Food Storage & Other Adventures in Motherhood

Mormon Journey Part 6: Polygamy

by heather

I had come to terms with polygamy. I live in southern Utah and I have multiple friends who are happily living in polygamous relationships. If living that way makes them happy and no one is getting hurt, then it isn’t really my business. I was also told growing up that part of the reason that polygamy was necessary was because there were so many more women than men, and Mormon doctrine dictates that a woman has to be married to reach the highest level of Celestial Kingdom. I have a very dear friend who is single and I thought of it this way ‘If  hypothetically, God said that the only way for my friend to get to heaven was to be in a polygamous marriage I would let her be my sister wife. I would put up with the weirdness and the awkwardness because I love her and I would want to do whatever I could to help her get to heaven.’ I had come to terms with polygamy and put it on the ‘metaphorical shelf’, until I became aware of some very uncomfortable facts. But before we look at these uncomfortable facts, let’s review the scriptural basis for polygamy.

D&C 132: 60-64 60 Let no one, therefore, set on my servant Joseph; for I will justify him; for he shall do the sacrifice which I require at his hands for his transgressions, saith the Lord your God.
61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood–if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.
62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.
63 But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified.
64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.

Jacob 2:24-30 24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.
26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women.
And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.

To me that sounds like the purpose of polygamy is ‘to raise up seed’ or ‘multiply and replenish the earth, and if it is used for any other purpose, it is ‘an abomination before me’. And because we are under the assumption that neither Abraham, David, Solomon or Joseph Smith were trying to conceive by means of in vitro fertilization, it’s pretty safe to say that they were having sex with their wives. I know it’s kind of ridiculous that that has to be stated, but for some reason some people like to argue that polygamy/marriage doesn’t involve sex. I mentioned this to a polygamist friend of mine. She let me know that was the most ludicrous thing she had ever heard.

1. Polygamy has never been legal in the United States. It was not legal in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois or Utah, before or after the 1890 manifesto. It was not legal in Canada or Mexico. Polygamy was outlawed in Illinois in 1833.

“Sec 121. Bigamy consists in the having of two wives or two husbands at one and the same time, knowing that the former husband or wife is still alive. If any person or persons within this State, being married, or who shall hereafter marry, do at any time marry any person or persons, the former husband or wife being alive, the person so offending shall, on conviction thereof, be punished by a fine, not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisoned in the penitentiary, not exceeding two years. It shall not be necessary to prove either of the said marriages by the register or certificate thereof, or other record evidence; but the same may be proved by such evidence as is admissible to prove a marriage in other cases, and when such second marriage shall have taken place without this state, cohabitation in this state after such second marriage shall be deemed the commission of the crime of bigamy, and the trial in such case may take place in the county where such cohabitation shall have occurred.”—Revised Laws of Illinois, 1833, p.198-99

The area now know as Utah was part of Mexico in 1847, where polygamy was illegal. In 1850 it became the Utah territory and was thereby under United States federal law, which outlawed polygamy. The 1862 Morrill Act, was legislated to reinforce that polygamy was illegal.

Here is Lorenzo Snow’s testimony in the Temple Lot Case:

“A man that violated this law in the Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, until the acceptance of that revelation by the church, violated the law of the church if he practiced plural marriage. Yes sir, he would have been cut off from the church, I think I should have been if I had. Before the giving of that revelation in 1843 if a man married more wives than one who were living at the same time, he would have been cut off from the church. It would have been adultery under the laws of the church and under the laws of the state, too.”

Update: This is fact is also admitted in the essay on polygamy found on

2. Polygamy started with Joseph Smith, not Brigham Young. Joseph Smith had at least 34 wives (38 according to some historians). Many people are aware of this, but it is not taught consistently in the LDS Church. As far as what I was taught in church I was told that Brigham Young started polygamy and several women were sealed to Joseph Smith after his death so Joseph Smith will only practice polygamy in the next life, but in his mortal life Joseph Smith was married to only one woman and that was Emma. I remember once after seeing the Joseph Smith movie at Temple Square with my family, my brother mentioned that he thought it was interesting that they didn’t mention any of Joseph Smith’s polygamy in the movie, probably because people don’t want to think about, and it doesn’t really fit with their ‘Joseph and Emma romance story’. That comment struck me as kind of odd, but it didn’t mesh with what I had been taught, so like a good little Mormon I stuck it on ‘my shelf’.

See essay on polygamy in Nauvoo on

3. There were actually more men than women the entire time that Mormons were practicing polygamy.

“The United States census records from 1850 to 1940, and all available Church records, uniformly show a preponderance of males in Utah, and in the Church. Indeed, the excess in Utah has usually been larger than for the whole United States, as would be expected in a pioneer state. The births within the Church obey the usual population law – a slight excess of males…” John A. Widstoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (1943)

Go into any LDS Family history library or county records archives. I’m willing to bet that most census records will show that there are more men than women in a given population.

Again verified by

4. Joseph Smith married eleven women who were currently married to other men.

This practice is commonly known as polyandry. Here is the record on the Church website of Joseph Smith’s marriage to several of his wives, Zina Huntington Jacobs, Presendia Huntington Buell, Sylvia Sessions Lyon and Lucinda Pendleton Harris: Sylvia claimed that her daughter, Josephine Lyon was actually the biological child of Joseph Smith, although she was married to another to Windsor Lyon before, during and after Josephine’s birth. .

Further documentation can also be found in the book In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith by Todd Compton, which is available through There are many other books written by both members and nonmembers of the LDS Church that confirm this fact.

I’ve heard many members of the LDS Church try to argue that sex was not involved in these marriages. Ok, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend that is true although I’m not actually convinced. Let’s say there was no sex between Joseph Smith and his polyandrous wives. Let’s say these relationships were of some nonsexual nature. I have always been taught that women should not have close intimate relationships with men that they are not related to or legally married to, and the same goes for husbands. Here’s a quote from the September 2009 Ensign “Fidelity includes refraining from physical contact—but that is not all. Fidelity also means complete commitment, trust, and respect between husband and wife. Inappropriate interactions with another person can erode fidelity. President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) said, “What does it mean to love someone with all your heart? It means to love with all your emotional feelings and with all your devotion.”

Now if we managed to get over the fidelity issues involved with polyandry, what is the purpose? Taking these wives away from their legal husbands in the next life sounds like breaking up families. What is the benefit of that? How does that fit in with ‘families are forever’? If these other husbands are true and faithful  and submit their wives to Joseph they would be without their wives and children in the next life?

5. Joseph Smith married seven teenage girls, including two 14-year-olds. The family search link above shows his marriage to Helen Mar Kimball, Sarah Lawrence, Fanny Alger and others. Where it really gets disturbing is when you read the journal of Helen Mar Kimball.

“Without any preliminaries [my Father] asked me if I would believe him if he told me that it was right for married men to take other wives…The first impulse was anger…my sensibilities were painfully touched. I felt such a sense of personal injury and displeasure; for to mention such a thing to me I thought altogether unworthy of my father, and as quick as he spoke, I replied to him, short and emphatically, ‘No I wouldn’t!’…This was the first time that I ever openly manifested anger towards him...Then he commenced talking seriously and reasoned and explained the principle, and why it was again to be established upon the earth. [This] had a similar effect to a sudden shock of a small earthquake.”

“[Joseph explained] the principle of Celestial marrage…After which he said to me, ‘If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household & all of your kindred.[‘] 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 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…; but it was all hidden from me.”

So Joseph told a reluctant Helen Mar Kimball that if she married him that it would ensure her salvation and the salvation of all her family. That sounds like he’s using his authority as her church leader to manipulate her. He is also putting the burden of her family’s eternal salvation on her. So if she married him, her family get a free pass to heaven regardless of their individual behavior? What about a person’s choice and accountability, and being responsible for their own salvation? That seems like a heavy (and unrealistic) burden to put on a 14 year old girl.

I have heard it argued it was normal for teenage girls to get married back then. This is actually false. The average marrying age for women in the 1840’s in the United States was 19-22. Menstruation among young women in the 19th century generally didn’t start until 17-19. It was not common for girls as young as 14 to get married, and it certainly wasn’t common for 14 year old girls to marry married men in who were in their late 30’s.

6. Polygamy as practiced by Joseph Smith contradicts how it is laid out in the D&C 132. And D&C 132 is the doctrinal basis for modern day polygamy. You can read some it above and more in the Doctrine and Covenants, but polyandry doesn’t really follow the way it is outlined in the scriptures.

If he was marrying women who were already married to other men, then they probably weren’t virgins. It is indisputable that Zina Huntington Jacobs Smith Young was not a virgin because she was 6 months pregnant when she married Joseph Smith.

7. Joseph kept many of his polygamous marriages secret from Emma.

If he was keeping these things secret from Emma then she was not giving her permission, another contradiction to D&C 132. Journal accounts of Emily Partridge, as well as a letter in Joseph Smith’s own handwriting telling Sarah Ann Whitney to meet him secretly and not to come if he saw Emma around, indicate that Joseph was keeping his polygamous marriages secret from Emma. This one hit me really hard. I have a hard time trusting a man who can not be honest with his wife. “I have observed that in wonderful, happy marriages, husbands and wives treat each other as equal partners. Practices from any place or any time in which husbands have dominated wives or treated them in any way as second-class partners in marriage are not in keeping with divine law and should be replaced by correct principles and patterns of behavior. Husbands and wives in great marriages make decisions unanimously, with each of them acting as a full participant and entitled to an equal voice and vote. – Elder L. Whitney Clayton April 2013 General Conference

Here is an excerpt from Emily Partridge’s journal (19th wife of Joseph Smith)

“…the Prophet Joseph and his wife Emma offered us a home in their family,… We had been there about a year when the principle of plural marriage was made known to us, and I was married to Joseph Smith on the 4th of March 1843, Elder Heber C. Kimball performing the ceremony. My sister Eliza was also married to Joseph a few days later. This was done without the knowledge of Emma Smith. Two months afterward she consented to give her husband two wives, providing he would give her the privilege of choosing them. She accordingly chose my sister Eliza and myself, and to save family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed. Accordingly on the 11th of May, 1843, we were sealed to Joseph Smith a second time, in Emma’s presence,… From that very hour, however, Emma was our bitter enemy. We remained in the family several months after this, but things went from bad to worse until we were obligated to leave the house and find another home.”
Here is an excerpt from a letter that Joseph sent to Sarah Ann Whitney a few weeks after he married her: “…my feelings are so strong for you since what has passed lately between us…it seems, as if I could not live long in this way; and if you three would come and see me…it would afford me great relief…I know it is the will of God that you should comfort me now in this time of affliction…the only thing to be careful of; is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty…burn this letter as soon as you read it; keep all locked up in your breasts…You will pardon me for my earnestness on this subject when you consider how lonesome I must be…I think emma wont come tonight if she dont dont fail to come tonight…”
Then there is the Fanny Alger incident. The faithful refer to this as a polygamous marriage. Others claim that it was just an affair. Either way it doesn’t sound like Emma was informed previous to discovering it. Emma Smith and Oliver Cowdery found Joseph Smith having sex with Fanny Alger (the maid) in the barn. Emma had a total breakdown. Oliver accused Joseph of adultery and was excommunicated.
In an 1872 letter to Joseph Smith III, William McClellin  (a former apostle) wrote: “Again I told Emma I heard that one night she missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. She went to the barn and saw him and Fanny together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!! She told me this story was verily true.”…This account contradicts Webb’s and later statements on polygamy by Emma….But whether Emma saw her husband in the barn or discovered evidence of Fanny’s pregnancy, her reaction was the same. Benjamin Johnson tells another version of the incident “I was…told by Warren Parrish that he himself & Oliver Cowdery did know that Joseph had Fanny Alger has as a wife for They ware Spied upon & found togather”
Again verified by the essay on
8. Joseph Smith was practicing polygamy before the doctrine of eternal marriage or priesthood sealings was ever revealed. The Fanny Alger incident is also problematic because it occurred before the sealing power of the priesthood was restored. The ‘sealing power’ of the priesthood was not restored under LDS belief until April 1836, whereas she married Joseph Smith between 1833 or 1835, depending on the source. It was always my understanding that there was no sealing power on the earth from the time of Christ until Joseph Smith restored it in 1836.
Verified by
9. Joseph Smith lied to the general membership about polygamy while he was practicing it.

Here are some quotes from the 1835 edition of the D&C

D&C 101:4 “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 case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.” D&C 13:7 “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall cleave unto her and none else.”

D&C 65:3 “Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.”

The affidavit published in the LDS October 1, 1842 Times and Seasons said:

“…we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.”

It was signed by Joseph Smith, Eliza R. Snow, Sarah Ann Whitney and several others who were practicing polygamy when they signed it.

You can view it on the BYU Library’s website here:

10. Joseph Smith sent men on missions for the LDS Church and then married their wives. Or married their wives in secret and then sent the husbands on missions. He sent Orson Hyde on a three year mission and then married his wife Nancy Marinda Johnson Hyde while Orson was gone. Joseph recorded this in his own journal. After Joseph married Zina Jacobs, he sent her husband, Henry Jacobs, on four missions before Joseph died. You can read Zina’s journals here. He also sent Patty Sessions’ husband, David on a mission. Even if there was no sex involved, this seems questionable.

Brigham Young

I believe that the man on the left of Brigham Young, is my ancestor, Bernard Snow, who was also a cousin of Joseph Smith. He is significant in my family history because he abandoned his 6 wives and their children to run away with the 15 year old sister of one of his other wives, the wife that I am descended from in fact. And his abandoned posterity defended him for generations.

11. Polygamy is not an efficient way to grow a population. An average couple of the 19th century had 7-8 children. The average polygamous wife had 3 children. Here’s an article that explains the inefficiency of polygamy to multiply and replenish the earth. Basically, the more wives a man had the fewer children each wife would have. The lower reproductive rate among polygamous wives was also mentioned in the footnotes of the essay that released a few weeks ago. Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah

12. Early polygamous leaders claimed that polygamy would never be taken from the earth. And given the of recent legal events in Utah, it is particularly ironic that they actually claimed that monogamy would be the downfall of society.

“Some quietly listen to those who speak against the plurality of wives, and against almost every principle that God has revealed. Such persons have half-a-dozen devils with them all the time. You might as well deny ‘Mormonism,’ and turn away from it, as to oppose the plurality of wives. Let the Presidency of this Church, and the Twelve Apostles, and all the authorities unite and say with one voice that they will oppose the doctrine, and the whole of them will be damned.”
– Apostle Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, vol. 5, p. 203

“It would be as easy for the United States to build a tower to remove the sun, as to remove polygamy, or the Church and kingdom of God.” – Apostle Heber C. Kimball, (Millennial Star, vol. 28, p.190)

“Monogamy, or restrictions by law to one wife, is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman empire….Rome became the mistress of the world, and introduced this order of monogamy wherever her sway was acknowledged. Thus this monogamic order of marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a holy sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers…. Why do we believe in and practice polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord’s servants have always practiced it.
– President Brigham Young, The Deseret News, August 6, 1862

Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives, and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned. -President Brigham Young (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, p. 266).

“This law of monogamy, or the monogamic system, laid the foundation for prostitution and the evils and diseases of the most revolting nature and character under which modern Christendom groans,…”
– Apostle Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, page 195

“Now I want to prophecy a little…. I want to prophecy that all men who oppose the revelation which God has given in relation to polygamy will find themselves in darkness; the Spirit of God will withdraw from them the very moment of their opposition to that principle, until they will finally go down to hell and be damned, if they do not repent…. if you do not become as dark as midnight there is no truth in Mormonism.”  Apostle Orson Pratt (Journal of Discourses, vol. 17, pp. 224-225)

“Though I go to prison, God will not change his law of celestial marriage. But the man, the people, the nation, that oppose and fight against this doctrine and the Church of God, will be overthrown.” President Lorenzo Snow (Historical Record, 1886, vol. 5, page 144)

13. Joseph Smith was sent to Carthage Jail, not for some mythical persecution, but because he was practicing polygamy (illegally) and he destroyed a printing press that tried to reveal his polygamy to the general church membership. It was there that he was killed.

William Law was a member of the first presidency, an apostle and one of Joseph’s counselors. After Law learned the truth of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, and refused to participate, he, along with a few others, tried to inform other members of the community by printing The Nauvoo Expositor. In Joseph Smith’s journal, he recorded that he decided to destroy the Expositor’s printing press, which is a violation of the printer’s second amendment rights as well as local laws against destruction of private property. Joseph claimed that The Nauvoo Expositor was printing lies, but you can read what they printed in their one and only issue, and as it turns out it is true. Uncomfortable and not casting Joseph Smith in a positive light, but factual. Sometimes the truth hurts.

Part 5

Part 4

Part 3

Part 2

Part 1

Update 1/2015: Here are the recent essays from that discuss polygamy.

Polygamy Essay 1 (Early Utah Polygamy)

Polygamy Essay 2 (Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage)

Polygamy Essay 3 (Polygamy in Nauvoo)

8 Responses to “Mormon Journey Part 6: Polygamy”

  1. Camille says:

    I just listened to the mormon stories Daymon Smith podcasts and he goes into the details sourounding the manifesto and it was FASCINATING. Highly recommend.

    • heather says:

      I’ve listened to that one. I have to agree, it was very interesting. I keep trying to get other people to listen to it because it covers so much church history that I had never heard of, but I usually lose them at ‘it’s four hours long’.

  2. […] official website of the CoJCoL-dS has decided to tackle polygamy, and has officially admitted to some of the facts that used to be “anti-Mormon” to mention — with mixed results, kind of like the […]

  3. Janet says:

    Heather, kudos on a well-researched and eloquently written article. I “left” the church in 2005, though I hadn’t read any of this type of information yet. I had a spontaneous knowing that so many things that always felt “off” to me were false. I couldn’t manufacture a testimony and I couldn’t believe that a loving Heavenly Father would purposefully leave out most of his offspring, especially after I became a mother and experienced unconditional love toward my child – I realized there is nothing I wouldn’t do to continue to help him achieve his best and highest. Period. Ever.

    Now, years later, I am reading all of the deceit and misinformation and I’m appalled at how blinded I was my entire youth… your story fascinates me as it overlaps my own in so many areas. I look forward to reading more!

  4. […] faithful will argue, ‘Yes, there are some problems with polygamy, but it had to be restored for there to be a fullness of all things’. There is one big fat […]

  5. Jeremy Snow says:

    I’m not trying to defend Bernard Snow with regard to polygamy. He himself in 1674 wrote a letter saying he felt like he was “duped by polygamy.” I do want to correct a few family story errors.

    By 1869 Bernard had 6 living plural wives. He lived with and supported them all from 1869 though the mid 1870s, even though he had been excommunicated from the church in early 1870 over a financial dispute he had with Brigham Young.

    Around the mid 1870’s the last three of his wives (Sarah, Florentine, and Violet) divorced him. All three were divorced from him by the 1880 census. Around this time was when he wrote he felt duped by polygamy.

    In 1880 he was living in Frisco, UT with his third wife Mathilda Sorensen, whom he married in 1861. he lived with her because her children were younger and the two other wives, Alice and Anne, had older sons who helped support them. It also appears by this time he was only living with one wife in an attempt to “renounce” his former polygamy. However, he continued to write to the other two wives and send money when he could.

    From what I can gather from his personal letters, it appears that since he was excommunicated, most Mormons would no longer do business with him so he had to make a living in mining which was dominated by non-Mormons. The work was apparently hard and he wanted to settle down to farm, but did not feel he could do so because of the rejection he faced from the Mormons who dominated the agricultural communities.

    Thus in 1882 at the age of 60 he moved to Idaho with Mathilda. She was 37. They had a few more children there in Id. before Bernard died there in 1893.

    Again, I am not trying to defend him, just correct old family stories that are incorrect. Feel free to draw whatever conclusion you wish from the facts.

    Also, the photo is not of Bernard. I do have some photos of him if you would like.

    • heather says:

      Wow, I appreciate the information. I am always willing to stand corrected if someone backs it up with facts and sources. The story I related is what my grandmother and my mother told me on multiple occasions. I would be interested in a photo. If you could scan it and email it to me, I would appreciate it.

      • Jeremy Snow says:

        My family told similar stories believing he left UT because of polygamy prosecution. However, the polygamy prosecutions really didn’t start until 1882 after the Edmund’s Act was passed. By then Bernard had been excommunicated for 12 years and was only living with one wife for at least a few years. It’s taken me months of research to sort out his life and find the truth.

        I have the photos in digital format, but I don’t know how to attach it to your blog, but I could email it to you. You should have my email from the blog comments.

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