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Did Joseph Smith have sex with his wives? (and other questions answered)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is SchoolOfTheEldersScreenShot-1.pngJoseph Smith’s first wife was Emma Hale (1804-79) the daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth (Lewis) Hale. They were married on January 18, 1827 in South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York. Smith’s marriage to Louis Beaman is considered by some to be his first official plural marriage since it is the first for which there is a witness and a reliable record. However, several Mormon general authorities and LDS historians believe that Smith married his housemaid Fanny Alger as early as 1833.

The secrecy behind the practice of polygamy makes it nearly impossible to know exactly how many wives Smith had. In his essay titled The Coming of the Manifesto, Mormon writer Kenneth Godfrey notes “Andrew Jenson, one of the most revered of the Latter-day Saint historians, officially acknowledged that Joseph Smith had taken twenty-seven wives before his death. Fawn Brodie lists forty-eight women allegedly sealed to the Prophet and at least one other writer believes he can document over sixty plural wives taken by the Mormon leader while he was alive.” (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol..5, No.3, p.12). Mormon historian Todd Compton estimates that Smith married at least 33 women and that one-third of them were simultaneously married to other men.

The following list was retrieved from the FamilySearch Center located in the Joseph Smith memorial building on June 10, 1994.

Plural Wife Date
  1. Louisa Beaman
  2. Zina Diantha Huntington
  3. Prescendia Lathrop Huntington
  4. Desdemona W. Fullmer
  5. Mary Elizabeth Rollins (Lightner)
  6. Patty Bartlett (Sessions)
  7. Marinda Nancy Johnson (Hyde)
  8. Eliza Roxcy Snow
  9. Sarah Ann Whitney
  10. Martha McBride (Knight)
  11. Almera Woodard Johnson
  12. Ruth D. Vose (Sayers)
  13. Eliza Partridge
  14. Helen Mar Kimball
  15. Lucy Walker
  16. Emily Partridge
  17. Sarah Lawrence
  18. Rhoda Richards
  19. Melissa Lott
  20. Fanny Young (Murray)
Apr 5, 1841
Oct 27, 1841
Dec 11, 1841
Jan 17, 1842
Mar 9, 1842
Apr 1842
Jun 29, 1842
Jul 27, 1842
Aug [3] 1842
Apr 1843
Feb 1843
Mar 8, 1843
May 1843
May 1, 1843
May 11, 1843
May 11, 1843
Jun 12, 1843
Sep 20, 1843
Nov 2, 1843

Did Joseph Smith have sexual relations with wives other than Emma?

“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.” (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 15)

“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” (Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling [New York: Knopf, 2005], 438-39).

“Meanwhile, the Prophet, with Louisa Beeman and my sister Delcena, had it agreeable arranged with Sister Almera, and after a little instruction she stood by the Prophet’s side and was sealed to him as a wife, by Brother Clayton; after which the Prophet asked me to take my sister to occupy number “10” in his Mansion home during her stay in the city. But as I could not long be absent from my home and business, we soon returned to Ramus, where on the 15th of May, some three weeks later, the Prophet again came and at my house occupied the same room and bed with my sister, that the month previous he had occupied with the daughter of the late Bishop Partridge, as his wife.” (Benjamin F. Johnson, Letter to George S. Gibbs, 1903, cited in E. Dale LeBaron, “Benjamin Franklin Johnson: Colonizer, Public Servant, and Church Leader” (M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1967)

Was Joseph Smith’s polyandry occasioned by unhappy marriages?

“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.” – Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness

What is the current attitude of the church regarding polygamy?

“The cases that are to be handled by the Church include but are not limited to fornication, adultery, homosexual acts, abortion, or other infractions of the moral code; intemperance; criminal acts involving moral turpitude, such as burglary, dishonesty, theft, or murder; apostasy; open opposition to and deliberate disobedience of the rules and regulations of the Church; cruelty to spouse or children; advocating or practicing so-called plural marriage; or any un-Christianlike conduct in violation of the law and order of the Church.” – President N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency, “Priesthood Responsibilities”, April 1973 Conference Report

Did Joseph Smith have a pattern of marrying teenage servants and family friends living in his home?

“Second, her [Fanny Alger] marriage to him [Joseph] in Kirtland, Ohio, established a pattern that was repeated in Nauvoo, Illinois: Smith secretly marries a teenage servant or family friend living in his home, and his first wife Emma forces the young women from the premises when she discovers the relationship.” (Todd Compton, In Sacred Lonliness, p. 25)

Did Joseph Smith manipulate women into marrying him?

“Emily and Eliza Partridge, youthful daughters of deceased church bishop Edward Partridge, had been living in poverty after moving to Nauvoo in early 1840. Emma Smith invited Emily to live in the Smith home to care for the Smiths’ baby, Don Carlos, who was born 13 June 1840. Eliza Partridge joined the family a short time later. Emily later wrote that in the spring or summer of 1842 Joseph Smith approached her about polygamy. ‘I … shut him up so quick,’ she said, ‘that he said no more to me until the 28th of Feb. 1843, (my nineteenth birthday)’ (Young, ‘Life,’ 185). On this date Smith approached her privately, saying, ‘Emily, if you will not betray me, I will tell you something for your benefit.’ When he asked her if she would burn a private letter he wanted to send to her, Emily replied that she could not accept it from him. But she reconsidered. On 4 March 1843 Smith sent a ‘friend to plurality,’ Mrs. Elizabeth Durfee, with a message. When Partridge asked the envoy what Smith wanted, Durfee replied ‘she thought he wanted me for a wife.’ At a clandestine meeting later that evening at the Heber C. Kimball home, Emily later recounted, Smith advised her that ‘the Lord had commanded him to enter into plural marriage, and had given me to him, and although I had got badly frightened, he knew I would yet have him, so he waited till the Lord told him.’ Emily agreed to Smith’s proposal and ‘was married there and then.’ ” (Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, p.52)

Did Joseph Smith lie about his practice of polygamy?

“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, p. 408-412)

Did Joseph Smith have to practice polygamy without the knowledge and consent of Emma?

“…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, p. 4-5)

Other Excerpts

Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: Portrait of Religious Excess, p. 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.

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.

Smith used this ruse that same month, May 1843, to convince another young woman, Helen Mar Kimball, that her sealing to him would be of a “spiritual order and not a temporal one.” Helen, fifteen-year-old daughter of Apostle Heber C. Kimball, reported that the prophet admonished her: “If you will take this step, it will insure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household & all of your kindred.” “This promise was so great,” Helen later remembered, “that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward.” Lamenting her [p.294] decision, Helen confided to a close Nauvoo friend: “I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it.”

“There is at minimum one child who came from Joseph Smith’s polygamy: Josephine Lyon Fisher. (This stills awaits DNA confirmation, but the published historical evidence for it is good, and I know of a great deal that is unpublished.) And I believe, with reason, that there were a couple others.” (Don Bradley [Mormon scholar], July 2010, MADB)

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