Wives of Joseph Smith

Over the course of 2015 I will be blogging about the various women believed to have covenanted with Joseph Smith. For each I will provide biographical background, along with what, if anything, is known of her life after Joseph’s death.

In evaluating allegations that women were “married” to Joseph Smith, it is important to establish what constitutes sufficient evidence that a woman should be listed as a “wife.” I have come up with the following “tells” that can give us a high-level view of the women whose names are associated with Mormon founder, Joseph Smith. The first four attributes speak to whether or not a marriage occurred. The second four attributes speak to what may have motivated the marriage and what the marriage meant to the woman after Joseph’s death.

Bride   Did reliable contemporaries consider the woman a wife?
ManWoman  Are details of the alleged marriage known?
intercourse   Was the marriage said to be sexually consummated?
baby    Is it said Joseph Smith had a child with the wife?
marriage   Was the woman sealed to Joseph after his death?
temple   Did the woman go to Utah after Joseph’s death?
vision   Was the marriage a subject of prophecy?
dynasty Did the marriage “bind” Joseph to important people?

In some cases, the woman died before she could have achieved the milestones of being sealed to Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo temple or traveling to Deseret with the Saints.

RIP The woman died before she could have achieved this milestone

Continue reading

Learning in the Light of the Gospel and BYU Law School

Robert P. George spoke at the BYU Commencement Ceremony this week where he was given an honorary degree as a doctor of law and moral values. You can watch the whole ceremony here, and read the text here.

George is a well-known conservative author who has written prolifically about religion, morality, and the institution of marriage. He is a powerful voice in favor of a continued role of religion in the public sphere. At his remarks today at BYU, he focused on a message that I thought was both prescient and powerful. He specifically spoke about the purpose of religious institutions of higher education such as BYU and the unique function they serve. While universities more broadly were once focused on teaching and communicating values, today even once nominally religious universities have fully embraced the secular ethos.

George identified four purposes for a university: Continue reading

Joseph’s Wives: Emma Hale

From December 2013 to August 2014 I wrote a series of posts on a Faithful Joseph, tracing a plausible history in which Joseph Smith didn’t keep his wife Emma in the dark, and rarely, if ever, engaged in sexual activity with the women he would covenant with.

This is the first post in the series Joseph’s Wives, describing each of the women believed to have been Joseph’s wife based on information from reliable contemporary witnesses. Of these, the first and most important to understand is Emma Hale. I have identified several “tells” which I plan to assess for each wife:

  • Are there substantiating details that contemporaries considered the woman a wife?
  • Are details of the alleged marriage during Joseph’s lifetime known?
  • Is there an indication that the marriage was sexually consummated?
  • Is it reported one or more children was engendered by Joseph Smith with the wife?
  • Is there a record that the wife was sealed to Joseph after his death?
  • Did the reported wife embrace Joseph’s teachings regarding covenant marriage after his death?
  • Was the marriage a subject of prophecy?
  • Did the marriage serve to “bind” Joseph to important families, so-called dynastic marriages?

The result will be a visual summary which can be used to assess the nature of Joseph’s marriages over the period of his lifetime. This visual summary and links to the posts describing the individual women will be posted separately.

Any discussion of Joseph’s wives must include Emma Hale, Joseph’s only legal wife, the only wife Joseph publicly acknowledged during his lifetime. Continue reading


In The Art of War, Sun Tzu offers some very relevant advice on retreating.

Paraphrased, he states that when attacking an enemy, you should leave them a way to retreat.  This has two advantages – if planned right, you can set up an ambush on the retreat path.  However, if you can’t do that, it’s best to allow them some means of escape, lest the enemy, knowing they must either fight or die, rise to heroic actions and do serious damage.

Similarly, if your army is hemmed in with no mean of retreat, let your soldiers know this, so that they might rise to heroic actions and perhaps even pull off a win.

It seems to me these principles have relevance to several current battles in the “culture wars.”

The Economist discusses young women, missions and education

The Economist magazine has a very interesting article on another side of the surge of young women going on missions. It turns out that as more young women go on missions, fewer are going to college, and the Economist says some people in Utah are concerned about this trend:

KAITLYN BOURNE, a 21-year-old student from Salt Lake City, Utah, recently returned from 18 months as a Mormon missionary in Atlanta, Georgia. Before going on her mission, she was studying a pre-medicine undergraduate degree at the University of Utah with a full scholarship. But when the Mormon church lowered the age at which young women can go on missions from 21 to 19 at the end of 2012, the idea of going consumed her. “It was a huge commitment, a really hard decision,” she says. “But after months of prayer and thinking about it, I realised I had to do it.”

Ms Bourne’s decision was hard—she had to give up her scholarship. Since returning, she has made plans to go back to university, but instead of resuming her pre-medicine course, she plans to study music at the Hawaii branch of Brigham Young, a Mormon university. Such decisions concern many Utahns. In seeking to expand spiritual opportunities for women, they fear that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be inadvertently reducing academic ones.

I think this article in the Economist, while thought-provoking, has a fatal flaw: it ignores the biggest crisis in higher education right now, which is that going to a four-year university for a BA degree is increasingly worthless.

Continue reading