For Eternity and Time

[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.]

Jonathan and Elvira

Jonathan Holmes and Elvira Annie Cowles [Holmes Smith] circa 1870, just prior to Elvira’s death

As the Nauvoo temple neared completion, the non-Mormons in Illinois tore down all pretense of civil protection for the people in Nauvoo.

First to go was the Nauvoo city charter, which had authorized creation of the Nauvoo legion. Lacking a charter, Nauvoo couldn’t even maintain a police force to protect against petty crime. 1

The next threat was the beginning of the “wolf hunts” that had been threatened in 1844, a euphemism for attacks on outlying Mormon settlements and dwellings. In the months before the temple was completed, the wolf hunt mobs burned over 100 homes. 2

There was an arrest warrant out for Brigham Young. Word came that federal troops were advancing on Nauvoo, coming up the Mississippi River. 3 It was a time of severe tension, and Brigham knew he would be responsible for moving his people west.

Brigham was faced with the question of what to do with women whose husbands had died. The women wished to be sealed to their beloved, departed spouses. But what man could be counted on to marry and care for a woman who was eternally sealed to another man?

And so Brigham apparently made a policy decision. If a woman wished to be sealed to a deceased spouse for eternity, she could–so long as the man standing proxy agreed to marry the woman for time.

Sealing Joseph to His Wives

The first endowments were performed in the Nauvoo Temple starting on December 10, 1845, as those previously endowed as part of the Anointed Quorum received the ordinances again in the temple. Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, and the other apostles worked nearly around the clock at the temple, working until 4 am that first day and sleeping for less than two hours before rising to continue the ordinances the next day. 4

The temple records for the Nauvoo temple are unique because not only was the date an ordinance was performed recorded, but the time of day was noted as well. So we get a detailed picture of the immense, time consuming effort it was for the Saints to receive their ordinances. These records are available to review in person at the Church Family History Library in Salt Lake City. 5

Brigham and Heber had already married several of Joseph’s widows for time starting in September 1844. One of the many responsibilities they had during these hectic months was ensuring that all Joseph’s wives had the chance to be sealed to Joseph in the temple. Apparently they came to the conclusion that a Church leader should stand proxy for Joseph for these sealings.

Thus we see Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, or some other apostle or high Church leader stand proxy for almost all of Joseph’s wives who choose to be sealed to Joseph in the temple. 6 We see that there are really only two exceptions amongst all the women who did choose to be sealed to Joseph in the temple. For the most part the women who were married to other men when Joseph Smith was killed continued as the wives of those men, independent of who stood proxy in the Nauvoo temple. We will examine the exceptions in the next section.

Wife of

Joseph Smith

Husband as of

June 27, 1844

Nauvoo Temple Proxy


Married to

Brigham Young

Louisa Beaman None Brigham Young
Eliza R. Snow None Brigham Young
Emily Dow Partridge None Brigham Young
Maria Lawrence None Brigham Young 7
Olive G. Frost None Brigham Young 8
Rhoda Richards None Brigham Young
Zina Diantha Huntington * Henry Jacobs Brigham Young
Mary Elizabeth Rollins Adam Lightner Brigham Young
Married to

Heber C. Kimball

Nancy Winchester * None Heber C. Kimball
Sarah Lawrence None Heber C. Kimball
Lucy Walker None Heber C. Kimball
Martha McBride None – widowed Heber C. Kimball
Sarah Ann Whitney * Joseph C. Kingsbury Heber C. Kimball
Presendia Huntington Norman Buell Heber C. Kimball
Sylvia Sessions Windsor Lyon Heber C. Kimball
Married to

Other Leader

Eliza Maria Partridge None Amasa Lyman
Desdemona Fullmer None Ezra Taft Benson
Melissa Lott None John Bernhisel
Agnes Coolbrith None – widowed George A. Smith
Delcena Johnson None – widowed Almon Babbitt
Elizabeth Davis Jabez Durfee Cornelius Lott
Sarah Kingsley John Cleveland John Smith
Lucinda Pendleton George Harris George Harris
Marinda Nancy Johnson Orson Hyde Orson Hyde 9
Married to


Helen Mar Kimball * None Horace Whitney
Elvira Annie Cowles * Jonathan H. Holmes Jonathan H. Holmes
Not Sealed

in Nauvoo Temple

Hannah Ells None 10
Almera Johnson None – widowed 11
Emma Smith * None – widowed 12
Fanny Young None – widowed 13
Patty Bartlett David Sessions 14
Fanny Alger Solomon Custer 15
Flora Ann Woodworth Carlos Gove 16
Ruth Vose Edward Sayers 17
Esther Dutcher Albert Smith 18
Mary Heron John Snider 19

Unique Cases Among Joseph’s Widows

As mentioned, most of the women who had husbands already when Joseph died remained with those husbands, independent of which man stood proxy in the temple. This seems to indicate that the proxy who was “married” to these already-married widows of Joseph Smith was serving some other role. I propose we think of these proxies as something like a “god husband” or a glorified home teacher. 20 In effect, they were to ensure the woman was properly cared for. As widows of Joseph Smith, the Church had both a particular responsibility to protect these women and a particular responsibility to husband them as a spiritual resource.

Those women who did not have a husband when Joseph died were taken on as the plural wives of whoever stood proxy.

There are a few cases, however, that bear examination.

  1. Emma Smith – I doubt Brigham Young or Heber Kimball approached Emma Smith about marriage in 1844, while she was pregnant with Joseph’s last child, David. By 1845 it had become clear that Brigham viewed Joseph’s estate as an asset of the Church, while Emma viewed Joseph’s estate as a resource to redeem Joseph’s debts and care for Joseph’s family. There was also the matter of Emma’s severe disapproval that the apostles were consummating their plural marriages. Between the property concerns and the plural marriage concerns, Emma would refuse to follow Brigham Young west and would refuse to be sealed to Joseph if that meant she had to allow a Church leaders to serve as Joseph’s proxy, with what that implied, in the Nauvoo temple.
  2. Elvira Cowles Holmes – It seems likely Brigham or Heber approached Elvira about becoming a plural wife. However Joseph Smith had specifically asked Jonathan Holmes to care for Elvira. 21 Thus it appears that Elvira declined to be sealed to a high Church leader. She lived out her days with Jonathan Holmes in relative obscurity, though this leads to Jonathan being the only husband of one of Joseph’s widows to serve in the Mormon Battalion. 22 Elvira drove the family wagon and team west from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City in 1847, and Elvira and Jonathan’s daughters married a handcart pioneer. Thus Elvira’s is the only one of the plural wives to link all the iconic Mormon trail experiences in a single family.
  3. Helen Mar Kimball – Helen was 14 when she married Joseph, and had resented the way this “marriage” interfered with her ability to socialize. It appears possible that Heber felt he could watch over Helen as her father, rather than requiring that she marry a high Church leader. Helen was allowed to marry someone her own age, the son of high Church leader Newel K. Whitney.
  4. Sarah Ann Whitney – Sarah Ann had been married to Joseph Kingsbury, and Kingsbury had recorded in his journal that he had “agread to Stand by Sarah Ann Whitney as Supposed to be her husband & had a pretended marriage…” 23 Kingsbury was Sarah Ann’s uncle, and it seems possible this pretended marriage was never consummated. It seems that Sarah could have remained the wife of Kingsbury had she so chosen, making the argument that her father as a high Church leader could ensure her future “Church career,” but apparently she determined it would be better to actually be married to a high Church leader in the person of Heber C. Kimball.
  5. Nancy Winchester – Nancy was only 15 when Joseph died and may have been as young as 13 when she became Joseph’s plural wife. Heber C. Kimball married her, and cared for her, but never consummated the marriage. 24
  6. Zina Diantha Huntington [Jacobs Smith] – Zina continued as Henry Jacobs wife, despite Brigham having stood proxy for Joseph. In this one case, Brigham, as Zina’s god husband if you will, determined that she was wasted as the wife of the mediocre, if faithful, Henry Jacobs. In time Zina agreed to leave Henry Jacobs and become Brigham’s wife in deed. Zina’s Church career flourished as one of Brigham’s wives, and she would eventually succeed Eliza R. Snow as President of the Relief Society, the most powerful position a woman could hold in the Church. As president of the Relief Society Zina had had more scope, in some ways, than male Mormon leaders, as this position gave Zina the ability to collaborate with women’s rights advocates throughout the United States.

Other Polygamous Families in Nauvoo and Beyond

By the time the Mormons were forced to abandon Nauvoo, some 196 men had between them married 717 wives. As the Mormons traveled westward, these men would take on an additional 417 plural wives. 25 These plural marriages were not openly acknowledged to “the world.” The Mormons would not come out as advocating polygamy until 1852. Less than forty years later, Wilford Woodruff would issue a document known as the Manifesto, declaring polygamy was over. In 1904, a bit more than fifty years after the 1852 announcement, Joseph F. Smith would issue a second manifesto, reaffirming the Church had abandoned the practice of solemnizing new marriages between living women and living men who already had a living wife.

However the twin excesses of Joseph’s many marriages and the vast “harems” of Brigham Young and other Church leaders resulting from the Nauvoo temple proxy sealing policy combined to warp the practice of polygamy during the 1800s. Aside from the impact these polygamy excesses had on the Saints themselves, Mormon polygamy caused extreme opposition from the United States government and her people.

The Mormons’ days in the “wilderness” of the American west were beginning.

Future Planned Posts:

Fifty Years in the Wilderness
Days of Defiance
God’s Strange Act: A Legacy


  1. Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy, p. 65.
  2. Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy, pp. 36, 70.
  3. Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy. Also documented at the Library of Congress, from research performed by Stephen Stathis circa 1978.
  4. Nauvoo Endowment Companies, Edited by Devery Anderson and Gary Bergera, exercpt available online at, retrieved 13 July 2014.
  5. When I viewed these records, they were restricted and could only be reviewed by those who either hold a temple recommend or those without a temple recommend who have obtained a recommendation from the bishop over the locality where they lived.
  6. See Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, pp. 4-9, and Brian C. Hales extensive research into the wives of Joseph Smith, available at, retrieved 7 July 2014.
  7. Though Brigham Young had stood as proxy, high Church leader Almon Babbitt apparently stepped forward to be the mortal husband for Maria, who died during the period when Almon Babbitt remained in Nauvoo as one of the three Nauvoo trustees
  8. Olive died in October 1845 before she could be sealed in the temple, but had married Brigham Young for time in the fall of 1844. A late report of questionable provenance indicates Olive bore Joseph Smith a child, but that she and the child both died [see Hale’s Joseph Smith’s Polygamy website for the details]. A possibility that could explain this report and the known date of Olive’s death would be if Brigham was the father of Olive’s child, a child that would be attributed to Joseph under levirate custom. Olive and the child could then have both died at the same time, consistent with a difficult delivery or merely the unusually high rate of neonatal infant mortality seen in Nauvoo during that time period.
  9. Initially sealed to Orson Hyde, later sealed to Joseph Smith and separated from Hyde
  10. Died 1845 with Eliza Snow at her side. Her death almost certainly occurred before December 10, 1845, when the first ordinances were performed in the Nauvoo temple.
  11. Almera married Reuben Barton after Joseph’s death – I am not aware of whether she was sealed to Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo temple.
  12. Declined to be sealed to any high-Church leader due to disputes over property and the doctrine of plural marriage as practiced by Brigham and the apostles.
  13. As Fanny was Brigham’s sister and an older woman, it is possible Brigham and Heber determined there was no need to provide her another “husband” to care for her and husband her as a Church resource.
  14. I am not aware of what sealings, if any, Patti participated in while in Nauvoo. Patti was in her fifties and a trusted mid-wife. She remained a mentor and confidant of the rest of Joseph’s wives, and was viewed as one who cared for others, not so much as one who needed to be “taken care of.”
  15. Married non-Mormon, left Mormon community circa 1837.
  16. Married non-Mormon in 1843.
  17. Had been sealed to Joseph with husband’s consent in 1843 in what was clearly an eternity-only sealing.
  18. Esther’s sealing to Joseph Smith during his lifetime appears similar to Ruth Vose’s sealing, however it seems her husband was not aware it had occurred. Esther was sealed to Joseph with her husband standing proxy in 1851.
  19. I don’t agree that Mary Heron should be listed as a wife of Joseph Smith, but include her here because others have listed her as a likely wife (Quinn, Hale) or possible wife (Compton).
  20. This idea of a proxy “husband” having little to do with the woman once they left the temple the day of the sealing is seen in the story of Mary Leamon, recounted in my post Making It Up versus The Scientific Method.
  21. Recounted in Wright letter provided to the Church in the early 1900s as well as Holmes family history.
  22. Melissa Lott would later marry a veteran of the Mormon Battalion, Jonathan’s colleague Ira Willis, but she was not married to Ira when he left to serve in the Battalion.
  23. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 351.
  24. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, P. 608.
  25. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “…but we called it celestial marriage”, p. 573. It is not clear if these additional 417 plural wives included plural wives of men who had not been among the 196 who had supposedly become polygamists in Nauvoo. For example, Wilford Woodruff did not take on plural wives until the fall of 1846.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for 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. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

33 thoughts on “For Eternity and Time

  1. You have clarified some complex issues here. I wonder how many of us would take on a lifetime ‘home teaching’ assignment.

  2. “But what man would marry a woman who was eternally sealed to another man?” You seem to imply it was an issue “back in the day.” Given our current sealing policies, isn’t it still an issue today?

  3. “If a woman wished to be sealed to a deceased spouse for eternity, she could–so long as the man standing proxy agreed to marry the woman for time.” I understand the policy decision. I’m just a little skeptical of the whole “home teaching” notion. Presuming these widows married were sealed to their deceased spouses then married for time to the men who stood proxy, we have a situation not wholly unlike today. A woman is sealed at 22, husband dies at 40, and she remarries (time only) another man at age 42, and they spend the next 40 years married. Given all I know about marital intimacy, both physical and emotional, I find it hard to believe the woman is willing at the end of those 40 years to just consider her second marriage as just having been “home taught.”

  4. It’s clear from the later marital histories of these women that the “home teaching” assignment was viewed by some as coming to an end when the parties had arrived in the Salt Lake valley or when the women secured husbands for themselves, as occurred with Agnes Coolbrith.

    In the case of Mary Leamon and Hezekiah Peck, it seemed Peck figured his duty was done merely by participating in the sealing ordinance, though it’s possible Peck extended pastoral care to Mary prior to her death in August 1846 and helped arrange for Mary’s children to be “taken on” by Joseph Leland Heywood.

    An understanding of this “glorified home teacher” or “god husband” concept untangles a lot of the marital confusion researchers like Compton posited for Joseph’s wives, where he describes them “leaving” their legal husband to marry the temple proxy, then indicating they “left” the temple proxy and took up again with their legal husband.

    All of this would have been less convoluted had Brigham Young left Zina with sweet, ineffectual Henry Jacobs. I’m glad Zina became Relief Society President, but the cost was dear to our ability to understand the history.

  5. Oops – our comments crossed. I guess we’re talking apples and oranges if you’re referring to women who were simply “being taken care of.” Given the large number plural marriages, and the fact that many of those marriages were consummated and that plurality continued to exist into the Salt Lake Valley, I’m still left scratching my head as to what it really means to “take care of” a woman. I know the sensibilities were different back then, but it seems the scriptural admonition to take care of the temporal needs of the widow and the orphan could have been solved with out “marrying” them out as plural wives. I don’t have to marry a widow if she needs her toilet unclogged. I can just go over there and unclog it. It seems like many of these plural wives were not really “taken care of” temporally as they struggled financially to get along. So why marry them off? How was a man supposed to provide for 5 or 10 wives?

  6. There are cases where people don’t understand the doctrine, and a woman being previously sealed to another man can cause stupid men to hesitate when given the chance to court a desirable widow.

    Brigham was faced with an unusually difficult situation. The people hadn’t fully embraced the bright-new doctrine and allowing the women to be left behind as “temple nuns,” if you will, would have led almost certainly to their loss from the Church body and possibly have led to their death.

    In an interesting way, we see signs of the temple proxies actually arranging marriages for the women they had taken under their protection. The most obvious case is Nancy Winchester, where Heber C. Kimball finds her a husband decades later, so Nancy can become a mother. I find the fact of her youth and Kimball’s unwillingness to bed her very suggestive that she was a victim of Bennett and the Strikers, which had likely included her brother, Benjamin Winchester.

    In other cases, such as the marriage between Brigham Young and Louisa Beaman, Brigham clearly took that one as a conjugal marriage, and produced five children with Louisa between their marriage in the fall of 1844 and her death of breast cancer in 1850.

  7. What is the criteria for determining Henry Jacobs as “ineffectual” and “mediocre if faithful”? Are these character reasons the rationale used by Zina to choose to listen to Young and/or Smith (unclear on the history…why I’m asking) in breaking up her marriage? Are these Young’s rationale? I guess what I’m trying to ask is what is ineffectual and mediocre enough to intefere with another marriage in that respect?

  8. If I’m looking at numbers right, the 196 men leaving Nauvoo had 717 wives among them, then picked up another 417 by the time they made it to Salt Lake. So, thats 1,134 women divided among 196 men, or and average of 5.79 wives per man. I know some men had many more than the average, so some men had less. Still, if most of these plural wives started having full blown consummated marriages, and the results were that many children were born, then the Jacob reference of “raising seed” starts to make sense. Seems some one else had posted some statistics that less seed resulted from plural marriages. But looking at it from a patriarchal standpoint, I would think the number of progeny produced per man far exceeded the national average at the time.

    Editing note: You might want to change the sentence that reads “Word came that federal troops were marching on Nauvoo, coming up the Mississippi River.” It’s pretty hard to “march” up the Mississippi:)

  9. “There are cases where people don’t understand the doctrine, and a woman being previously sealed to another man can cause stupid men to hesitate when given the chance to court a desirable widow.” Can you explain what you mean by this? Even Joseph Fielding Smith (or whoever wrote Doctrines of Salvation) warned a man against marrying a woman previously sealed to another man. What “doctrine” has changed, or what is the “doctrine” as you understand it? Since I don’t get the impression that you believe we’ll have eternal polyandry, what incentive does a man have to marry a woman previously sealed to another man? Look at the modern day apostles. Have any one of them married a woman previously sealed to another man?

  10. “I don’t have to marry a widow if she needs her toilet unclogged. ”

    This is kind of a strange argument that presupposes all levels of modern civilization, from toilets and sewers, to toilet paper, to running water, to devices to unclog toilets to stores to buy it all from.

    Whereas, the people we’re talking about had to make pretty much everything on their own. If you’ve ever grown a garden, you realize how much work it actually is. Now consider that all you’ll eat for the next year comes from that garden. We’re not joking about toilets here, but discussing a period where the people had to be completely self-sufficient and provide their own protection to booth.

    Really the most effective way to care for someone back then was to bring them into your household.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as society modernized plural marriage was increasingly untenable.

    Although, its interesting to note that in today’s economy, larger families with a father and a mother working outside the home would also be helped by additional “stay at home” parents.

  11. Really the most effective way to care for someone back then was to bring them into your household.
    I agree completely. But my impression is that for the most part, plural wives weren’t brought into one giant household. I think more often they still maintained separate residences. With the exception of the Lion House ( which had to have cost a chunk of money to construct,) I think your average run of the mill 196 men to whom Meg refers did not have all his wives under one roof. But, I will admit I am no expert on the logistics of how plural marriage was done back in those days.

  12. Hi Louis,

    I’m not sure how much detail Zina or Brigham ever documented regarding their respective reasons for deciding Zina should give up Henry Jacobs and become Brigham’s effectual wife.

    There was lore that a woman can move on to a better husband. Since there is no reason to think Henry Jacobs was a non-believer or abusive, I’m at a loss to imagine what could be the impetus for the marital shift other than a fabulously capable woman being yoked to a mediocre and ineffectual man (in Brigham’s and presumably Zina’s estimation).

    Hi IDIAT,

    Regarding the reasons for a man to marry a widow, this is precisely what we see a variety of apostles doing in Nauvoo. Although my study of current and recent apostles doesn’t show any who have married a woman previously sealed to another, I am familiar with patriarchs and temple sealers who have been married to women sealed to a previous husband. They didn’t presume that these previously sealed women would be theirs in eternity, but were pleased to spend the years they could in mortality with these lovely ladies.

    Back before 1072, a “second husband” not only got to be with the woman in question, he also got benefit of the property that had belonged to the prior husband. Served as rather the incentive for murder, actually. Which is why Saint Margaret of Scotland argued for the witangemot to change the marriage laws. Which led to women being cut off from any linkage to property.

    I read Joseph Fielding Smith’s comments as being prompted by something, possibly one or more women seeking a cancellation of sealing to a wonderful man who had died merely so they could be sealed to a second husband. A man who would demand a woman cancel her sealing to a prior husband who she loved is a man who needs to be told to shut up and back off. Without knowing what extreme situation prompted Joseph Fielding Smith’s comment, therefore, I am unwilling to take it out of context.

  13. Everyone in this early period of time was in wagons, so we are talking about people sharing a wagon box, under a single cover. When they got to Winter Quarters, the men were felling trees and erecting log cabins.

    Brigham had warned everyone to assemble a year’s supply of food, thinking that they would be able to make it from Nauvoo to the valley in the west in a single summer. It would take two full summers to get to the Salt Lake Valley, and hundreds died of black canker at Winter Quarters and the surrounding settlements during that first winter after 500 men (The Mormon Battalion) were sent to fight for the United States in the Mexican American War.

    Once the Saints reached the Salt Lake Valley, they put up a sod fort. So everyone was sharing the same quarters, eating sego lily bulbs, thistle root, and a nutty mash that was later revealed to have been a food made from roasted crickets and honey.

    The lack of food in those first three years turned pleasantly-plump women into scarecrows. The little they had, they shared with one another.

  14. I understand your point in saying “[those men] but were pleased to spend the years they could in mortality with these lovely ladies”, but why don’t we often consider the deceased husband or wife who is mourning not being with his lovely wife/husband and at the same time has to tolerate seeing their special ones sharing all the intimacies of marriage with another?

    I am married to a wonderful man in the SLC Temple. We often discuss this, and we concluded that eternal marriage means just that – a marriage that isn’t over once a party has died. Why then is it justifiable to marry another for time only when the original, eternal marriage is still in force?

    I need to know an answer to this. It is something that I take in faith as a member, but it still pains me to think about.

  15. I, too, know a patriarch and sealer who remarried previously sealed widows. But they and their wives are so thankful that we can now seal deceased women to all the husbands they had in mortality. These brothers don’t view themselves as ‘home teaching husbands’ or as some special friend with benefits. The wives don’t view their husbands or their second marriages as somehow inferior or less important than their first marriages. They have shared every kind of intimacy that can be shared in marriage and have kept all covenants made in the temple with their first spouse, and look forward to the day when they can accept the vicarious sealing done on their behalf. And, as we read in the Joseph Fielding Smith manual last Sunday, they too believe all marriages are meant to be eternal.

  16. Hi IDIAT,

    I know we have discussed this before, at length, but I don’t think Joseph Smith or Brigham Young envisioned a heaven where every man ever married to a woman is eternally united with that woman (eternal polyandry). As I recall, we’ve had the discussion where we surveyed the pronouncements by other prophets, and at that time you reluctantly conceded that you had no basis for thinking there will be polyamory in eternity. But you’ve no doubt slept since then, resetting your understanding back to your original hopes.

    And I need to clarify that I’m not saying the marriages between widows and proxies contracted in the Nauvoo temple were all of the “glorified home teacher” sort. Many of them were full-up marriages. I am just suggesting that when there is no evidence that the man and woman cohabitated or produced children, we should not presume that the “marriage” between a widow and the proxy for her husband was more than other evidence indicates it was.

    That policy, requiring that a widow marry the proxy for her husband, was only ever in force in Nauvoo during that terribly dangerous time. So there is absolutely no reason to even suggest that modern people being married in the temple for time should consider themselves merely ‘home teaching husbands.’

    As for whether there is someone out there who thinks their marriage to a previously sealed woman is an eternal marriage, note that the ceremony did not bind them for eternity, but only for the period of their mortal lives. When I married my current husband, the sealing to my first husband had not yet been cancelled (my first marriage ended in divorce, but civil divorce doesn’t automatically cancel a sealing, as the sealing also binds the righteous participants to God). Anyway, there is no way I could have gone away from that initial marriage ceremony thinking that my initial marriage ceremony to my new husband was for eternity. We had to go back to the temple a few months later, once my original sealing was cancelled, and have our marriage solemnized for eternity.

    Carolina, if a man or woman who has been sealed to a spouse who then dies wishes to remain “faithful” to that spouse, that is their option. My great grandmother, Eliza Roxie Welling [Taylor] did this. In her case, her deceased former-apostle husband had gone to his death in a state of excommunication. So it wasn’t so much that Eliza thought John would writhe in agony to see her in the arms of the doctor who loved her and wished to provide for her and John’s children. But Eliza didn’t want to give God or her children or anyone else the option of thinking she regretted her marriage to John W. Taylor. And so she accepted a life of solitude and grinding poverty to ensure that John W. Taylor was the only man anyone could ever legitimately link to her by sealing ordinances. John’s other five wives made this same decision.

    So Carolina, you are welcome to act on your preferences. But I sincerely hope you are never in a position where your beliefs in this matter allow you to deny a widow or widower the right to remarry. This seems like something you should talk with your bishop or relief society president about. They may refer you to someone else, like a temple president or a temple sealer, but I would start with them.

  17. I know, Meg, and I welcome your suggestion to meet with my leaders. Is just something that seems ‘odd’ to me, which is why I accept it in faith knowing that, in my mortal state, I will never know all the ‘why’s’ of this and other questions. To that end I strive to be genuinely be happy for those that do remarry. All I’m sharing with is what I have thought about the issue.

    I mean, wouldn’t it be kind of awkward to introduce to your eternal spouse the man/woman you remarried for time only?

    But that is beyond the point. All I want is another point of view from people who understand this issue in a different light. I will never say to a widow/er don’t remarry, but I will say to them if asked for my opinion to make sure the decision is made with the Lord and the spouse in the temple.

    Thank you, once more, for writing these articles and responding to my questions. You are doing a great service for people who need more details on Church History from an honest and good-hearted source.

  18. No, I haven’t slept. I think the challenge to you was to point to anything in current church writings or manuals that says women will have to choose but men won’t. And if I recall correctly, you couldn’t do it. Take the typical widow, sealed at age 22 to Husband 1. They are married 35 years when the husband dies unexpectedly. She remarries at age 60 to a widower, also previously sealed. They live well into their late 80’s then die. If all that matters is the woman’s first sealing, and the second husband was just some glorified caretaker, then there wouldn’t be any sense in having the sealing policy that allows them to be sealed vicariously. It would a total and complete waste of time. So, we do the sealing of that widow to her second husband. We now have a woman sealed to two men, at least on paper. There are a couple of options. Presuming we really believe what is sealed on earth is sealed in heaven, she’ll either accept the vicarious sealing and be sealed for all eternity to two husbands (eternal polyandry). I’m not saying that is our doctrine. I can’t find anything in modern church writings to say it is or is not, either. If she has to “choose” between Husband 1 and Husband 2, maybe she’ll ask that her sealing to Husband 1 be cancelled and she’ll spend eternity with Husband 2. Or, she might not accept the sealing to Husband 2 to begin with. My point in all of this is to challenge your mindset that the first marriage/sealing is the only one in life that matters, that it’s inconceivable that a woman might not want to spend eternity with her first husband. This is the attitude I am challenging. According to you, a woman could be sealed at age 22, and then be widowed an hour later, and no matter that she spent the next 60 years married to husband number 2, she would be “stuck” with husband number one. I disagree.

  19. Caroline,
    “I mean, wouldn’t it be kind of awkward to introduce to your eternal spouse the man/woman you remarried for time only? ”

    The way I see it, there shouldn’t be any awkwardness as the two should already feel they know each other well enough to welcome each other with open arms. One would know the other through observing, the other through memories. Not sharing any memories of a previous spouse, while likely very awkward from time to time, can do real harm to a marriage (likely both of them). You’re left to wonder, allowing fears to come in, like in Rebecca (the duMaurier book and Hitchcock Film, both excellent).

    For me, if I was widowed (perish the thought), whomever I found to marry would be someone I felt my wife could also love as deeply. Whomever she is would know she was joining both of us. If it does turn out that only one marriage would be honored, then we can take joy in whatever marriage that person we love does end up in, even if we’d miss her. (and yes, the same would hold true if my wife were to remarry, though she plans on spending her life as a single sister missionary if I go first).

    Anyway, that drive a bit off topic, but I thought it was pertinent to your question.

    If it were necessary now, I could see being married to someone in law only, to give them protections of the law. Cora Birdsall could have likely benefitted from a “time only” husband, as it appears her voice as a woman, even a woman in the Church, was not as important as the voice of a man not in the Church. There are also the benefits of having an additional support structure when being alone and very far from the family you were born to, as was the case with many who emigrated for their faith.

  20. “As for whether there is someone out there who thinks their marriage to a previously sealed woman is an eternal marriage, note that the ceremony did not bind them for eternity, but only for the period of their mortal lives.” You do know that we can seal a deceased woman to all the husbands she had in mortality, right? And surely you’re not trying to say the sealings we do vicariously are not as “valid” as those done for the living?

  21. IDIAT

    I was not aware of that. One of my uncles is a GA, and he has said that a woman can only be sealed to one man. It seems odd that, in the eternities, a woman may have more than one spouse. How would one know who is the father of children born from such union?

  22. IDIAT,

    There is absolutely nothing to support that a woman may be sealed to more than one man in eternity.

    You have wrested the fact that we’ve moved to a “seal everyone” approach for posthumous ordinance work as an indication that all those sealings will be valid, resulting in complex overlapping polyandry.

    But then what of the situation where someone made a mistake, and a sealing in the temple was performed posthumously linking a woman to her grandfather’s children (actual situation). This is not a sealing you would expect to have honored in eternity, I presume.

    As far as I’m aware, you are the only one arguing that any ordinance performed in the temple will necessarily be binding in eternity. Thus an allowance for multiple sealings for a woman (to avoid analysis paralysis and vehement family fueds) is seen by you as confirmation of eternal polyandry.

    You accuse me of saying a woman who has been sealed to a man who dies a moment later would then forever be bound to him, even though she might remarry and spend the next 80 years with someone else. That is not what I am saying.

    I know the Church will allow a cancellation of sealing so that a woman can be sealed to another husband in the case where the husband involved in the first sealing is divorced from the woman seeking to be sealed to another man.

    I am not sure if the Church allows a cancellation of sealing when a prior husband died merely so the widow can be sealed to her subsequent husband. That is a question one could ask. However in a case where a woman has spent a lifetime with a man to whom she was unable to be sealed, she can request/insist that the sealing be performed posthumously, and work with the Lord on how that gets adjudicated in heaven.

    In the case where a woman was sealed to a man who, for whatever reason, is unfit to be her husband in eternity, the woman will be given a chance to have another spouse, presumably of her choosing.

    On these matters, I’m not terribly worried. I figure in the highest heaven we will be focused on God’s work and we will know of the great love we have for one another based on our prior eternities together. We will know as we are known, and I can’t imagine anyone in that realm having a problem with the mutual decisions of God and the man and woman involved in an eternal marriage.

    To quote or at least paraphrase Elvira Cowles, who spent at least 25 years married to the biological father of her children after less than 13 months in an apparently unconsummated marriage with Joseph Smith, “We will be in His kingdom, and He will do all that is right.”

  23. Sorry if you didn’t know that, Caroline. It’s in the “rules” of Family Search and been in the Handbooks since 1998. A deceased (and I stress deceased) woman can be sealed to all husbands she’s had in mortality. A living woman can only be sealed to one man at a time. I would think “gods” in the eternities, who are omnipotent and omniscient, would know exactly who the father is.

  24. Caroline,

    I would stress that it is IDIAT’s opinion that these posthumous sealings will factually link an individual woman to all her husbands for eternity. I don’t know of anyone other than IDIAT who thinks this will be true.

    If it were possible for a woman to be eternally sealed to multiple men, then there would be no reason for all the fuss and bother caused by cancelling sealings for women who have been divorced from the man to whom she was initially sealed. I realize this is the sort of inferential reasoning IDIAT is using.

    However IDIAT is inferring from proxy work where there is a distinct negative impact (analysis paralysis at the least) if we insist on only sealing a woman to one of her earthly spouses. How do descendants decide which spouse she “should” be with? Particularly when they might not even know her name?

    I, on the other hand, am inferring from a practice that is directly overseen by the head of the Church and which involves significant effort for each sealing cancellation approved.

  25. I’m not saying all vicarious sealings are “binding.” According to the handbook, they are “binding” if the parties accept them and honor the covenants associated with that ordinance. Hence my reference to whether the deceased woman and man “accept” the sealing done on their behalf vicariously. But what I’m telling you is that I know widows and widowers who have remarried who have indicated they want their sealing work done and they have every hope and intention of accepting that sealing done on their behalf. The theme of “all marriages are meant to be eternal” is repeated often. It’s even in the Gospel Principles manual. It’s not qualified in any way. Leaders don’t say “All marriages are meant to be eternal except where a woman ends up happily marrying two men.” Obviously there will be a ton of sealings that will be ineffective because of the lack of righteousness of one or both of the spouses. So, there will be a ton of juggling to do in Spirit World. But I still think you err when you think people are getting married, even at a later age, as just a matter of “convenience.” Question: Have you ever heard a leader say that first sealings/marriages are important, but that anything beyond that is not important or of eternal significance? I haven’t. In fact, the same “obligations” that exist between a couple during a first marriage are the same obligations that exist between the surviving spouse and a subsequent spouse by way of remarriage. The first and second marriage are, at law, indistinguishable. The only thing separating them in a church sense is that one is for time and all eternity, and the other for time because a living woman can’t be sealed to more than one man. But after she dies, that “eternity” aspect is fixed vis a vis the vicarious sealing. All that’s left to occur is the acceptance of the sealing by the parties. I won’t pretend that all people in all second marriages will accept that sealing done. But, I believe there will be plenty who will.

  26. The “fuss” about sealing cancellations occurs because of the sealing policy that says a living woman can only be sealed to one man at a time. When and if you ever find a clear, concise, unambiguous reason for that policy written in an official church publication, let me know. I’ve been looking for 30 years.

  27. IDIAT,

    I believe you are a one man band here.

    When you talk about people who wish to be sealed to a subsequent spouse, have you explicitly clarified that they expect to be polyandrously (or polyamorously) linked in eternity?

    To me this appears to be one of those doctrinal issues, like whether or not infant baptism is correct, that would be worthy of a letter or conference address.

  28. And when you ask if I am aware of a leader who has said that subsequent marriages are not of eternal significance, I’m not sure who you would accept as a leader. However Don Redd, who was at the time our stake patriarch and a temple sealer, made it clear at the funeral for his previously sealed wife, Winn Redd, that he fully expected her to be with the husband to whom she had been sealed in eternity.

  29. Meg – FWIW – please don’t interpret my comments as “arguing.” I certainly don’t have all the answers. I have never stood at the pulpit and proclaimed a doctrine of eternal polyandry. But all these issues beg the very question: Why do we allow men and women to marry after the death of a spouse to whom one has been sealed? I can run through a list of temporal reasons (sex, companionship, financial aid, physical help, etc) But the moment you start trying to apply those reasons, you realize those are the same reasons that applied to why one got married in the first place to Spouse 1. Then you realize that in marrying Spouse 2, you will have the same exact obligations and rights as you did in marriage one to Spouse 1. If you’re living a faithful and righteous life, that means you should feel for and treat Spouse 2 exactly the same way you felt for and treated Spouse 1. Obviously things would be “different” in the different marriages because we’re all unique. But the general obligations of love, support, fidelity and assistance would be the same. As I’ve read statements by church leaders over the years, I have never discerned a feeling that one should treat a second marriage or second spouse any different than a first marriage and first spouse. They then become “equal” and not dependent on whether one has been married for one day or 50 years. What’s a person to do who’s been married to Spouse 1 for 30 happy, wonderful years, then to Spouse 2 for 30 happy, wonderful years? I really don’t know. But I think, at a minimum, the sealing policies are in place to allow the possibility for something that we might not quite understand about the patriarchal order. I can’t put my finger on it. But when leaders say “we just don’t know how things will shake out,” I think they’re open to some possible non-traditional relationships, some extended meanings of “family” in the hereafter. The threadjack of your post is officially over.

  30. Hi IDIAT,

    You and I may be using different definitions of argue.

    I am not using the “angry” definition of argue. I am simply pointing out that you consistently and persistently present your viewpoint that there will be eternal polyandry and/or eternal polyamory as part of the fabric of the highest heaven. You indicate that this is something you present to non-members as a “Joseph Smith was pretty avant gard and edgy when you think about it” kind of idea. This is a theme that you’ve hit on constantly since I started blogging here about Joseph Smith and polygamy.

    Here is a page that includes non-angry definitions of argue.

  31. Hi Frank,

    Thank you for your link to the series at Keepapitchinin about Cora Birdsall. I look forward to following the rest of her saga.

    From some of what I’ve read, it appears that some husbands were worse than no husband (e.g., Annie Tanner’s A Mormon Mother). So it isn’t clear Cora’s case would have necessarily been improved by having a husband involved.

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