Food Storage & Other Adventures in Motherhood

In Sacred Loneliness Part 2- The Huntington Sisters: Polyandry, the Priesthood, Relief Soceity and Women’s Suffrage

by heather

For those wondering why the wives of Joseph Smith are relevant, besides the fact that Mormon history is really fascinating, go back and read the first part of Part 1. Many people ask the questions ‘Why would anyone want to practice polygamy?’ “Why would someone who was already in a stable marriage want to practice polyandry?’ ‘Why would a Victorian-age woman consent to
such an unconventional relationship?’ Really, when I think of the standards of Victorian-age, unconventional marriage relations doesn’t really seem to mesh. Now of course there are many factors on why a woman would choose polygamy/polyandry, and there are many women who did not choose this lifestyle, but I think at least part of the answer lies in historical context. Women of the nineteenth century did not have the rights that women today appreciate. Women could not vote, own property (with the exception of Maine, Arkansas and Mississippi) and had limited control over their children. Women’s health was not an idea that people thought about (or studied) beyond childbirth . There were few, if any, laws against rape. If a couple divorced, the father was automatically given custody of any children. If a woman had an occupation, her husband legally controlled all of her wages.

Polygamy, as it was practiced in the Utah era, was empowering for women. When a husband had his time divided among several wives, out of necessity those wives had to become more independent. Polygamy almost by definition, implied an absentee husband, despite the husband’s good will and spiritual prestige. (pg 98) The women had more say over how their children were raised and in many cases, how their household was run. Polygamous women had fewer children than many traditional monogamous women of the time-period, giving these women a little more personal time (something that even many modern mothers would appreciate). The sister-wife dynamic also allowed many married women to further their education, because they had a built-in child care system. Many 19th century polygamous women were able to become doctors or mid-wives. Education is most often empowering, but being able to be contributing and well-respected members of the community, probably helped these women to feel more valued.

As for polygamy in Nauvoo, or under Joseph Smith, there were two other empowering and more religious aspects. The first was the Relief Society. The Relief Society was an organization for women to gather, to support one another and to provide relief for the poor and the destitute. This organization was highly connected to polygamy and several of it’s founding members were plural wives of Joseph Smith. Eventually the organization was dissolved because of it’s connections with polygamy and was reorganized after the Mormons reached the Salt Lake Valley. (pg 104)

The second empowering religious aspect was the priesthood, an aspect that many modern Mormons would identify to be the ultimate symbol of authority and power. According to LDS theology, the priesthood is the power of Jesus Christ, the power to bless the afflicted, heal the sick and otherwise act in behalf of the Savior. Time and time again, in the accounts of these plural wives, they held and utilized the priesthood, with the support of the local church authorities. On a related note, recently I listened to a lecture by an LDS historian on women administering the priesthood ordinance of washing and anointing to other women in preparation for childbirth, an ordinance that is frequently mentioned in Compton’s book. This practice continued among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints up until the 1950’s. Recently I also read an interview with a FLDS polygamist. In response to a question regarding this she said that they believe in and practice all priesthood ordinances including the women washing and anointing before childbirth. I suppose this makes sense as their schism from the mainstream LDS Church was before the 1950’s.

Zina D. Huntington-1840

Zina Diantha Huntington (Jacobs Smith Young)
born Jan 31, 1821 in Wateron, New York
married to Henry Bailey Jacobs on March 7, 1841 in Nauvoo, Illinois
married to Joseph Smith on October 27, 1841 in Nauvoo, Illinois*
married to Brigham Young in Sept, 1844 in Nauvoo, Illinois*
died Aug 28, 1901 in Salt Lake City, Utah

  • She was loved throughout her life for her service, compassion and kindness. (pg 72) Even anti-Mormons had kind things to say about her.
  • Above all (her) diary reveals a woman of great charm—intelligent and perceptive, yet possessing a childlike innocence. She is a sensitive, gifted writer and a disastrous speller. (pg 83)
  • Zina was the eighth of ten children. Her father was a ‘well-to-do farmer’. Her parents joined the Latter-day Saint church in April 1835 after it was taught to them by Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer. Zina was baptized in August 1835 by Hyrum Smith. (pg 72-74)
  • Soon after joining the LDS Church, she began singing in tongues. The power of the gift “overwhelmed” her and she “checked its utterance”. She felt guilt for this and prayed for it’s return. She would participate in glossolalia and interpreting tongue speech throughout the rest of her life….Thus women practiced a prophetic mode in early Mormonism; the interpretation of tongues was often apocalyptic and oracular. (pg 75)
  • All of these revelatory experiences of Zina Diantha provide background to help understand her later intense commitment to Mormonism, even when it demanded such an extraordinary social innovation as patriarchal polygamy. The early Mormons were not just Bible readers, they were living the Bible. (pg 75)
  • Smith, for early Mormons was more than a person; he was a religious ideal in physical form. (pg 76)
  • Zina was a member of the Kirtland Temple Choir. (pg 76)
  • The Huntingtons moved from Kirtland to Far West to Quincy to Nauvoo. In Nauvoo, the Huntingtons came down with malaria and Zina’s mother and namesake died. After her mother’s death she went to live in the Joseph Smith home. During her stay there she met her first husband, Henry Jacobs, a violinist and a friend of Joseph Smith.
  • It was perhaps during this stay in Joseph Smith’s house that Zina learned and important, peculiar doctrine from the American prophet. She was grieving for her mother and asked Joseph if she would know her as her mother in the next life. “Certainly you will. More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven.” “And have I then a Mother in Heaven?” “You assuredly have. How could a Father claim His title unless there were also a Mother to share that parenthood?” the Mormon leader replied. (pg 78)
  • Zina is one of the best documented of Joseph Smith’s plural wives….While “official” Mormon biographies have Zina marrying Smith and Young after she left Henry, her marriages are so well documented that one is forced to reject this sequence and confront the issue of Nauvoo polyandry. (pg 72)
  • While Henry was courting Zina, Joseph Smith first proposed to her (1840) and she rejected him. The “cult of true womanhood” in 19th century America required that a woman live by the ideals of purity, piety, domesticity and submissiveness; Smith’s new doctrine offended against domesticity (the sanctity of the home), piety (typical American religious mores), and purity (the belief that sexuality should be reserved for monogamous Christian marriage). (pg 79)
  • Smith was supposed to officiate at the wedding of Henry and Zina, but did not show up, so John C. Bennett, the current mayor, performed the marriage. When “asked why he had not come … he told them the Lord had made it known to him she was to be his celestial wife.” Zina had a problem. Smith told them that God had commanded him to marry her. However, he apparently also told them that they could continue to live together as husband and wife. According to family tradition Henry accepted this, but Zina continued to struggle. If polygamy offended against the American cult of true womanhood, polyandry offended even more. (pg 80)
  • Zina was indecisive until October. Then Joseph sent her a message through her brother, Dimick. An angel with a drawn sword had stood over Smith and told him that if he did not establish polygamy, he would “lose his position and his life.” Zina, faced with the responsibility for the life of the prophet agreed. (pg 80-81)
  • From her diary “I mad [e] a greater sacrifise than to give my life for I never anticipated a gain to be looked upon as an honerable woman by those I dearly loved.” (pg 81)
  • This wedding…does not harmonize with Zina’s later explantion of her relationship with Joseph: “I was married to Mr. Jacobs, but the marriage was unhappy and we parted.”… Zina and Henry stayed married, living together throughout Smith’s life. Thus Zina’s explantion for her marriage to Smith may be a “revision” of history to gloss over her simultaneous marriage to both men. Her marriage to Henry was not unhappy enough to end it during Smith’s lifetime, and she even continued to remember Henry’s birthday for years after they were separated. Little else is known of her marriage to Joseph Smith. (pg 81)
  • While Henry and Zina were married, Joseph sent Henry on 4 missions. (pg 82) His mission companions reported that Henry spoke of Zina often, and almost worshiped her.
  • After the death of Joseph Smith, his counselors Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball took it upon themselves to marry most of the widows of Joseph Smith. For reasons that are not clear Brigham Young pressed his suit with Zina, despite the fact that Henry (her living husband) was a faithful member in good standing, an active seventy, had served several missions and often preformed ordinances in the temple. According to family traditions. “President Young told Zina D. if she would marry him she would receive higher glory.” (pg 84)
  • The reaction of Zina and Henry to this third marriage is not documented, but they were probably obedient. If, as seems likely, Henry knew about the marriage, he and Zina probably expected to continue living with each other throughout the rest of their lives. (pg 85)
  • In March 1845 Zina wrote in her journal celebrating her marriage to Henry “4 years ago to day since we ware Marr[i]ed. O God let thy hand be over us still to prosper us.” (pg 85)
  • Henry and Zina received their endowments together on Jan 3, 1846. (pg 86)
  • On February 2, 1846, in an inner room in the Nauvoo temple, Zina Huntington Jacobs stood by the side of Brigham Young, presiding apostle and de facto president of the Mormon church. Near Young stood Heber C. Kimball, his first counselor. Somewhat apart stood Henry B. Jacobs… She was pregnant with their second child, who would be named Henry Chariton Jacobs. (pg 71)
  • Zina was very pregnant when she and Henry were forced out of Nauvoo at the point of a musket. “On the 9th feb clear and cold we left our house and all we possessed in a wagon….the bells were ringing the temple was on fire and we leaving our homes for the wilderness trusting in God like abraham” (pg 86)
  • Zina gave birth on March 22, 1846. They reached Mt. Pisgah on May 21st, where Brigham Young was organizing the members. On May 22nd, Brigham Young sent Henry on a mission to England. Henry arrived in England on October 1, 1846. Zina kept all of the love letters that Henry sent her from the mission field. (pg 88-89)
  • In October 1846, at Winter Quarters, Zina began living openly as Brigham’s wife.  Another problematic aspect of Zina’s relationship to Young was that they apparently did not write to Henry and tell him of the development. (pg 90)
  • At Winter Quarters, the conditions were primitive and many died around Zina. (pg 91)
  • On Valentine’s Day Henry sent Zina a letter “Whether in Life, or in death, whether in time or Eternity, Zina my mind never will Change from Worlds Without End, no never the same affection is there and never can be moved….Bless Brother Brigham all purtains unto him forever tell him for me I have no feelings against him nor never had, all is right according to the Law of Celestial kingdom of our God Joseph….I feel alone & no one to speak to call my own….Zina be comforted be of good cheer…Bless my Dear Little Sons Zebulon and Henry C with an Holy kiss for me…O the felings I have for them and you they cannot be told” (pg 91)
  • During this time, Zina now knew that she was going to live as Brigham’s earthly wife, not as Henry’s, but Henry apparently did not understand this fully. (pg 91)
  •  In June, Zina wrote a letter to her sister-in-law Mary Huntington (Oliver Huntington, her husband and Zina’s brother was Henry’s mission companion) who was living in New York telling Mary that she was living with Brigham Young and no longer married to Henry. When Henry and Oliver arrived in New York and heard the news they were stunned and Henry was depressed.  Before this Henry may have seen Zina’s marriage to Brigham as ritual only; she could continue to live with him. Now he probably realized that she had in effect divorced him completely. (pg 92) I find Henry’s story tragic. He loved Zina, and after obediently serving a full-time mission he came home to find the prophet had claimed his wife. After he arrived back in Utah, Brigham Young sent him to California, and he was eventually disfellowshipped for repeatedly writing letters to Zina, who retained custody of their children. After his marriage to Zina he had a series of failed marriages and was also rebaptized. In his old age, he came to spend his last days in Zina’s house near his children while Zina was living elsewhere.
  • In April 1850, Zina gave birth to Zina Presendia Young (Card), whom she was very close to throughout her life.

    Zina and her children- circa 1855

  • Zina was the Young family midwife and also managed Brigham’s silk worm cocoonery, even though she found the creatures repulsive. (pg 104)
  • In October 1879, Zina became the first woman to speak in traditionally all-male general conference sessions. (pg 104)
  • In the 1880’s Zina spoke at feminist gatherings around the country and was a supporter of women’s suffrage. She served as Eliza R. Snow’s counselor in the General Relief Society presidency and was called to be the third General Relief Society President after Eliza’s death. (pg 109) The Relief Society became formally associated with the National Council of Women of the United States in 1891, and Zina eventually became vice-president of the organization. (pg 110)
  • Wherever she went, Zina continued organizing Relief Societies…sharing spiritual gifts, healings, blessings, tongue-speaking. (pg 109)
  • Zina is a classic model for Joseph Smith’s early polygamous wives. Her relationship with Smith was polyandrous, as was typical of his earliest Nauvoo wives. The marriage to Brigham Young was less typical. Zina became a “proxy wife” in Young’s family, bearing him a child, midwifing his other children, acting as a doctor, priestess and spiritual leader within the family…. She remains one of the great women in Latter-day Saint history. (pg 113)

Presendia Lathrop Huntington (Buell Smith Kimball)
born Sept 7, 1810 in Waterton, New York
married to Norman Buell  on Jan 6, 1827 in Waterton, New York
married to Joseph Smith on Dec 11, 1841 in Nauvoo, Illinois*
married to Heber C. Kimball abt Mar 17, 1845 in Nauvoo, Illinois*
died Feb 1, 1892 in Salt Lake City, Utah

  • In early 1849, a man named Joseph Hovey helped Presendia through a period of depression, and she felt

    Presendia L. H. B. Kimball

    impressed to give him a blessing by the laying on of hands. “Inasmuch as you have comforted me when I was weighted down in the days that are past and now, I also say in the name of Jesus Christ that you shall be blessed…Yea, you shall have your exaltation, for I will see to it for your goodness towards me. Yea, I will tell Joseph Smith of your good works and you shall come on Mount Zion with the hundred and forty four thousand” So Presendia acted as an intermediary to Joseph Smith, a prophetess to the prophet, even having the authority to promise exaltation. (pg 114)

  • Edward Tullidge, a contemporary who wrote about Utah Mormon women described her this way: “She was endowed with a large, inspired mind, the gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues, and the power to heal and comfort the sick, being quite pre-eminent in her apostolic life.” (pg 115)
  • Her mother described her as experiencing “the saving change of heart” when she was 11 years old. (pg 115)
  • She was taught about Mormonism by her mother, Zina Baker Huntington who came to visit her with a Book of Mormon and a handwritten copy of the Word of Wisdom in 1835. Presendia said “I felt it was true, and I thought I would keep the Word of Wisdom and obtain the blessings promised.”  Shortly thereafter, she, her husband and her children moved to Kirtland. She was baptized by Uriah Powell and confirmed by Oliver Cowdery. (pg 116-117)
  • The Buells moved to Missouri in Jan 1838, later that year, Norman became disaffected with the LDS Church, and according to Presendia “left the church in Missouri in 1839″ (pg 119).
  • In the fall of 1838, an anti-Mormon mob killed a friend of the Buells. Presendia herself had a run-in with an armed mob while driving her wagon with her son near Far West, Missouri. She was frightened, but the mob let her pass without harming her, possibly because her husband was known to be an ex-Mormon. (pg 119)
  • In  1840, the Buells moved to Lima, Illinois. (30 miles south of Nauvoo)
  • From her journal “In 1841 I entered into the New and Everlasting Covenant—was sealed to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Seer, and to the best of my ability I have honored Plural Marriage, never speaking one word against the principle.” She was married by her brother Dimick, and her sister-in-law stood as a witness. Dimick was then offered any reward that he wanted. He requested “that where you and your fathers family are, there I and my fathers family may also be.” Relatives of Smith’s plural wives were often awarded increased salvation after helping arrange the marriage. (pg 122-123)
  • Presendia and Smith’s other plural wives felt part of a small, select spiritual elite, “separate and apart from all the others….No tongue can describe, or pen portray the peculiar situation of these noble self-sacrificing women who through the providence of God helped to establish the principle of celestial marriage.” (pg 123)
  • Norman, a man bitterly opposed to Mormonism, was probably not told of Presendia’s marriage, but, as in all of Smith’s polyandrous unions, Presendia continued to live with Buell, the “first husband”. (pg 123)
  • On April 19, 1842, Presendia was accepted into the Relief Society. “the meeting was specially called for the admission of Mrs. Buel who resided at a distance” (pg 123)
  • She married Kimball in 1845, becoming his twenty-first wife. (pg 125)
  •  From an interview with Presendia “The Saints had nearly all left for the West; Sister Presendia felt as if she were at the mercy of the mob, and indeed plans were laid to destroy her.” One wonders why Presendia, married to an ex-Mormon at a safe distance from Nauvoo, would have been endangered in this way. Perhaps she felt a sense of spiritual isolation and projected feelings of personal danger onto her anti-Mormon neighbors. (pg 126)
  • On May 2, 1846, she left her house in the night, taking her ill six-year old with her, leaving behind one son. She hid in the wilderness for awhile before joining her father and sister at Mt. Pisgah. Henry Jacobs, on his way to England ran into Norman Buell in June and wrote Zina a letter expressing his concern for Presendia’s husband. “N. Buell is all most crazy he has ben up here” (pg 126-127)
  • Heber C. Kimball married 45 women and struggled to provide for all of them and their children. 16 wives eventually separated from him. Vilate, his first wife was an obvious favorite. According to Helen Mar, their daughter “by Vilate’s continual kind deeds she won the love of all; and among the most devoted were my father’s faithful wives, who admired him more because they knew he loved her best.” Vilate, one of Presendia’s close friends, was an exampled of polygamy promoting sisterhood. (pg 127)
  • Early Mormons often had a strong sense of the presence of dark otherworldly forces.  Presendia spoke of sensing these as people died around her at Winter Quarters. In early Mormonism death and sickness were often considered the result of an attack by malevolent spirits. (pg 128-129)
  • In May 1848, Norman traveled to Winter Quarters and asked Presendia to return with him. She refused. According to his brother-in-law, Oliver Huntington, Norman was “pleased with the treatment he received from Heber and Brigham” Apparently Presendia and Heber had not explained to Norman that they were married. (pg 129)
  • Just as Zina served as midwife to the Young family, so Presendia acted as midwife for the Kimball wives and recieved charismatic, priestly gifts for her medical duties. Dr. Willard Richards set her apart to perform the priesthood ordinances of “washing and anointing and blessing the sisters.”
  • In May 1850, her only daughter wandered into a stream and drowned. Of nine children, this was the 5th to die in early childhood. This sent her into a severe depression. Before she died she had lost eight of her nine children to death or apostasy.
  • Presendia would commemorate the birth and death dates of Joseph Smith with Zina and others of his widows.
  • Kimball relocated his wives frequently. Presendia moved 22 times by his request. (pg 136)
  • Presendia  was very involved in Relief Society and frequently gave priesthood blessings. Once she asked to preside over the washing and anointing of a Bishop Bringhurst in 1882. (pg 140)
  • Another contemporary account described her “Sister Presendia is a woman to see once is to remember always. She reminds one of the dames of the olden times, large, tall, grand and majestic in figure, dignified in manner, yet withal, so womanly and sympathetic that she seemed the embodiment of the motherly element to a degree that would embrace all who come under her influence. Truly she may, in every sense of the word, be termed a mother in Israel in very deed.” (pg 140)
  • Two years before she died she wrote a letter to another widow of Joseph Smith, Mary Rollins, “You and my Self are nearing the other “Country” wont it be a happy time for us if we can gain the place where Joseph & our loved ones mingle” (pg 141)

In Sacred Loneliness Part 1

One Response to “In Sacred Loneliness Part 2- The Huntington Sisters: Polyandry, the Priesthood, Relief Soceity and Women’s Suffrage”

  1. […] roundly condemned by the Book of Mormon, miscellaneous discrimination, Mormonism and capitalism, Joseph’s wives, and Moroni: historical figure or registered […]

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