Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, was married to more than 30 women, meaning that Emma was not his one and only wife. Many who know about Smith’s philanderous 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.
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)
In his book Nauvoo Polygamy, Smith provides a list of Joseph Smith’s future wives and the interval between the first encounter with the Mormon found and the Navuoo marriage. Here is Table 1.1 found on page 36 of his book.
|Future wife||Year met||Age at meeting||Age at marriage||Year of marriage|
|Mary Elizabeth Rollins||1831||12||23||1842|
|Elizabeth Jane Davis||1831||40||50||1842|
|Sarah Ann Whitney||1831||5||17||1842|
|Flora Ann Woodworth||by 1841||14||16||1843|
|Helen Mar Kimball||by 1836||8||14||1843|
|Hannah Ells||by 1840||27||30||1843|
|Mary Ann Frost||by 1837||28||34||1843|
|Nancy Winchester||ca. 1834||6||14||1843|
|Phebe Watrous||by 1841||36||38||1843|