About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for over four decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation, and is working on a midrashic treatment of the events in Nauvoo associated with early polygamy.

Eliza and the Stairs

[This post is part of a series on Joseph Smith's Polygamy. To read from the beginning or link to previously published posts, go to A Faithful Joseph.]

Eliza R. Snow, circa 1850

Eliza R. Snow, circa 1850

Eliza Snow is arguably the most prominent woman in early Mormon history. Though Emma was Joseph’s wife and help-meet, Eliza Snow would go west with the Saints. She was an adviser to Brigham Young, president of the Relief Society, and was influential in the formation of both the children’s ministry (Primary) and the youth ministry (now called Young Men and Young Women). Eliza was prominent in the campaign that won female suffrage in Utah in 1870 – fully fifty years before all women in the rest of the United States would receive the right to vote. 1

Besides all these accomplishments, Eliza Snow was regarded as a prophetess, and her hundreds of poems were treasured, whether they conveyed doctrine (e.g., the concept of a Mother in Heaven conveyed by the hymn “Oh My Father) or comforted those who had recently lost an infant. 2

Eliza as Deceitful Seducer

In 1984 Doubleday published Mormon Enigma, a biography of Emma Smith written by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery. In 1984 there was great excitement about a number of previously undiscovered documents from early Mormon history, including documents painting Joseph Smith as a being committed to a magical worldview, telling of a vision of a white salamander, and documenting Joseph’s use of magic to dig for money.

As Linda Newell and Valeen Avery put together their view of Joseph’s wife, Emma, they used these new documents to inform their understanding of the man Emma loved. They found Joseph to be a flawed man who wedded and bedded women behind Emma’s back. The betrayal Val Avery felt Joseph had practiced caused her so much distress that she could only write about Joseph and these women for a few minutes before she would literally feel the gorge rise within her. Val would vomit, then go lay down to regain her composure enough to write for a few more minutes. 3 The women Newell and Avery believed Joseph had bedded were anathema. Of all Emma’s friends Newell and Avery said bedded Emma’s husband, Eliza Snow was the worst. She was Emma’s confidante in the Relief Society. Emma had taken Eliza into her own home. In return, the authors believed, Eliza had betrayed Emma by sleeping with Emma’s husband under Emma’s own roof. Continue reading


  1. Wikipedia article on Eliza Rocxy Snow, available online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliza_Snow, retrieved April 15, 2014.
  2. Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry, edited by Jill Mulvany Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson, 2009.
  3. Recounted by Jan Shipps in private conversation on May 23, 2010 in the home of Gregory Prince, documented in my post “Mormon Enigma (ex ante), available online at http://www.megstout.com/blog/2010/05/24/mormon-enigma-ex-ante/, retrieved April 15, 2014.

Ordain Women: A Husband and Wife Respond


My husband, Bryan, shared with me a comment he posted on Kyleigh Ruth’s post titled Ordain Women: thanks for nothing. Which prompted a spirited discussion. Below is my attempt to capture the discussion in less than 2000 words. The 40 minute podcast in the link above represents us talking to one another live, informed by the text below and our original conversation.

We offer this as a window into the kinds of discussion and manner of discussion taking place in at least one Mormon household where we view each other as equal but different. Continue reading

The Apostles and Their Wives

[This post is part of a series on Joseph Smith's Polygamy. To read from the beginning or link to previously published posts, go to A Faithful Joseph.]

Vilate Murray [Kimball]
(Daughters of Utah Pioneers)

There are various stories recounting that Joseph told men to give their wives to him. Alternately, there are instances where a woman who was married to another man then entered into a covenant relationship with Joseph Smith.

For the moment we will deal with events that appear to have occurred prior to January 1843. In my prior post, The Angel, the Sword, and the Heron Seduction, I discussed Joseph covenanting with three women who were married to other men. These ladies were Zina Diantha Huntington [Jacobs], Presendia Huntington [Buell], and Mary Elizabeth Rollins [Lightner]. DNA analysis of descendants shows none of the children these women birthed 1 is actually related to Joseph Smith. Therefore it is reasonable to speculate that these “marriages” were ceremonial in nature. Joseph’s “marriage” to the Huntington sisters appears to have been partially based on the command from the angel with the sword and partially inspired by Dimick Huntington’s desire to link the Huntington family to Joseph Smith in eternity. Mary Elizabeth Rollins’ “marriage” to Joseph was based on the command from the angel with the sword and the urgency caused by Joseph’s early fears about the seductions taking place in Nauvoo.

In 1842, Joseph “marries” four additional women who are already married:

Sylvia Sessions [Lyon],
Patty Bartlett [Sessions],
Elizabeth Davis [Goldsmith Brackenbury Durfee], and
Sarah Maryetta Kingsley [Howe Cleveland].

As discussed in Wives of Sorrow, it appears these women acted as detectives during the hunt for the men seducing women in Nauvoo. These “marriages” then were a combination of Joseph teaching the correct doctrine and swearing these women to secrecy in pursuit of the men and women teaching or believing false doctrine about the nature of marriage and sexuality.

By summer 1842 Bennett had been exposed as ring-leader of the sexual predators. Bennett counter-attacked Joseph in the press, claiming Joseph was the one who had been propositioning women. As with all the most effective lies, there was a kernel of truth. Joseph had been talking with women about the New and Everlasting Covenant. However Joseph’s aim does not appear to have been the easy sex Bennett and his ring of Strikers had elicited from the hapless women of Nauvoo. This easy sex was the kind of sexual misconduct Bennett was accusing Joseph of seeking. Bennett supported his assertion by telling a story alleging Joseph had made improper advances to Sarah Pratt, wife of his apostle, Orson Pratt.

Bennett’s tale about Sarah Pratt would prove a double-edged sword for the apostles in Joseph’s church, as well as their wives. Continue reading


  1. Obviously DNA analyses are only possible for those children who lived long enough to have children themselves. However those wishing to imagine Joseph as a sexual partner to these women are left with no data to support their hypothesis.

A View of Keys

[This is the first time I am adding a podcast of a post. To listen, click on the left side of the bar below, and the mp3 will load, then start to play. To pause, simply click the left side of the bar again. I think this isn't a very good skin, but it works...]


A Graphic of Elder Oaks' address on Keys

A Graphic of Elder Oaks’ address on Keys

I thought it might be useful to put up a graphic representing my understanding of Elder Oaks’ address at Priesthood Meeting. My apologies that this graphic isn’t beautiful.

Clearly I’ve adapted the traditional astrological symbols for Mars and Venus here. The little plus sign at the bottom of the circle derives from the distaff, the tool women traditionally used to support flax before it is woven – a symbol of the creation of products that has been a traditional role of women. Obviously women also perform the primary labor of producing children (gestation, birth, lactation). Plussing up the population of mankind, if you will. I made this symbol gold because it is wonderful.

The arrow in the traditional symbol points off to the side and represents a spear (vary male and phallic). In this graphic, however, the arrow is a sort of umbrella pointed towards God, representing both the umbrella under which all Church service is performed as well as the salvific ordinances that can reunite mankind with God. I made this blue. No reason. Continue reading

Sangamo and Pratt

[This post is part of a series on Joseph Smith's Polygamy. To read from the beginning or link to previously published posts, go to A Faithful Joseph.]

Orson Pratt, 1851 Engraving

Orson Pratt has figured only lightly in the account until now. But the events following John C. Bennett’s departure from Nauvoo would throw Orson painfully into the spotlight.

After the Church publicly withdrew fellowship from Dr. Bennett, Bennett approached the editor of the Sangamo Journal, a Whig newspaper in Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois, the State Capital. The editor of the Sangamo Journal, one Simeon Francis, had ruthlessly assailed Bennett in the press only weeks before. But Bennett convinced Francis that an expose against the Mormons would help the Whigs defeat the Democrats in the upcoming election.

The initial letter was a kitchen sink of accusations, containing allegations of treason, political tyranny, attempted murder, sexual misconduct, and about every other un-American deed Bennett could think of. But the stories Bennett knew best were stories related to sexual intrigue. These stories also appeared to capture the imagination of the public. The most damning of these was Bennett’s tale alleging Joseph had attempted to woo the wife of one of his own apostles, Orson Pratt.

Orson Pratt

Orson Pratt was one of the original members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in Joseph Smith’s Church, ordained to his position in 1835. Many in the original Quorum apostatized due to the turmoil of the financial collapse in Kirtland and Oliver Cowdery’s allegations regarding Joseph and Fanny Alger. One was killed in the mobbings in Missouri. Those who survived and remained faithful had been sent on missions abroad.

Orson had been in Europe as a missionary during the first months of John C. Bennett’s presence in Nauvoo. While John C. Bennett was putting in place the Nauvoo City Charter, Orson was in England, preaching and publishing in Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Manchester. While Orson Pratt was preaching without purse or scrip, Bennett was having Sarah Pratt wash his clothing, sew his shirts, and make his outer clothing. 1

It is likely during this period of time (May-July 1841) that Bennett formed the opinion that Sarah Pratt “made a first rate go.” 2 Continue reading


  1. Rick J. Fish, Orson Pratt in Nauvoo, 1839-1845, May 1993, available online at http://jared.pratt-family.org/orson_histories/orson_pratt_in_nauvoo2.html, retrieved 27 March 2014.
  2. “Affdavit of J. B. Backenstos,” Affidavits and Certificates, Disproving the Statements and Affidavits Contained in John C. Bennett’s Letters. Nauvoo, Illinois, Aug. 31, 1842, “Personally appeared before me Ebenezer Robinson acting Justice of the Peace, in and for said county, J. B. Backenstos, who being duly sworn according to law, deposeth and saith, that some time during last winter, he [Backenstos] accused Doctor John C. Bennett, with having an illicit intercourse with Mrs. Orson Pratt, and some others, when said Bennett replied that she made a first rate go, and from personal observations I should have taken said Doctor Bennett and Mrs. Pratt as man and wife, had I not known to the contrary, and further this deponent saith not.” Available online at http://www.josephsmithspolygamy.com/JSImproperProposals/16ImproperProposalsAccusations/SarahPratt2.html, retrieved 27 March 2014.