|From a Discussion with a TBM (True Believing Mormon)
reason I was given for the practice of polygamy is
this, after coming to the valley there were so many
righteous women and not so many men. Seeing this Smith
told them to take as many women for wives as they
could afford to support. That way no women were left
behind. They would be taken care of, allowed to enter
the temple, bear children and all. makes no sense to
me but neither does anything else connected to the morgs.
Let's look at the official census figures first:
Here are the population statistics for Utah from 1850
to 1950 (Caucasian only):
Your above comments are typical of what many Mormons believe was the 'reason'
for polygamy, but it is completely false, as I show below. Please also
allow me to set you straight on a misstatement you make above. Joseph Smith
first began secretly teaching polygamy about 1831, began his first polygamous
relationship about 1833, dictated his "revelation on celestial marriage" in
1843, and he was killed in 1844. Smith introduced "plural marriage" and
sealed several dozen men and women to each other and himself in Nauvoo before
his 1844 death.
The Mormons did not get to "the valley", meaning Utah, until 1847.
Therefore, Smith's institution of polygamy had nothing whatsoever to do with
providing husbands for "women who were left behind."
Several months ago, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on the latest convention
of FAIR, which is an LDS apologetics group similar to FARMS. The Tribune
commented on a speech therein by Kathryn Daynes, who is apparently a BYU
assistant professor of history, who spoke about the origins and reasons for
19th-century Mormon polygamy. Having studied Mormon polygamy a great deal
myself, I knew that Ms. Daynes' remarks were about as far from the truth as
one could get. I wrote the following response to the Tribune, and forwarded
it here and to other internet forums:
Dear Editor, Salt Lake Tribune:
I read, open-jawed, Hilary Groutage Smith's article in last Saturday's
Tribune concerning a speech on 19th-century Mormon polygamy delivered at the
recent FAIR convention by BYU assistant professor of history Kathryn Daynes.
The reasons Ms. Daynes offers for the origins and purposes of 19th-century
Mormon polygamy (as reported by Ms. Smith) do not comport in the least with
known historical facts. It would require many pages of documentation to
attempt to correct the misinformation with which Ms. Daynes has filled her
audience's minds, but I'd like to note a few items in brief in rebuttal to
her remarks, and hope that you will consider publishing my comments.
Ms. Daynes essentially asserts that the Mormons practiced polygamy in order
to provide husbands and fathers for widows and children of Mormon men who had
died because of "religious persecution" or on the trek westward, or because
of an alleged "shortage of men" in those days. Nothing could be further
To begin with, the first rumblings of polygamy in Mormonism came in 1831,
when Joseph Smith counseled already-married Mormon elders to "take ye wives
from among the Lamanites" of Kansas Territory. Smith hoped that if Mormon
elders "married" Indian women, then the Mormons could legally settle on
Indian lands, which was then off-limits to white settlers. Federal agents
quickly told the Mormons to stay on the eastern side of the Missouri River,
and to leave the Indians alone.
As these events occurred long before there were any Mormon men killed by
"persecution," and Smith's "revelation" dealt only with taking Indian
to wife, Ms. Daynes' "Mormon widows needed husbands" angle is without merit.
Secondly, the first documented "plural wife" in Mormon history was no widow,
but rather a 16-year-old single girl named Fannie Alger, who was Emma Smith's
housemaid. Several of Joseph Smith's intimate followers asserted that Smith
"married" Alger around 1833, in Kirtland, Ohio. That relationship caused
quite a scandal in Kirtland, wherein Smith's subordinates Oliver Cowdery and
Warren Parrish attempted to bring Smith to a church trial on charges of
adultery. Smith had a loyalist, Levi Hancock, spirit Miss Alger out of town
to prevent her from testifying to the relationship. Miss Alger later civilly
married one Solomon Custer in Indiana, and apparently had nothing more to do
with Mormonism. In the 1890's, assistant LDS Church historian Andrew Jenson
listed Miss Alger as Joseph Smith's first-ever "plural wife." As Miss
was an unmarried teenager at the time of her relationship with Smith, and in
fact was very marriageable in the eyes of Solomon Custer, Smith had no need
to "marry" her to provide for her.
Smith's second documented "plural marriage" (in 1838) was to Lucinda Morgan
Harris, who was currently married to George Washington Harris, a high
councilor in the Far West, Missouri, Mormon stake. As Mrs. Harris had a
currently-living husband, Smith obviously didn't marry her because she was a
widow or because of "persecution." In fact, as LDS historian Todd Compton
shows in his excellent "In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph
Smith," of Smith's 33 well-documented "plural wives," at least eleven of
had legal husbands at the time of their "sealing" to Smith. And, contrary
popular myth, none of those women were estranged from their legal husbands,
so Smith didn't take them into his household to provide for them. Among the
currently-married women Smith "plural married" were Nancy Marinda Hyde (the
wife of Orson Hyde, whom Smith had sent on a mission to Palestine), Zina
Huntington Jacobs (future general Relief Society President and then-wife of
Henry Jacobs), and Mary Rollins Lightner (wife of non-Mormon Adam
Lightner---the same woman who, as a young girl, "saved" the manuscript pages
of the 'Book of Commandments' from a Missouri mob in 1833.)
Among Joseph Smith's other "plural wives" were the two daughters of the late
Edward Partridge and the two daughters of the deceased Edward Lawrence. As
those girls were young, single, and marriageable, Smith certainly didn't need
to marry them to provide them, or any other of his currently-married "plural
aives," with an upkeep.
In fact, since there is much evidence that most of those womens'
relationships with Joseph Smith were sexual---and little evidence that Smith
provided for their maintenance---the "women needed husbands to take care of
them" is again invalidated. The "women needed husbands" angle seems
the exception, rather than the rule.
After Joseph Smith's death, some of his successors maintained his polyandrous
practice: Brigham Young took Zina Jacobs for himself, telling her husband
Henry that he "would have to go and get another" wife. Zina bore a child
Young on April 3, 1850.
Brigham Young explained that such appropriations of already-married women
were part of Joseph Smith's theology, which stated that a Mormon man who held
a "higher power and authority than her husband" had the privilege of making
"her his wife...he can do so without a bill of divorcement."
Young's counselor, Jedediah M. Grant, also referred to this practice in an
1854 sermon by stating, "now suppose Joseph [Smith] should come and say he
wanted your wife, what would you say to that?.....[I would say] here she is,
and there are plenty more."
As the polygamy practice increased in Utah from the 1850's-'80s, several
instances occurred where "higher-ranking" Mormon men appropriated the wives
of subordinates; and there were many more occasions where higher-ranking
priesthood holders broke the hearts of young men by taking their intended
brides as their own plural wives. At that time, Mormon theology held that
the more "plural wives" a man had, the greater his "kingdom" would be
afterlife. Therefore, it was appropriate that the highest-ranking leaders
could attract the greatest number of "plural wives" who could "ride his
coattails" into his "celestial kingdom." This practice was so
many Mormon women had themselves "sealed by proxy" to Smith, Young, and other
high leaders, even though they had no earthly relationship with them.
Concerning Ms. Daynes' assertion about a shortage of Mormon men being a
justification for polygamy, LDS apostle John A. Widtsoe discredited that myth
nearly a century ago, stating:
"Members of the Church unfamiliar with its history, and many non-members,
have set up fallacious reasons for the origin of this system of marriage
among the Latter-Day Saints. The most common of these conjectures is that
the Church, through plural marriage, sought to provide husbands for its large
surplus of female members. The implied assumption in this theory, that there
have been more female than male members in the Church, is not supported by
existing evidence. On the contrary, there seem always to have been more
males than females in the Church....The United States Census records from
1850 to 1940, and all available Church records, uniformly show a
preponderance of males in Utah, and in the Church." ("Evidences and
Reconciliations," p. 391.)
Ms. Daynes' remark that the Martin/Willey handcart company tragedies "created
more widows" is also specious, considering that those pioneers traveled as
families, and wives died right along with their husbands.
Many high-ranking Mormon leaders had numerous "plural wives." Brigham
had more than 50, and Heber C. Kimball more than 40. Several of their
favored subordinates also had many, as evidenced by Bishop John D. Lee's 18.
In light of that, contrary to Ms. Daynes' assertions about there being a
"shortage of men," the polygamy practice actually created a shortage of
marriageable WOMEN. In fact, the leaders' "hoarding" of wives contributed
the actual decline in new polygamous unions even before the 1890 Manifesto,
because many young, marriageable Mormon men were finding that girls whom they
might have courted were being snapped up by higher-ranking, older church
leaders. Some Mormon leaders even counseled missionaries leaving for Europe
not to marry all the women they converted, but to bring back some of the
ladies for the leaders. That further demonstrates that the "shortage of
justification is fallacious.
One further note---Joseph Smith's 1843 "revelation on celestial marriage"
stated that one of the purposes of
"plural marriage" was to "multiply and replenish the earth" (but
it mention taking care of widows.) Seeing as how a woman can only become
pregnant by one fertile man at a time, that means that the "multiply and
replenish" aspect of "plural marriage" fails for lack of logic. To
population, a Mormon man wouldn't need numerous "plural wives" with which to
reproduce----one fertile man being mated with one fertile woman would produce
as many, if not more children over time than would one polygamous man with
Ms. Daynes cited her research of 269 Mormon pioneer women, one-third of whose
fathers were "dead or not in Utah," as being another justification for
polygamy. I fail to grasp Ms. Daynes' logic here, as women who have no
fathers don't need husbands; they need fathers. And seeing as how most
Mormon men had sex with, and bore children by, their "plural wives,"
including teenage ones, it's rather obvious that those marriages were not
intended to replace a lost father.
Someone once said that "Mormons' knowledge of their own history is a mile
wide and an inch deep." It's disappointing to see that that quip extends to
someone who is supposed to be a church professor of history. If Ms. Daynes'
remarks are an example of the "Mormon history" that the LDS Church wishes to
be dispensed, then I'll opine that as time passes, future Mormons will be
completely ignorant of the true facts of their own history.