.
Furthermore, Smith certainly lied about a month before his death when he stated,
What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. (History of the Church 6:411–the sermon also can be found in the Millennial Star newspaper, No. 42, Vol. 23, pp. 672-674)
Earlier in that same May 26, 1844 sermon, Smith boasted,
Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet. (History of the Church 6:408-409)
Some Mormon apologists try to rationalize these quotes away and claim Smith is taken out of context or that his words somehow should be softened when considered in their 19th century context. How can this be when Smith denied he was involved with three dozen women and claimed he was married to only one? And then he has the audacity to boast how he was able to keep a church together when, in actuality, it was crumbling all around him?
Why does it matter?
Remember, at the beginning of this page, we said that we were not saying that Joseph Smith is a false prophet solely based on his polygamous and polyandrous ways. At the same time, however, character counts.
If Joseph Smith truly was an authentic prophet of God, and if he was instructed to practice plural marriage, then this practice should be accepted as moral. However, if the practice of polygamy as participated in by Joseph Smith is counter to God’s revelation of the Bible, then we must ask: Did Joseph Smith really hear from God? If not, could his polygamous ways be nothing more than a convenience factor to follow a chosen immoral lifestyle?
Joseph Smith was a polygamist as well. He indeed married teenagers and other men’s wives. Do these facts bother you? If so, then perhaps Joseph Smith is not the man of God that Mormon leaders have made him out to be.
Read more about the issue of polygamy, especially as it relates to Joseph Smith, by clicking here.
Would you like to learn 10 reasons why you ought to consider becoming a Christian? Go here.
If you have any questions about this page or the topic of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, write us: contact at mrm dot org. We would love to hear from you.
Excellent books written by Latter-day Saint on the topic of polygamy:
- In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith by Todd Compton
- Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery
- Nauvoo Polygamy: “…But We Called It Celestial Marriage” by George A. Smith
- Mormon Polygamy: A History by Richard Van Wagoner
Podcasts on Joseph Smith
- Was Joseph Smith a Methodist? Aug 28, 2015
- Was Joseph Smith a Money Digger? Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 August 24-26, 2015
- Praising Joseph the Seer, July 29, 2015
- Was Joseph Smith a Braggart? Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 September 30-October 2, 2014 (Blog)
- First Vision Accounts (Gospel Topics Essay) Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 June 2-13, 2014 (Article 1) (Article 2) (Article 3)
- The First Vision and the Resurrection (Rob Bowman) April 22, 2014 (Article 1) (Article 2) (Article 3)
- Joseph Smith Part 1 Part 2 October 24-25, 2012 (List of articles)
- First Vision November 23, 2011 (Article 1) (Article 2) (Article 3)
- What if Thomas S. Monson were more like Joseph Smith? December 9, 2011 (Series of articles)
- The 1820 Revival November 22, 2011 (Article 1)