Official LDS Essay on Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo, Annotated
The following essay is the official LDS released essay entitled "Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvooo." It was released by the church to help dispel myths about common public beliefs about how Joseph Smith introduced not just polygamy (having multiple wives) to the church, but polyandry (marrying women who are already married to a husband). In the below essay, all text in black is the unedited essay from the church essay, with my comments in blue. The essay below can be found on the LDS website here.
The annotated essay below is adapted from the following source, who continues to update the material for those who would like to read the original. You can view that by clicking here.
One point I want to make ahead of the essay is to note that while the church often remarks that prophets are 'imperfect men' when they were engaging in activities that are now deemed to be sinful,their own writings tell us to "Follow the Prophet" regardless of whether or not you believe it to be moral or acceptable. Prophet Benson released the fourteen fundamentals in following the prophet in 1981 to make it clear that "The prophet will never lead the Church astray." This is very important moving forward, as Joseph Smith engaged in practices that are now disavowed and very difficult to comprehend. The entire church rises and falls based on the legitimacy of Joseph Smith, and this essay highlights an area where Joseph Smith introduced a practice that appears to be indefensible, with reasons that are very contradictory which will be detailed below.
This essay with notes is fairly long, but it is important to include all of this information. Most of the information in the essay is new to many members, and our additional notes are new to almost all members. It is important to truly get a full picture of Joseph Smith and polygamy in order to understand just how different it is from the current church narrative. As prominent LDS historian Richard Bushman noted, "I think that for the Church to remain strong it has to reconstruct its narrative. The dominant narrative is not true; it can’t be sustained. The Church has to absorb all this new information or it will be on very shaky grounds and that’s what it is trying to do and it will be a strain for a lot of people, older people especially. But I think it has to change."
As with all of our material, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any issues with our comments or suggestions to add. And without further adieu...
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 (Plural marriages/polygamy is still practiced today for widowers and men who are civilly divorced) 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 footnote refers to D&C 132:34-39, which states that God commanded Abraham to sleep with Hagar, his wife’s handmaiden. But according to the Bible it was Abraham’s wife Sara, not God, who told Abraham to take her handmaiden so that Abraham would be able to father children.( Genesis 16:1-3 (KJV). Nowhere in the Bible are men commanded by God to take plural wives, with the one possible exception of Hosea, which was not anything like what Joseph implemented. The Book of Mormon author Jacob strongly condemned polygamy, and specifically David’s and Solomon’s practice, which Jacob characterized as an “abomination” before God. (Jacob 2:24). But Jacob did allow a loophole: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed to me, I will command my people, otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”(Jacob 2:30). The Bible is very clear on some aspects of plural marriage, so we must be very careful about using the Bible as a justification for polygamy because it requires that we pick and choose only the specific verses that suit our needs. For example, Leviticus 18 forbids marrying a mother and her daughter, and marrying sisters which is important because as we will see, Joseph Smith and other early leaders did both of these things. (Campbell & Campbell, 1978, Utah Historical Quarterly, V 46, N. 1 ; Daynes, 2001, More Wives Than One, p 70) Some early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also received and obeyed this commandment given through God’s prophets.
After receiving a revelation commanding him to practice plural marriage (It needs to be noted that this revelation was not recorded until 1843, approximately 10 years after his first plural marriage was performed in secret), Joseph Smith married multiple (up to 40) 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.
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. (While the essay wants to set the table that the polygamy revelation was unclear, it does so against the revelations they use to justify it. There is a very specific polygamy revelation that states, “Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.” ( D&C 132:8). That same section begins the revelation about polygamy by saying: “Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you,” which is then followed by a very clear and specific set of instructions.
And why would God not give instructions for such an important, difficult and controversial commandment, considering that the D&C is full of very specific instructions about much more insignificant things like mission callings, the buying and selling of property, exact amounts that specific people should invest in the Nauvoo House, etc. But this statement appears to be dishonest because God actually did give exact instructions to Joseph. The problem is that Joseph didn’t follow them. The actual words in D&C 132 are very clear on how polygamy was to be practiced. First, D&C 132 states that Joseph was to marry only virgins (verses 61-62), but this essay later admits that many of Joseph’s wives were simultaneously married to other men and definitely not virgins. It also specifies that he should obtain the consent of his first wife (verse 61), but quickly introduces the loophole (verse 65) that if the first wife does not accept polygamy, Joseph could take virgin brides without her consent. It is very important to note that Joseph had many wives long before he even revealed the idea of polygamy to Emma, so he ignored the very clear process of this part of the revelation as well. D&C 132 also explicitly declares that if she stands in the way, Emma will be “destroyed.” And if that’s not enough, according to church apologists, in addition to these very specific instructions, God revealed to Joseph the very words for the plural marriage ceremony. (Brian Hales, Bio of Sarah Ann Whitney, www.josephsmithspolygamy.com, citing an unpublished revelation.) Which leaves the question of why the essay would declare that God did not give specific instructions on polygamy when, in fact, the instructions were very clear but not followed.
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. (This is another point of the essay that is not entirely true. While the manifesto was a claim to the outside world that the church had ended polygamy, church leaders actually continued to perform secret plural marriages until the Second Manifesto ended polygamy “for real” in 1904... although there were still occasional authorized polygamous marriages up until 1920) Through it all, Church leaders and members sought to follow God’s will. (The church started a colony in Chihuahua, Mexico where polygamy could continue outside of the reach of US jurisdiction, which would be against God's will to cease polygamy altogether)
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. (This is also important because Joseph Smith did not record the 'revelation' he received until 1843, 10 years after he began the practice. He also kept this info secret from his initial wife Emma, and many early church members including Oliver Cowdery heard nothing of polygamy early on and assumed Joseph Smith was having an affair with Fanny Alger (Oliver Cowdery, Letter to Warren A. Cowdery, January 21, 1838)) 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
(This paragraph is designed to help dilute the impact of what is coming next by trying to muddy the waters and force members who are reading this information to rely solely on faith and not on the historical facts we now have. It is very difficult to reconcile the revelation with God's teachings, and even more difficult when it becomes clear that Joseph Smith blatantly disregarded the revelation in ways that are very hard to comprehend.)
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. (This date is inferred because Joseph was already being accused of polygamy in the early thirties, due to his"affair" with his 16-year old live-in maid Fanny Alger, that we are told became his wife around 1833 although no marriage records exist. There were also accusations of other incidents besides Fanny. For instance, the famous mob attack in which Joseph was tarred and feathered was led by one of the Johnson brothers, fueled by his accusation that Joseph had been indecently involved with their little sister. It is significant that they brought a doctor along to castrate Joseph. In these times, that is the only behavior that warranted punishment by castration) People who knew Joseph well later stated he received the revelation about that time.4 (The people referred to here are W.W. Phelps, Oliver Cowdery and five other men who received instruction for their mission to the Indians to take “wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just.” This is probably not mentioned specifically in the essay because of its racist overtones and contradiction to the instructions in D&C 132. This statement also contradicts the church’s other polygamy essay (Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah), which says, “the practice of plural marriage - the marriage of one man to two or more women - was instituted among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s”) 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
Here we have a problem, in that God seems to have changed his mind somewhere between the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, which can only be explained by the need to reconcile Joseph’s interest in polygamy.
Jacob 2:24 - Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
D&C 132: 38 - David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me.
39- David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me…
There is no way to reconcile these two scriptures - one of which Joseph revealed before he started practicing polygamy, and the other that he revealed after he had begun taking plural wives.
Latter-day Saints understood that they were living in the latter days, in what the revelations called the “dispensation of the fullness 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. (There is no biblical support for this concept. In the Bible God did not command men to take multiple wives. It was not a “principle,” but rather a secular practicality that allowed men to expand their tribe, particularly when a wife could not conceive).
Polygamy had been permitted for millennia in many cultures and religions, but, with few exceptions, was rejected in Western cultures.7 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 (This is an admission that Joseph was blatantly breaking the law. This is important to keep this in mind when legality is mentioned later in the essay)
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
This leads to another important question: Is this really how God operates, or is this a way to manipulate someone to do something that is otherwise contrary to their morals/conscience? Why didn’t God instead send the angel to the girls to inspire them, rather than using a completely unverifiable story with an unusual demand that goes against all teaching in the Bible?
If the angel first appeared in the early 1830s and Joseph complied by marrying Fanny Alger, why did this angel need to keep returning to threaten Joseph? In fact, Joseph continued to use the angel warning with women even after he already had 20 wives. As in Fanny’s case, Joseph sometimes obtained his brides (many in the mid-teenage years) by promising their parents a guarantee of exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom as a reward for sacrificing their daughter to him. He would then sometimes use the story of the angel with the drawn sword if his first proposals were unsuccessful. Why would God take away the free agency of these women when the promise of exaltation was extended to an entire family, furthered by the warning that an angel would destroy Joseph if they were not entered into a polygamous marriage?
It is important to step back and consider the events of the restoration (as given by Joseph Smith) that were so important that God needed to send an angelic messenger to make sure the message was driven home:
Moroni’s delivery of the Gold Plates
The restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods
Elijah’s transfer of the sealing keys
Joseph’s failure to marry enough wives
We are told in this essay to believe that polygamy and polyandry are such a high priority in God’s plan that an angel would kill Joseph Smith for not fully participating. If that is the case, how they were these same revelations so easily disavowed with a letter written by Wilford Woodruff to “whom it may concern?” (Doctrine and Covenants, Official Declaration 1)
One final point on the angel story:
The story itself is very disturbing in what we are to believe of God's will. We are told to accept that God sent an angel to command Joseph Smith who then used the story to intimidate/pressure potential polygamous brides, yet we are clearly told the entire revelation only came about because Joseph Smith himself inquired why others were allowed plural wives in the Bible. "Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines" (D&C 132)
The authors of this official church essay, approved by the First Presidency, are looking you in the eye and with a straight face asking you to not only believe this story, but to embrace it as morally commendable and redeeming. After Joseph Smith asked God why others were allowed to have 'many wives and concubines,' God answered by not only telling Joseph that it was OK (which goes against the Bible), and then sent an angel to make sure Joseph Smith expanded an idea that was from his own inquiry. It just does not make sense on any level.
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. (There is no marriage record to corroborate this marriage) 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 (First, as with many problematic issues in the church, the details appear decades after the problem. Second, there is no record that gives an indication that the parents of Fanny Alger gave consent to Joseph, and all accounts that we do have incidicate this was an affair)
Little is known about this marriage (There is actually a good amount known about it from the letters and journals of several people heavily involved in the church), and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger (Except that Emma, who had previously loved their live-in babysitter and housekeeper like a daughter, immediately kicked her out of the house upon discovering her relationship with Joseph. This is the relationship that Oliver Cowdery described as a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair.” (Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, p. 323), an accusation that resulted in Oliver’s excommunication. Fanny was the first of many teenage girls that Joseph first brought into his home as a servant or foster daughter and then later married without Emma’s knowledge or approval. Another example is the Partridge sisters, who Joseph and Emma took into their home as foster daughters after the death of their father. Joseph secretly married them and then, as will be revealed later in this essay, was forced to marry them again in a mock wedding with Emma’s knowledge). 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. (A “separation” which consisted of Emma throwing Fanny out of the house in the middle of the night after she caught her and Joseph in the act by peeking through a gap between the boards of the barn (Compton, 1997, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 34. In Sacred Loneliness is also footnote #29 in this essay, which means the LDS church considers it a reputable source).
So we must ask, what kind of “marriage” did Joseph have with Fanny Alger? It was not a legal marriage, because he was already legally married to Emma. According to the laws of Ohio and the United States this relationship was considered adultery. What do the 12th Article of Faith say about obeying the law? Neither can we call this a celestial marriage, because the Fanny affair happened around 1833-34 and the sealing power would not be restored until 1836 with the visit of Elijah to the Kirtland temple. Joseph’s own reason, as stated to Levi Hancock, who claims to have performed the marriage (although there is much doubt about whether such a ceremony was actually performed, since it was only reported decades later), was simply that Joseph was in love with Fanny.
Sarah Ann Whitney was a 17-year old teenage bride who married Joseph with her parents’ approval in trade for Joseph’s promise of their eternal glory. On August 18th, several weeks after the marriage, Joseph wrote a letter to his new bride and her parents while he was hiding from the law at a home on the outskirts of Nauvoo: “...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 (sic)...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...” (Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 539–540). We don’t know how many letters were burned but Sarah was not the only bride who kept a letter from Joseph with instructions to burn it after reading.
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 fullness 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 (Pratt met an untimely death when he was stabbed to death by the legal husband of the woman who he had taken for his 12th wife).
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 (two or three years after Joseph’s supposed sealing to Fanny) 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.
The revelation on eternal marriage was first written down in 1843 after Emma demanded to see a revelation before she would agree to let Joseph marry plural wives, even though he already had 20 or so wives that he was keeping secret from her. The new potential wives were the Partridge sisters, who were the Smith’s foster daughters. Joseph produced the document and Hyrum delivered it to Emma. She burned it. Fortunately Hyrum had another copy which is now preserved as Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. If you read the entire section, including the verses that are never included in Sunday school discussions, it is clear that the “new and everlasting covenant” refers specifically to plural marriage, not to monogamous temple marriage, as we are taught today. Brigham Young later clearly differentiated between “celestial marriage” (i.e. polygamy) and monogamy. (Journal of Discourses, vol. 14, p. 43 (May 8, 1870) and openly derided monogamy and identified it as an evil practice: “... this monogamic system which now prevails throughout all Christendom, and which has been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 11, p. 128)
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
Actually, early prophets made it clear that men who did not participate in polygamy could not participate in exaltation in the highest degree of glory, and would not even be allowed to keep the one wife to which they were sealed:
“Now, where a man in this church says, ‘I don't want but one wife, I will live my religion with one.' He will perhaps be saved in the Celestial Kingdom; but when he gets there he will not find himself in possession of any wife at all.... and he will remain single forever and ever.” (Prophet Brigham Young, Deseret News, September 17, 1873
“I understand the law of celestial marriage to mean that every man in this Church, who has the ability to obey and practice it in righteousness and will not, shall be damned, I say I understand it to mean this and nothing less, and I testify in the name of Jesus that it does mean that. (Prophet Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses, Vol.20, p.31, July 7, 1878)
“… Wo unto that Nation or house or people who seek to hinder my People from obeying the Patriarchal Law of Abraham [polygamy] which leadeth to a Celestial Glory… for whosoever doeth those things shall be damned Saith the Lord.” ( Prophet Wilford Woodruff's Journal 1833-1898, under January 26, 1880, v. 7, pp. 546)
The first plural marriage in Nauvoo took place when Louisa Beaman and Joseph Smith were sealed in April 1841.19 (Before moving to Nauvoo, Joseph apparently married his second plural wife Lucinda Pendleton Morgan Harris in Missouri as early as 1838. This was also his first polyandrous marriage, as Lucinda was already married to a devout LDS member and leader, George Washington Harris)
Joseph married many additional wives (Footnote 24 below says: “Careful estimates put the number between 30 and 40.” See Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy,2:272–73) 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 (who had nearly twice as many wives as all other men combined). 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.
Nevertheless, rumors spread. A few men (specifically, the former mayor of Nauvoo and Joseph’s once good friend Dr. John C. Bennett and Joseph’s brother William, who was also an apostle and served for a while as the church’s patriarch) 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 (It is important to note that the ONLY difference between these marriages and Joseph’s marriages is that they were done without Joseph’s express permission. Joseph’s marriages were equally secret and illegal) 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
This is another area of the essay that is clearly dishonest when they refer to "carefully worded denials.” The footnote from the essay explains these denials thus: “In the denials, “polygamy” was understood to mean the marriage of one man to more than one woman but without Church sanction.” Effectively, they are differentiating between “polygamy” and “plural marriage” as verbal semantics that Joseph used to lie to both the public and most members of the church about his secret marriages. Just to make it clear, the “members and leaders” mentioned here refers mostly to Joseph himself. In other words he lied publicly, both in printed articles and in public speeches about his plural marriages by using a politician’s trick of having a different definition in his head from the definition that he knows you have in your head. When Bill Clinton said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” he was excluding oral sex from his personal definition of sexual relations. This is a ploy that later came to be known among the church leadership as “lying for the lord” and there are many examples of it. Remember, this essay was approved by the First Presidency and Apostles. It flatly states that Joseph committed a crime and then lied about it. In order to convince us that the so-called “carefully worded denials” aren't damaging to the reasons why polygamy is from God, the essay redefines a very important word and buries it in an endnote, which they know most people will not read. Put another way, the essay contends that if Joseph Smith chooses to call his relationships with all of these polygamous wives “celestial marriage” it’s gives him room to deceptively deny the charges of “polygamy.”
In one example of Joseph’s public “carefully worded denials” he said, "What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one" - (Joseph Smith - LDS History of the Church 6:411). Joseph had over 20 wives at the time he made this statement.
From the Gospel Principles Manual lesson 31, Honesty:
Complete honesty is necessary for our salvation. President Brigham Young said, “If we accept salvation on the terms it is offered to us, we have got to be honest in every thought, in our reflections, in our meditations, in our private circles, in our deals, in our declarations, and in every act of our lives” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 293).”
Satan would have us believe it is all right to lie. He says, “Yea, lie a little; … there is no harm in this” (2 Nephi 28:8). Satan encourages us to justify our lies to ourselves. Honest people will recognize Satan’s temptations and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage.
There are many other forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.
In 1842, Emma, although she knew about some of Joseph’s previous indiscretions with other women and girls, was still unaware that Joseph was actively taking wives which by then were over 20. The persistent rumors motivated her to commit the relief society to the purpose of eradicating polygamy from Nauvoo, and Joseph played along. Here is a statement that was published in the church newspaper and signed by Emma and the rest of her Relief Society presidency with Joseph’s encouragement:
“We the undersigned members of the ladies’ relief society, and married females do certify and declare that we know of no system of marriage being practiced in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints save the one contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants... [i.e., the now-deleted Section 101:4 that forbids polygamy]...“ (Times & Seasons, vol. 3, p. 940 (Oct. 1, 1842)
Emma Smith, President,
Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Counselor,
Sarah M. Cleveland, Counselor,
Eliza R. Snow, Secretary
What Emma did not know at the time was that all three of the other members of her presidency who signed this statement were secretly committed to polygamy and two were actually married clandestinely to her own husband:
• Elizabeth Ann Whitney was an eyewitness to her daughter Sarah Ann’s plural marriage to Joseph Smith on July 27, 1842 (Compton, p. 347);
• Sarah M. Cleveland was married to Joseph Smith on June 29, 1842, officiated by Brigham Young and witnessed by Eliza Snow (id., p. 277);
• Eliza R. Snow was married to Joseph Smith also on June 29, 1842, officiated by Brigham Young and witnessed by Sarah M. Cleveland) (id., p. 313).
It is very difficult to read this information and not feel incredibly sorry for Emma, who had absolutely no idea not only what her husband was up to, nor what her closest friends in the church were doing in the name of God without her knowledge.
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 (The essay fails to mention that there were also time-only polygamous and polyandrous marriages, the exact opposite of eternity-only). Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations (To be clear here, the church is establishing that marriages for "time" are sexual, where eternal marriages may or may not include sex with multiple wives). Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone. (This is a concept that is based purely on assumptions for this essay. This paragraph is intended to help get give those with questions an out by suggesting that some of the marriages might not have had a sexual component. For some reason the authors think that if they can show that some of the marriages didn’t involved sex people won’t care as much that the rest did.)
Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings (This is the church's way of indicating that many included sex with wives beyond Emma, but not all 30-40). 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 (Yes, at least some of these women explicitly stated that they had sex with Joseph, and some of them even did it under oath at the church’s request to PROVE that Joseph was a polygamist for the Temple Lot case), while others indicated that their relationships were for eternity alone (No sexual relations specifically mentioned).25
Emily Dow Partridge, one of the teenage sisters mentioned previously, testified under oath that she had “carnal intercourse” with Joseph Smith on multiple occasions (Emily Dow Partridge Young, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Part 3). Apologists have tried to explain this as a false testimony that she was forced to give at the command of Brigham Young and other priesthood leaders who were unquestionably having sex with multiple women at the time. Again we are left with a moral dilemma: was Emily telling the truth about her sexual encounters with the prophet Joseph, or was the current prophet forcing her to lie about Joseph’s sexual relationship with her? One of these must be the correct answer but either implicates a prophet. Neither option is good, but one of them must be true.
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 (The authors really, really, really do not want to admit that Helen was just 14 years old when she married 37-year old Joseph Smith, even though apologists contend there was nothing wrong with it and it was actually common for a 37 year old to marry a 14 year old (and while it was certainly more common for women to get married at 14 than it is now, it wasn't at all common for that marriage to be with someone 23 years older)). Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens.26
Notice the emphasis is made here on the legality of marrying a 14-year old, as if the fact that it’s legal is all we should be concerned about. If the authors are really concerned about legality this might be a good time to remind them that this marriage was already undeniably illegal because of its polygamous nature, so the legality argument goes right out the window. The essay also fails to mention Joseph’s other illegal 14-year old wife, Nancy Maria Winchester (Compton, p. 606).
I will also challenge the favorite apologetic excuse for Joseph’s marriage to Helen and other teenagers that it was common for older men to marry 14-year olds at the time. This is absolutely not true. Yes, it was legal (if the only marriage), but it was rare and it was no less scandalous in Victorian America than it is today. The average marriage age for women was 20 and for men 24, almost always marrying someone near their own age. It must also be pointed out that 19th century girls typically had their first period three years later than girls do today. In terms of sexual maturity, marrying a 19th century 14-year old was the equivalent of marrying a 21st century 11-year old, so these were very possibly prepubescent girls (Boaz, 1999, Essentials of biological anthropology).
To put it in more modern, church-relevant terms, Joseph's wives break down like this:
-Mia Maids: 2
-YSA girls: 7
-Relief Society sisters: 20+ (half of them already married to other men)
These comments sound very harsh, but there are facts that speak for themselves. Given the details surrounding the revelation, it is important to note the inconsistencies, the timeline issues, how Joseph Smith broke D&C 132, and how he lied to everyone about it including his wife. These are not "anti-Mormon" statements, but verifiable facts through church approved sources.
We must also consider the circumstances around Helen’s betrothal to Joseph. First Joseph commanded Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball to turn his own wife, Vilate, over to Joseph as a plural wife. After a great deal of anguish, Heber finally agreed. When the Kimballs showed up to deliver Vilate to Joseph, and when Joseph saw how distraught and broken-hearted the Kimballs were, he showed mercy and told them the request had really only been a test of Heber’s loyalty, with Vilate serving as a prop. Heber would be allowed to keep his wife after all, but was later allowed to offer his 14-year old daughter in her stead, and as was common in these proposals, Joseph would guarantee a place in the Celestial Kingdom for the entire Kimball family. How could the family turn down such a high pressure offer? Once Joseph knew that Heber was more loyal to him than to his own family he knew he could ask anything of him.
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
This defense of plural marriage is a reference to a poem that Helen wrote much later in life, but in which she tells a much more complicated story. Here is the potion to which they are referring. Helen actually seems to be longing for freedom from here relationship with Joseph:
I thought through this life my time will be my own
The step I now am taking’s for eternity alone,
No one need be the wiser, through time I shall be free,
And as the past hath been the future still will be.
If you read the entire poem you will see that she actually complains about how she felt deceived that she had been told that the marriage was for “eternity alone” but afterward found that she was removed from society, became the target of “slanderous tongues” and realized that she had made a “generous sacrifice” without weighing the “bitter price.”
She also wrote that her father had traded her to the Prophet to get into Joseph’s inner circle. She said: “My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter: how cruel this seemed to the mother whose heartstrings were already stretched until they were ready to snap asunder, for he had taken Sarah Noon to wife & she thought she had made sufficient sacrifice, but the Lord required more… I will pass over the temptations which I had during the twenty four hours after my father introduced to me this 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 he said to me, “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation & that of your father’s household & all of your kindred.” (How can Joseph Smith guarantee an entire family exaltation for the daughter becoming a polygamous wife? It does not work under the doctrines of the church whatsoever) This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward. None but God & his 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 as sure to come as the sun was to rise and set; but it was all hidden from me” (Helen Mar Whitney, Autobiography, March 30, 1881). This is not as tidy as you are led to believe, and these decisions with heartbreaking for these women to make. This agonized memoir was written almost 40 years later, after Helen had supposedly become, according to this essay, an “articulate defender” of polygamy.
Although this essay tries to dissuade us from any notion that these marriages were sexual in nature, Helen, in another document stressed in her own words the essentially sexual nature of these polygamous marriages: “It was revealed to the latter that there were thousands of spirits, yet unborn, who were anxiously waiting for the privilege of coming down to take tabernacles of flesh... which makes this plural wife system an actual necessity… The principle was established by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and all who have entered into it in righteousness, have done so for the purpose of raising a righteous seed. (Helen Mar Whitney, Why We Practice Plural Marriage, pp. 7-8 (Juvenile Instructor 1884 - spelling and grammar as in original).Consider that Helen asks us to accept that the sole purpose of plural marriage is for procreation, why should we assume that she herself is the exception?
After Joseph’s death Helen remarried, moved to Utah and had 11 children with her new husband, but was never permitted to be sealed to him because she she already belonged to Joseph - What kind of God would deny eternal life and sealing to the father of 11 children based on Joseph Smith marrying her as he did? That is a question that has no answer.
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 (designation to include sex) and eternity or were for eternity alone.
This is, again, a misleading statement. This essay wants you to assume that Joseph only married into all of these polygamous relationships to build a dynasty for himself after his death. While it is true that some of the women left no record, others certainly did! For example, Joseph’s polyandrous wife Patty Bartlett Sessions wrote in her journal: “I was sealed to Joseph Smith by Willard Richards Mar 9, 1842, in Newel K. Whitney's chamber, Nauvoo, for time and all eternity ... (Noall, Intimate Disciple, Portrait of Willard Richards, p. 611).
Other polyandrous wives indicated that their marriage was more than just dynastic in nature. After Joseph’s death some of these women were claimed by Brigham Young and had children with him. Louisa bore 5 children to Brigham. When Joseph married Zina Jacobs (after several rejected proposals and finally a warning of retribution by the sword-wielding angel) she was already pregnant by her husband Henry, who was a faithful member of the church and a president of the Seventy, and who remained deeply in love with his wife for the rest of his life despite being sent away on many missions, during one of which Joseph married his wife. Later Brigham sent Henry on a mission and impregnated Zina while he was away (Compton, pp. 84, 88, 90–9). Women like Louisa and Zina are the best evidence that these polyandrous marriages were NOT merely for eternity. Brigham said he practiced polygamy exactly as taught to him by Joseph Smith. These women remained sealed to Joseph after his death but were married for time only (Designation here, again, for sex) to Brigham Young, all while they remained married to their original husbands.
But what is the reason of designating an “eternity alone” marriage anyway, apart from a rhetorical tactic for church apologists to avoid the implication of sex? First, it defies the proclaimed purpose of polygamy, which is to “raise up righteous seed.” Second, even if these marriages were purely dynastic in nature (but they weren’t and this essay admits this despite its attempts to tiptoe around it), was it really more honorable for Joseph to take a man’s wife for all of eternity, rather than for just a few years, just to grow Joseph’s own dynasty while robbing the dynasty of another man who would otherwise have shared with his wife for eternity? It seems not only wrong on a moral level, but it has no connection to any Biblical teachings before Joseph Smith.
Regardless of whether or not Joseph had sex with Helen, the church today recognizes that he did have sex with other young wives, because they themselves testified that he did, and some even signed affidavits to that effect to disprove the claims of the Reorganized church that Joseph was not a polygamist. But why should this be such a surprise? There is no argument that Brigham Young and later prophets’ marriages, many of them to teenagers, were not sexual in nature, including some women and girls who had also been married to Joseph. Brigham even had his own expanded version of polyandry; if he wanted a woman he would simply take her away from her husband by authority of his superior priesthood standing. He even gave a General Conference talk about it where he said, “If a woman can find a man holding the keys of the priesthood with higher power and authority than her husband (i.e. himself and those around him), and he is disposed to take her, he can do so, otherwise she has got to remain where she is. (George D. Watts, Conference Reports, Oct. 8, 1861)
In addition, it is well understood that other polygamist men in Nauvoo, such as Joseph Smith’s personal secretary William Clayton, had children with their plural wives, and with Joseph’s permission. If these men had not been living the principle correctly Joseph would have called them to repentance and removed them from their callings, and probably from the church entirely, as he did with the men who practiced “spiritual wifery” without his express permission as referenced above. Instead, Joseph kept these men close to him and in his confidence and they retained their high priesthood callings. He gave them his blessing and encouraged them to take even more wives.
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 (This is quite an assumption with no doctrinal basis). 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 (But not entirely absent. Even less absent are the complaints from very upset husbands of women who were approached by Joseph but who rejected his proposals. These include worthy priesthood holders like Orson Pratt, Albert Smith, William Law and Hiram Kimball).
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. He may have believed that sealings to married women would comply with the Lord’s command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships (which include sex).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 (The essay is now telling us that the angel was actually sent to threaten Joseph with death because he wasn’t having enough “normal marriage relationships!”) After this rebuke, according to this interpretation, Joseph returned primarily to sealings with single women.
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 (But many were married to faithful Mormons, and this violates D&C 132 which says you can only espouse virgins), and more than one of the women later expressed unhappiness in their present marriages (This is an awful justification for taking extra wives). 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 (If women were actually pursuing Joseph why did he continue to use the angel-with-sword story to convince them?)
It is a deceptive misdirection to suggest that Joseph was heroically rescuing these women from substandard husbands. Take the example of Sarah Pratt. Joseph started making proposals to her (which she rejected) after sending her husband Orson was on a mission in Europe. Orson was a good enough man to be called on a mission and to become the longest serving apostle in the church. Did Sarah need Joseph because her husband wasn’t a worthy priesthood holder? Or Marinda Johnson Hyde, who Joseph married after he sent her husband Orson, also an apostle, to Jerusalem as the Lord’s emissary to consecrate Palestine for the gathering of Israel. Not a worthy priesthood holder?
Take a moment to consider about how this information has been presented to you by the church. Did you notice how many times the authors use phrases like “may be,” “may have,” “another possibility,” “several possible explanations,” or “he may have believed” are used? Why is it that this essay, sanctioned by the Prophet and Apostles, cannot provide clear and unequivocal answers to these most basic and important questions? How are we supposed to give Joseph a pass because he was an imperfect product of his times when he violated his own revelations that were only written down years after the information on polygamy was becoming public knowledge? Overall, this essay is really insisting that Joseph was doing exactly what God demanded, so why are church authorities and apologists always using the “you shouldn’t expect our leaders to be perfect” explanation? This essay is structured to put the burden on you for either being unfaithful for not accepting without question, or for having unreasonable expectations, which are also mutually exclusive propositions.
If plural marriage was intended only to link families together why did so many of Joseph’s wives have to be young girls and other men’s wives? The Law of Adoption, which Joseph also practiced on occasion, allowed men to be sealed to other men as adopted sons. Why didn’t Joseph just seal those men to him directly, rather than sealing himself to their daughters? Or why didn’t Joseph seal these girls to himself as celestial daughters, rather than wives, and allow them to find worthy husbands for the eternities? Why remove them from a normal social life and prevent them from finding companionship with someone their own age? Helen Kimball made it very clear that she was forbidden to associate with her peers because she was now a married woman. Or why not limit the sealings to older women and widows, as we were all once told was the real reason for polygamy, if there really was no sexual component to these relationships?
And this is where the "dynastic/kinship bond" argument falls completely flat. If it was really all about eternity-only sealings that were intended to eternally join friends in the afterlife there would be no need for the secrecy and lying. Joseph could simply have said, "Emma, I love the Kimballs and I want to be connected with them for eternity. God has revealed to me an ordinance that will make this possible;" no lying, no denying, no “when Emma comes then you cannot be safe ...burn this letter as soon as you read it.” Why couldn’t it just be forthright, transparent and honest? If all of this was really as noble and godly as the authors of this essay want us to believe there wouldn’t have been a need for all of this hand wringing and excuse making. Simply sealing families to other families would not have been illegal and it would not have caused so much pain and damage to families and young girls.
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.” (Does this read like she merely participated in a symbolic “eternity only” ceremony?) 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 (Once isolated in Utah these woman, who had mostly been passed on to Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Heber C. Kimball, had little choice but to become defenders of plural marriage if they wanted to see bread on the table for those men’s children.)
This might be a good time to point out that Joseph Smith was not only breaking the laws of the land and lying to Emma and everyone outside of his secret circle, he was also disobeying every revelation he had received on the subject of marriage. We have already seen how he was disobeying the requirement to marry only virgins, as commanded in D&C 132 . At least a dozen of his wives were already married to other men. But worse, he was doing all of this while the Doctrine and Covenants still contained the original Section 101, which has been deleted from today’s version of the D&C. The former Section 101 was replaced in the 1876 version of the D&C by the Section 132 we have today. Why the change? Because the former Section was in complete contradiction to Joseph’s behavior at the time. It clearly denounced polygamy and contained the unambiguous commandment that all members of the LDS Church practice ONLY monogamy. The relevant verse says: “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, but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again ( D&C 101:4 - 1835 ed.). Notice that this section was added to the D&C solely because Joseph Smith had been accused of polygamy. Joseph’s behavior constituted adultery under both the laws of the land and the laws of God, according to canonized latter-day scripture. Would God have given Joseph Smith a revelation that was not true as we now know Section 101 to have been when supposedly given?
Joseph and Emma
Plural marriage was difficult for all involved. For Joseph Smith’s wife Emma, it was an excruciating ordeal (And unnecessary given the essay’s claim that it was only about linking families). Records of Emma’s reactions to plural marriage are sparse; she left no firsthand accounts, making it impossible to reconstruct her thoughts (This is again misleading in order to avoid diving into the issue deeper. We have a lot of information from journals and diaries to clearly show that Emma despised polygamy, and near the end of her life continued to lie that there was never any polygamy conducted by Joseph). 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
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 (and then kicked them out almost immediately).
There is a lot more to this story. Emily and Eliza Partridge, who were living with the Smiths as foster daughters, had already married Joseph without the knowledge or consent of Emma. However, two months later Joseph finally persuaded Emma to allow him to take plural wives. Emma gave Joseph permission to marry the Partridge girls. Instead of being honest with his "beloved Emma," Emily and Eliza were married for a second time to Joseph in a mock wedding. (Compton, p. 409). Emma had second thoughts and kicked the two girls out of her house almost immediately. Emily wrote that shortly after, “She sent for us one day to come to her room. Joseph was present, looking like a martyr. Emma said some very hard things ...She would rather her blood would run...than be polluted in this manner...Joseph came to us and shook hands with us, and the understanding was that all was ended between us” (Compton: 409-411). Joseph did have knowledge and permission - briefly - from Emma for a few of his 30 to 40 marriages, even though many years later in her firsthand interview with Joseph Smith III, and in contradiction to what this essay claims, Emma denied ever having any knowledge that Joseph practiced polygamy.
She may have approved of other marriages as well.39 But Emma likely did not know about all of Joseph’s sealings.40 (It is very telling that Joseph didn’t rush to be sealed to Emma as soon as he claimed to receive the sealing keys. In fact he waited 7 years. Joseph and Emma were sealed on May 28, 1843. By that date Joseph already had around 25 secret plural wives, to whom, according to this essay, he WAS sealed. Emma was not allowed to be sealed to Joseph because she didn’t know he was a polygamist, and until she allowed him to marry the Partridge sisters, because sealing was exclusively an ordinance of polygamy). She vacillated in her view of plural marriage, at some points supporting it and at other times denouncing it. (Again, this is misleading. Emma approved for polygamy for a very brief window for just four of Joseph Smith's polygamous relationships, but was deeply against polygamy at all over times. It is very misleading to claim she was constantly changing back and forth, but the essay needs to do this in order to paint what Joseph Smith was doing in the best light possible)
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 (Specifically that she was denied her request to take William Law as a second husband and was explicitly threatened that she would be “destroyed” if she didn’t submit to Joseph’s plural marriages. If you look at footnote 41, referenced here, you will see that it is a warning that this threat of destruction is still considered relevant for all LDS women today. The footnote reads: “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.” While polygamy is not currently practiced on Earth, it is still practiced in the after-life and currently through sealings in the temples.) The revelation instructed women and men that they must obey God’s law and commands in order to receive the fullness of His glory (and stresses that women must obey the man to whom they are “given” (verses 51, 52, 61, 62, 63, or they will be “destroyed” (verses 52, 54, 64). Again - is this how we are to believe that God would respond to a question that Joseph Smith initiated when he prayed to know why some in the Bible had concubines but not him?).
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 (and before, since Joseph never asked early on and just married women behind her back), 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 (This is quite the convenient loophope in a revelation that was written long after Joseph had already married a couple dozen women/girls behind Emma’s back without even giving her the option to permit or reject those marriages). Because of Joseph’s early death and Emma’s decision to remain in Nauvoo and not discuss plural marriage (her heart was broken and she knew that polygamy had been the cause of Joseph’s death) after the Church moved west, many aspects of their story remain known only to the two of them. (What is not stressed in current LDS history is that it was the polygamous contingent of the church that moved west, and those who were still unaware of the depths of polygamy. Those who knew about polygamy and did not want to participate stayed behind and formed the RLDS. In their view it was the polygamists who left the church as it does not fit with the teachings of God and not them. These saints numbered in the thousands and included Emma and her children, Joseph’s mother, his only living brother, the Three Witnesses and all of the living Eight Witnesses).
Part of Emma’s short-lived approval of polygamy was contingent on a contractual agreement that she would be taken care of financially regardless of what happened to Joseph. Joseph’s personal secretary William Clayton recorded that only hours after Emma initially rejected the polygamy revelation, “Joseph told me to deed all the unencumbered lots to Emma and the children. He appears much troubled about Emma.” Three days later, Clayton recorded: “Made Deed for 1/2 Steam Boat Maid of Iowa from Joseph to Emma. Also a Deed to Emma for over 60 city lots”(The Journals of William Clayton, Signature Books, 1995). William Law remembered that Emma confided to him in a conversation that probably occurred in the fall of 1843, “Joe and I have settled our troubles on the basis of equal rights.” (The Law Interview, The Daily Tribune: Salt Lake City, July 31, 1887). After this exchange, Emma finally gave Joseph permission to marry the Partridge girls, unaware that he was already married to them. She was also finally permitted to get her own temple endowment.
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 Plural marriage did result in an increased number of children born to believing parents.45 (This is an untrue and apparently intentionally misleading statement. Footnote 45 contains no such information, but merely reroutes us to another footnote in their Utah polygamy essay which informs us that: “Studies have shown that monogamous women bore more children per wife than did polygamous wives except the first.” In other words, the entire premise of polygamy as a way to quickly grow the church is false and this essay uses a “carefully worded denial” to circumvent that inconvenient fact. This is not even a half-truth; it is a non-truth. Once again the entire premise of this revelation is undercut, which again begs the question as to why God would give a revelation that would be detrimental to the stated goal of raising up seed).
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 reason that Heber Kimball noted that he wept for days is because Joseph Smith had commanded him to give up *his wife* to be one of Joseph's wives. Joseph then said it was a test and he would not take his wife before then asking for and marrying his 14 year old daughter. In exchange, Joseph promised the entire Kimball family exaltation, which goes against doctrine and once again treats women like a commodity to polygamists.)
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.”49 (It is difficult to find much sincerity in this statement considering that Brigham went on to be the world’s most famous and enthusiastic polygamist, even bragging in General Conference about his prowess with girls: “I could find more girls who would choose me for a husband than can any of the young men.” (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., 5: 210)). Heber 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
Why was Heber so happy? His wife had finally given him permission to start bringing other women into their marriage, just like Joseph. What Vilate didn’t know at the time was that Heber was already secretly married to his first plural wife, Sarah Noon, in violation of D&C 132’s admonition that the first wife must give approval before taking other wives. Heber went on to marry 43 women. He said, “For a man of God to be confined to one woman is small business... I do not know what we should do if we had only one wife apiece” (Heber C. Kimball, Deseret News, April 22, 1857). One of the things he is remembered for was repeatedly chastising missionaries for marrying the pretty girls and sending the “ugly” ones back to Utah for him and the other General Authorities to pick through. Here’s one of several of his well documented comments along those lines: “The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here, and bringing on the ugly ones for us; hereafter you have to bring them all here before taking any of them, and let us all have a fair shake."(Apostle Heber C. Kimball, The Lion of the Lord, New York, 1969, pp.129-30) . Kimball also famously declared before a gathering of the saints, “I think no more of taking another wife than I do of buying a cow.” (Ann-Eliza Snow, Wife No. 19, Chapter 17) When women are treated as commodities, it is difficult to feel that there is any sincerity among the men participating in polygamy that they are spiritually troubled by it.
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 (and fasting, which helps to lead people into emotional/spiritual confirmation when they are seeking confirmation), 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 (This was recounted decades later in Utah while she was married to Heber C. Kimball for time only (i.e. sex). Lucy is a another example where Joseph took girls into his house as servants or foster children and then secretly marrying them. Lucy arrived in Nauvoo with her father, mother, and 9 siblings. When her mother died of malaria Joseph immediately sent Lucy’s father on a mission, promising to care for his family. Six of the children were sent to other homes but Joseph said, “the four Eldest shall come to my house and [be] received and treated as my own children” Lucy was 15 years old at the time. Shortly after her father was on his mission Joseph came to Lucy and told her she was commanded to become his wife and that it would ensure the salvation of her and her entire family. He told her she had one day to consider before he revoked the eternal privileges. After a great deal of agony, Lucy accepted and was married secretly to Joseph. Remember, this was a child entirely dependent on this man for her family's eternal exaltation as well as temporal living. She said ““Emma Smith was not present and she did not consent to the marriage; she did not know anything about it at all.” Of the relationship, Lucy said, "I afterwards married Joseph as a plural wife and lived and cohabitated with him as such… It was not a love matter, so to speak, in our affairs, - at least on my part it was not, but simply the giving up of myself as a sacrifice to establish that grand and glorious principle that God had revealed to the world.” (Bushman; 492, Compton; 462-464 ).
Not all had such experiences. Some Latter-day Saints rejected the principle of plural marriage and left the Church (although many remained devout believers in the restoration while merely rejecting the polygamist Brighamite faction of the church), while others declined to enter the practice but remained faithful (they went west but they were barred from holding any priesthood office and told that they were exempt from exaltation in the highest kingdom of heaven as a result).52 Nevertheless, 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
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 (Do not forget footnote 45 which contradicts the argument that more children are born from polygamous marriages than traditional marriages. This essay overtly and erroneously claims that polygamy provided more children than monogamy, but indirectly admits the truth, via the footnotes within footnotes, that it actually yielded fewer offspring than monogamous marriages. This is an intentional misrepresentation of the facts). A substantial number of today’s members descend through faithful Latter-day Saints who practiced plural marriage.
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 (¼ of the current apostles at the time of this writing are sealed to multiple women who they believe will be their polygamist wives in the next life). 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 (in other words we are still performing polygamous marriages in the temple, but only for those who have died, and for living men with one of more wives that have passed). 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 (This is quite the admission that the church did some unthinkable things when they claim to not even know what it all means in the afterlife!). 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.55
So the essay’s ultimate conclusion is that, regardless of what went on in Kirtland and Nauvoo, God will sort it all out in the end anyway? So why then did Joseph Smith have to do all of this in the first place? Why secretly marry these women and girls behind Emma’s back? Why marry women who already had worthy, devoted, and moral husbands? Why did Joseph destroy the Nauvoo Expositor printing press, which this essay verifies was actually telling the truth about him, and which resulted in his arrest for treason and his subsequent murder? Why did God threaten Joseph with a sword-wielding angel if He was just going to sort things out in the end anyway?
I also would like to understand why our church leaders can’t give us any satisfactory answers rather than two conflicting options. Should we “give Brother Joseph a break” (Neil L. Andersen, General Conference, October 2015), along with his friends and later prophets and apostles because they were imperfect men and a products of their times, or should we accept the theme in this essay, which is that God left them to figure it out on their own without proper instructions (even though the instructions were clear, but not followed by Joseph who recorded the revelation ten years after he begun having these relationships)? Or should we believe, as this essay also asserts, that Joseph was doing exactly what God wanted, and that God sent a sword-wielding angel to force him to do it against his will, even though it meant disobeying clear instructions given to him by God in the D&C 132 revelation? Even though it required him to break the law? Even though it brought so much sorrow to Emma and so many others?
This essay leaves us with many more unanswered questions. For instance, we might ask why we should believe this essay’s claim that polygamy was essential, doctrinal, and demanded by God and ignore a more recent prophet who, before this essay was written, declared “I condemn it [polygamy], yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Larry King Live, September 8, 1998).
This essay reveals some very difficult truths. It admits that Joseph Smith married dozens of women and teenage girls as young as 14, and that he married women who were already married to other men. It suggests that he may not have had sexual relationships with some of them but tacitly acknowledges that he did with others. It admits that he publicly lied about these relationships and that he did most of this behind Emma’s back. I believe that anyone who lives the kind of strict moral life that the LDS church demands of its members should be deeply shaken when they read these things. The disconcerting thing about this essay and the intentions of the people behind it is that it not only excuses this behavior, it actually condones it and asks us to embrace it as righteous and godly.
The creators of this essay take those values about families that we cherish most and they tell you that, in regards to certain priesthood leaders, it’s ok for you to look the other way. In fact, if you have a problem with polygamy it is because you have not prayed enough. They place you in a position where you feel that if you that if you are uncomfortable with these things it is your fault for not being faithful enough. This is the definition of gaslighting and victim blaming and it’s an unhealthy relationship because it requires you to ignore our own moral compass and look to others to tell you what is right or wrong, to ignore what is glaringly obvious not only to your conscience, but to your common sense.
There is a reason this essay has caused many members to leave - it forces you to believe that God forced Joseph Smith to conduct polygamy by threat of angel after Joseph himself initiated the question. It also forces you to believe that God is willing to let a prophet disobey the commandments of D&C 101 and replace it with another revelation that Joseph Smith again disobeyed.
It also much be asked what kind of God would allow for a man to take the wives of other faithful, believing members while they are on missions for eternity, robbing those men of the chance to be with their wives forever. Or why God would allow a man to marry the very teenage girls he has taken the responsibility to care for as daughters.
The ultimate conclusion that the answers can be given through personal revelation ignore the fact that many current polygamous sects do just that - and receive revelation from God *today* that polygamy is the will of God. If they can receive this personal revelation, why are we to believe that the revelations we receive now that match what church leaders tell us are any more valid, and not just a confirmation of our previous bias? The video of other religions talking about their spiritual revelations is here, and will start with the polygamist teenager bearing her testimony.
Thank you for reading this annotated essay to the end. I know it is long, and I know it is very difficult to read these things that were previously unknown to almost all LDS members. I hope that you will continue to research this issue and that you will be willing to research from both LDS and non-LDS sources to get the full picture, and read Doctrine and Covenants section 132 in its entirety knowing what is in the above essay and notations we have made. It is impossible to believe that God would allow for this kind of behavior that puts intimidation and stress on young women who have to choose between marrying a self-proclaimed prophet of God in marriage or losing her entire family's chance at exaltation. It is wrong, it is immoral, and the timelines and details do not lend any credibility to Joseph Smith being a true prophet of God.
Please email us with any suggestions, corrections, or if you have any sources that can provide more information that can help enhance this essay. Thank you again!
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.
“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.
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.
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 atjosephsmithpapers.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 atjosephsmithpapers.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.
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 BritishMission (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.
Campbell, Eugene E., and Bruce L. Campbell. Divorce Among Mormon Polygamists: Extent and Explanations. Utah Historical Quarterly, 1978.
Compton, Todd. In sacred loneliness: The plural wives of Joseph Smith. Signature Books, 1997.
Daynes, Kathryn M. More wives than one: transformation of the Mormon marriage system, 1840-1910. University of Illinois Press, 2001.
Newell, Linda King, and Valeen Tippetts Avery. Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith. University of Illinois Press, 1994.