[This is the third post in a series. To read the series from the beginning, go to A Faithful Joseph.]
It is impossible to truly understand Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding plural marriage without understanding the environment in which he was operating. Medicine was primitive, histories could be hidden, weird sex was rampant, and visions abounded.
Having explored a possible doctrinal purpose for restoring the possibility of plural marriage, let me share three stories that capture the environment that existed prior to Joseph Smith that also inform my hypotheses about Nauvoo in the 1840s.
We modern folk forget how primitive medicine was in the first half of the 1800s. Even as late as the Civil War, medical procedures were barely more advanced than the medicine practiced during Christ’s lifetime. Alleged advances included practices like injecting tobacco smoke into the orifices of an unconscious person to revive them – literally blowing smoke into their, er, large intestine.
Doctors in the early 1800s didn’t know about bacteria and germs. America wouldn’t accept “modern” ideas about sanitation and antiseptic procedures until after the death of President James Garfield from blood poisoning in 1881.[ref]Garfield was shot on July 2 and passed away on September 19. Autopsy proved that cause of death was infection from his medical treatment under the hands of Dr. Bliss, prompting the saying “Ignorance is Bliss.” Though Lincoln gets the credit for healing a divided nation, historians consider the extended agony of the respected Garfield to be the event that actually healed the nation. As to the topic at hand, Garfield upheld the position of Rutherford B. Hayes that practicing polygamists should lose citizen rights, though the Edmunds Act was not passed until after Garfield’s death.[/ref] While surgical procedures did not always result in death, any institutional use of surgical medicine prior to the age of modern antiseptic procedures was likely to result in high rates of death.
However, an occasional surgery could be surprisingly effective. Enter Dr. Jesse Bennett.[ref]There is no known relationship between Dr. Jesse Bennett and Dr. John C. Bennett, though they didn’t live terribly far from one another, by modern standards.[/ref] In 1794 Bennett had arranged for another physician to attend the birth of his first child. To Bennett’s horror, it soon became clear that the child could not be delivered vaginally. The attending physician refused to do anything to save the mother (by crushing the head of the infant to allow delivery) or the child (by cutting the mother open to remove the child). The physician left, after advising Bennett to leave the matter in God’s hands.
Alone with his wife, sister-in-law, and two black servants, Bennett decided to act. He placed a rough plank across two barrels upon which he laid his wife. By candlelight he cut her open, removing his daughter and his wife’s ovaries. Under his watchful eye, his wife recovered from the surgical wound and lived to the 1830s. However Dr. Jesse Bennett refused to publicize the details of the surgery during his life, knowing other doctors would never believe a woman could survive this hazardous operation.
In prior posts I’ve talked about the limited means available to a sexually active man to avoid impregnating his partner(s). But it bears emphasizing that surgical means of eliminating problematic pregnancies were particularly unsafe at that time.
I repeat this story for another reason. Dr. John C. Bennett played a prominent role in 1840s Nauvoo, both for good and ill. The great secret Dr. John C. Bennett kept from his Nauvoo associates was his marriage and the estrangement between him and his wife. I propose that garbled news of the death of a wife of Dr. J[esse] Bennett could have both caused the rift between John Bennett and his wife, as well as confused the later LDS inquiries into Dr. John Bennett’s past.
We live in a time when our identities are known with unimaginable precision. But in the early 1800s each valley was a world unto itself. If a couple decided they didn’t want to be together, they could remake themselves and their history, particularly when migrations and remote frontiers often meant there was no legal record a marriage had existed in the first place.
In this era of un-imagined marital freedom, several religious movements emerged with radical ideas about the nature of marriage. Ann Lee and her Shakers decided that true discipleship required giving up sexual relationships. John Noyes established the Oneida Community, which practiced “complex marriage” involving liberal associations between men and women, though men were expected to practice sexual continence.[ref]aka Coitus reservatus.[/ref]
However the marital heresy most entwined with the history of Mormon polygamy is Jacob Cochran’s Spiritual Wifery. Cochran allegedly taught that to be truly Christ-like, believers should hold all things in common, including spouses and children. Men in leadership positions were expected to “interview” their assigned spiritual wives regularly, and the women were expected to receive these men gladly, even though the assignments between partners could and would shift frequently. The children resulting from these “interviews” were to be loved and cared for by the community without condition. Cochran’s followers at one time numbered in the thousands and it was said he had assigned fully half of the females in his community to himself at some point in time.[ref]Ephraim Stinchfield wrote his observations of the Cochranite Delusion in 1819. Cochran would spend four years in prison for what the state deemed gross lewdness.[/ref]
To our ears, spiritual wifery and plural marriage sound like synonyms. But Cochran’s free love spiritual wifery turned women into sluts while Smith’s concept of marriage turned women into queens (albeit potentially sharing their “king”). However, the nominal similarity between Smith’s polygamy and Cochran’s teachings is (and was) confusing to many.
Numerous early members of the Church were either former Cochranites or neighbors of Cochranite settlements in Saco, Maine, and Grove, New York. Neighbors hardened against the excesses of Cochran and his followers included Oliver Cowdery’s brother Warren (LeRoy, NY) and Austin Cowles (Bolivar, NY). Understanding that key Church leaders were intensely opposed to Cochran’s heretical marriage practices casts a new light on the Kirtland apostasies, the persecutions in Missouri (where Danites advocated death for dissenters, like Cowdery), and the defection of those who wrote the Expositor in Nauvoo.
Faith and Visions
Lastly, let me leave you with something I believe is uplifting. We focus on Joseph’s vision in the grove, citing it as the First Vision, as though no one else ever had a vision of God and Christ. But Joseph was not the only visionary.
Some find it disturbing to hear of others having visions, as though the possibility that others were having visions in some way reduced the value of Joseph’s vision. But I believe it is informative to see how others handled their vision, particularly Robert Carter III, arguably the richest man in America during the Revolutionary period.
In 1776/1777 smallpox raged throughout the American colonies. Thomas Jefferson arranged to have his wife inoculated against smallpox in Philadelphia while working on the Declaration of Independence. George Washington had his soldiers inoculated, as more were dying of smallpox than in battle against the British. Robert Carter did likewise, subjecting himself and his family to the frightening inoculation process, which involved cutting into healthy flesh and injecting either infected pus or scabs.
As Robert Carter battled the fever the inoculation had produced, he had a spiritual experience that would change his life. According to his biographer Carter saw God the Father and Jesus Christ.[ref]Andrew Levy is Carter’s biographer. Information about Carter’s vision was conveyed during an author Q&A session and reported by Tanya Evans, who was in attendance[/ref]
This vision prompted two responses. First, Carter became obsessed with attempting to discover the most correct of the available churches. For many years he aligned himself with the Baptist faith, when black and white, bond and free worshipped equally together. As Baptist congregations became less egalitarian, Carter migrated to the Church of the New Christ based on the visions of Swedenborg.
Second, Carter developed a gradual schedule for freeing his slaves, hoping to manumit his slaves without opposition. But persecution became heated, including the possibility that Carter was tarred and feathered. Carter fled Virginia, never to return. Despite Carter’s absence, the scheduled manumissions continued. Over 450 slaves were freed prior to Carter’s death, and the scheduled manumissions continued after his death, freeing the children who had been born into slavery prior to his death.
Even the richest man in America could not escape persecution because he obeyed a divine vision that emphasized freedom of all mankind and the importance of family. Bigots didn’t just pick on poor itinerant farm boys.
Beyond my fascination with Carter himself, I’m intrigued by a possible link between Carter and Jane Manning, the black convert who lived in Joseph’s home in 1843/44. When Emma asked Jane to be sealed to Joseph as a daughter, Jane refused, unwilling to supplant her own father. And Jane’s last name is the same as a trusted colleague of Carter’s in New England, the area where Jane and her family joined the Church. Something about the missionary message compelled her to join – could it have been a similarity to Carter’s experience?
Next week I will explain the year of intense searching that Joseph endured after the initial 1831 revelation regarding plural marriage.
New Post: Precursors to Joseph’s Polygamy: [This is the second post in a series. To read the seri… http://t.co/iCBS28YZuG #LDS #Mormon
TheMillennialStar: Precursors to Joseph’s Polygamy http://t.co/3Qz2fvbLAH #lds #mormon
“But Cochran’s free love spiritual wifery turned women into sluts while Smith’s concept of marriage turned women into queens (albeit potentially sharing their “king”). ”
How do you support your characterization of Cochran’s polyandry as turning women into “sluts,” when it is egalitarian, and polygamy is schauvanist?
A typical modern person, when confronted with JS polygamy, can’t help but see it as extremely demeaning towards women. But that perspective immediately changes when one learns that he practiced polyandry as well. Suddenly, JS is seen as an extraordinary progressive and pioneer of women’s rights. I think most today would characterize women in polygamy as more sluts than women in polyandry.
I suppose even modern folks would consider a woman waiting at her door to service whatever man walks in to be akin to the situation faced by modern sex slaves. There did not appear to be an option for Cochran’s women to choose who “serviced” them.
Committed polygyny produces an artificial shortage of women, a social phenomenon that is correlated with deference towards women and improved protections for these women and their offspring.
Sounds to me like Cochran and his male followers just expected women to lay down and spread their legs to accept all comers. Which kind of sounds like what I hear of modern expectations of sexual relations. It appears women are now willing to spread it for any individual, including individuals with whom they would never consider actually spending their life or raising children.
Perhaps you are right, that modern peoples would find in Cochran’s teachings the comfort of familiarity, and find eternally binding committed relationships to be demeaning to women. Then again, modern people aren’t known for their acute understanding of social science.
Very well written post, Meg. Thanks for this.
Meg, I am leaving a comment on Bruce’s post regarding marriages ages in the 19the century that you may find interesting.
Well written Meg. I also had the same question that Nate did, so thanks for the answer. That said, it seems we are in a second era of anything goes sexuality while passing judgement on the previous generations.
Meg: I am interested in your point of view about plural marriage and what might have brought it about. I also believe many others may have had visions for their own benefit and learning. Andrew Levy does not say anything in his book about Carter seeing a vision like unto Joseph Smith’s.
I realize I might have forgotten the part about the hallucination he saw that he called a vision and that it changed his life. But none of his, Carter’s, writings say it was anything but a bright light and sound. Andrew Levy is not a trained historian. The information Tanya gained or came to believe by being a guest at a lecture on a book that calls Carter a founding father who was forgotten because he freed his slaves, was just her opinion.
Carter was not in any way a founding father. He changed his life and became an avidly religious man. He even joined groups that would persecute the Mormon church for years after its founding.
I look forward to you next installment. As I find your views interesting.
“Committed polygyny produces an artificial shortage of women, a social phenomenon that is correlated with deference towards women and improved protections for these women and their offspring.”
This assertion goes contra-expectation. Could you provide some supporting evidence?
Alas, Tanya is unavailable to comment on her interpretation of Levy’s lecture. I shall have to reach out to Levy himself, untrained as a historian though he be.
Independent of what Carter thinks he saw during his fever, I am fascinated by how he was persecuted for doing what modern folks would applaud (freeing his slaves). Many look at Joseph and say, “serves the money-digging ignorant nobody right, all the persecution he suffered for his arrogant visions and social experiments.” But Robert Carter III was not poor, nor lacking knowledge, nor a nobody. Yet he was attacked in a manner rather reminiscent of the attacks on Joseph.
As for being a member of groups that persecute, my great-grandmother insisted my then-not-married parents go see her nephew, Sterling Welling Sill. She was horrified that her grand-daughter would even consider marrying a Chinese man, and expected Sterling to put a stop to the nonsense. Sterling tried, pointing out all kinds of objections (that were realized in my parents’ marriage). But ultimately he gave them his acceptance of their choice, and off to the LA temple they went, to be sealed in a state where their marriage would be considered legal. Speaking more broadly, most of my mother’s female ancestors married men who horrified their mothers. I think I even managed to do that in my first marriage. And yet we are all ultimately children of God, and in the best hope we will all gather to His bosom in eternity.
As to the objection to Levy characterizing Carter as a founding father, I don’t believe I repeated that phrase in my post, nor did I even insert the title of Levy’s book in the footnotes. One might infer from that reticence that I share your views on the subject. I suppose you inferred the “founding father” bit from my mention of the contemporary actions of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, who happened to be acquainted with Carter.
Very interesting post, Meg. Thank you.
Regarding the events that prompted Joseph to initially believe plural marriage was something he was commanded to implement (if briefly), I’ll cover that in next week’s post. I suppose you missed the 8/22/2010 Sacrament Meeting where I talked about the 1831-1832 revelations Joseph had. Brother Updike complimented me on that talk, which since you knew Lisle might surprise you as much as it did me.
“Committed polygyny produces an artificial shortage of women, a social phenomenon that is correlated with deference towards women and improved protections for these women and their offspring.”
Do you have a source for that? Valerie Hudson, and others, have produced lots of data to the contrary. A shortage of women leads to more violence, and pushes marriage ages down for women. India and China are currently obvious examples of the rise in violence against women when there is a gender imbalance.
Brigham Young used to leave a chalk mark on the doors of his 56 wives, signaling which one would be servicing him that night. Serial monogamy aside, that doesn’t sound a whole lot different than Cochran on other note.
Thanks for the info on Cochran. What I basically was suggesting was that “complex marriage” or polyandry puts men and women on an equal level, and shouldn’t lead to any shortage of men or women. I’m not sure of the patriarchal elements practiced by Cochran.
But I wonder if Joseph Smith had more utopian, commune style ideas is mind when he married other men’s wives. Your post suggests that these ideas may have been in the air at the time, since sexual law of consecration was being practiced by others. Brigham Young style polygamy seems to have nothing to do with these utopian experiments, and was practiced in an extremely traditional, hierarchical way, as you would expect of a primitive society. But Oneida and Cochran were sexual/spiritual revolutionaries, and I think so was Joseph Smith.
Hi M Miles
The first chapter of Martha Howell’s Women, Production, and Patriarchy in Late Medieval Cities is an interesting read on the topic of how pre-industrial economies (such as the one that existed in early Utah, I submit) managed marriage and transference of property. Howell concurs that shortage of women seems correlated with reduced age of brides, but she is talking average bride ages in the mid to late twenties being reduced to the late teens (pp 16, 18-19).
The original paper I read is something I came across online a while back, and I can’t quite put my hands on it at the moment. Which is why I should blog more frequently and include links and footnotes…
In India and China there is a perceived excess of people and women, even though there are not as many women as men in younger age groups. There are a variety of other factors in play. When people perceive there to be excess people, life becomes cheap, particularly in the current zeitgeist where it is believed that overpopulation risks the health of certain societies and the planet as a whole. To misquote Scrooge, critics of overpopulation urge the excess “to rather die, and decrease the surplus population.” Neither India nor China is known for the kind of innovation and emphasis on individual value that characterize Mormonism and other European cultures. So while I admit these two largest populations don’t conform to the expected shortage of women pattern, I submit that there are other factors in play. Do you have any reason to conclude that violence against women would be less intense if there were a surplus of women in these cultures?
Brigham was special.
You are confusing a woman being expected to accept any random bloke to her bed with a specific bloke attempting to regulate his conjugal visits with his wives. Being a member of a harem of 20 visited once a month or so is different from being an individual sex slave expected to service 20 men in a day (or even merely multiple random men during a month). Same numbers, different location in the denominator and numerator positions in the equation.
I know it’s math and therefore complex. But perhaps you are right and I’m the only one who sees the difference between Cochran and Brigham Young.
I don’t subscribe to the notion that Joseph was a sexual innovator like Cochran and Noyes. In my view he was doing his best to do the minimum he thought required to meet the commandment he believed he was under. Ironically I think for him that meant avoiding sex with anyone but Emma, but compensating by covenanting with far more women than any sexually active polygamist with a lick of sense would ever have considered appropriate. Brigham inherited the magnitude of women portion of Joseph’s legacy along with actual sexual and financial responsibilities. Which is probably why he had to resort to marking his place with chalk to attempt to manage everyone in something approaching an equitable manner.
If I were playing a game in which I was attempting to minimize the shortage of men and women, I’m not sure that the rules you are proposing would actually achieve the end you posit they will. When you say polyandry, I think you mean polygamy in its broader sense of both polygyny and polyandry. But I see no evidence in the record that anyone in Joseph’s day actually practiced sexual polyandry (aside the from the Bennett sex ring, and exploitation of any available woman isn’t the same thing as polyandry, in my mind). Joseph was sealed to women who had husbands, but there is no reason to think Joseph and these husbands were actually hot bunking with the women in question.
I really appreciate your well thought out point of view. As always, you rock.
I wanted to throw out a few thoughts of my own on this, especially on some of Nate’s comments.
First of all, I think the division between Joseph and Brigham is artificial. I think I can buy into the idea that Joseph was more innovative, so if he had lived, who knows what new directions polygamy would have taken. (Though I do NOT buy the idea that he was secretly going to discontinue it as per the William Mark’s comments that liberal historians gleefully quote over and over. Pleeeasssee! I swear Joesph Smith seems to have had the most remarkable ability to confess to being a fraud, a murderer, or that he had been deceived to pretty much everyone that eventually left the Church while not confessing to a single person that didn’t. It is a remarkable run of bad luck!) Though honestly, “what Joseph planned to do” is more liberal speculation than intellectual honest assessment of history.
But the simple truth is that Brigham Young seems to have implemented Joseph Smith’s vision of everything he knew from Joseph with a amazing amount of fidelity. This includes implementing a very limited form of polyandry. In fact, the *only* documented case of sexual polyandry that exists in the historical record was under Brigham Young (though not *by* Brigham Young — he just suggested it to someone else) and not under Joseph Smith.
I think where Nate is going with this is that — even if Joseph never did consummated his marriages to civilly married women — that this was an early introduction to polyandry that might have been either fully introduced later on (a version of the “what Joseph might have planned” theory) or maybe only a hint of how things actually will be in heaven.
I confess I’ve toyed with the idea that heaven includes some complex families and that polygyny on earth and ceremonial polyandry (or even real polyandry in at least one case) marriages might have been ‘hinting’ of this. So since my mind has gone straight where Nate’s has, I am not going to argue that this is an inappropriate interpretation. But obviously we’re talking massive speculation here.
One huge difference between Joseph and Brigham and their implementations of polygamy was that Joseph died young. So he didn’t really have to work through all the social structures necessary to do a full implementation. So, Nate, I’m not sure I can buy into your idea that Brigham was “more traditional” and Joseph “more innovative” in that sense. It’s far easier to “innovate” at first when you don’t have to do the full implementation like Brigham did.
The fact is that I’ve long suspected that Joseph’s ‘polyandrous marriages’ might well have been unconsummated precisely because not a single man complains about it. Since they always seem to have known and consented to the marriage at some point and knowing the very extreme *sexual* jealousy evolution has built into men (women are of course also sexually jealous, but studies have shown far more emotional jealousy in women and sexual jealousy in men) its really hard to believe that Joseph somehow successfully consummated a dozen polyandrous marriages and no man went on record about it much less actually murder him.
But it is far easier to believe that since men tend to not be so emotionally jealous (if their wives have a best male friend that they aren’t sleeping with, it’s a bit uncomfortable, but not the end of the world) that if they thought of the marriages as unconsummated in mortality that they might have put up with it. The fact that they were all Protestants that has no expectation of being married forever in the first place when they entered into their civil marriages might also have reduced the feelings of jealousy (though I suspect they still existed) to the point where it was manageable.
Likewise, we do find the women in these cases writing about how they felt and why it concerned them. But since women *are* highly concerned about “emotional infidelity,” that makes sense that they’d fret over it at first even if the marriages were unconsummated.
So what I’m trying to say is that we need to probably give Brigham a break even if Joseph had intended to implement true polyandry in the future because frankly polyandry is well known to be hard to implement that polygyny. Polygyny is quite common through history and while it probably did involve many cases of force, it is a mistake to assume that anything even close to 100% of the cases were force. There was often very strong economic reasons for a woman to desire polygamy over monogamy. When I was reading Marco Polo, I noticed that being married to the great Khan seems to have genuinely been seen as a more than fair exchange compared to monogamy to a poor peasant boy. By comparison polyandry is extremely rare throughout history and only happens with there is such a huge shortage of women that it becomes necessary to avoid everyone killing everyone else. Then (according to Steven Pinker) the moment the shortage ends the ‘second man’ immediately goes off to find a real wife.
Again, evolutionary forces all but dictate this in a pre-DNA testing world. Men that are ‘just okay’ with polyandry immediately drop out of the gene pool where women that are okay with polygyny do not. This will be true regardless of how egalitarian it seems.
So, Nate, you can’t even assume on this front that Brigham was merely being ‘more traditional and less innovative’ than Joseph. If Joseph did somehow manage to get actually full on polyandry (including sex) to work for a bunch of men, doing that for a short period of time is nothing like doing it long term. So it’s still an wildly unfair comparison.
And finally, there is actually a pretty straightforward explanation for why Joseph introduced so many people to polygamy. If he believed he was supposed to start a polygamous society because God was commanding it, you can’t marry two women and hope people see it as a good example — especially if you’re still doing it in secret! You basically have to introduce as many people as possible as quickly as possible to polygamy. That might mean consummated marriages (the traditional view of many of Joseph’s wives), unconsummated marriages (Meg’s alternative view and also believed about a number of Joseph’s marriages even by the most die hard anti-Mormon), ceremonial marriages, dynastic marriages, etc. You simply go full bore making sure as many of the faithful as possible are already included in polygamy in one way or another as quickly as possible. So it’s not surprising that Joseph married so many women. Whether or not this was then a good idea for Brigham to follow suit is a bit less clear to me. But you can hardly say he wasn’t being faithful to what Joseph Smith had taught him.
Also, I have often thought that the best analogy for a woman marrying Brigham (or HCK) was probably a bit more like entering a Mormon nunnery than a full marriage. A woman with very strong religious interest (or thinks she has anyhow) might enter into a large scale polygamous marriage knowing full well that she is exchanging a certain kind of relationship for another kind. (I’m sure some women just didn’t know what they were getting themselves into as with Sister Webb.)
We don’t write books called “In Sacred Loneliness” about Catholic nunneries, though of course that would be a much better fit for the approach that book used. It’s a little hard for me to believe that having a man a bit in your life is somehow lonelier than choosing complete celibacy.
Of course, the big difference in perception is whether or not you believe the women made a choice to enter into the relationship or if you believe they were forced. Todd Compton wanted to take the stance that it was always forced and made his best case to that effect. Thus the title of the book. But if you don’t agree it was always forced, then the idea of a “Mormon Nunnery” does make a better analogy.
So — try not to laugh — a “Mormon Nunnery” wasn’t that much different than a Catholic one. You lived a life of ‘almost celibacy’ (unlike most Utah polygamous marriages, which only had two wives and thus was nothing even close to celibate) that was seen as a sacred duty that involved raising children — your children! — that also came with certain perks of influence amongst the religious. (There is no doubt that Brigham’s wives on average has an amazing religious status amongst believers for their sacrifice, not unlike a nun. Though there are some sad cases where you wonder what the woman was really getting out of it — and this also happens with Nuns…)
So that some women chose to marry Brigham isn’t maybe all that amazing after all and probably doesn’t require Compton’s assumption of force to get the whole process started.
I also realize that liberal authors tend to assume that “I did it for religious reasons” is an unacceptable reason. I’ve seen liberals argue that, say, the LDS Church “needs to do more” to save marriages that get torn apart over religious differences (often with froth and furry on their lips) but wholly buy into “irreconcilable differences” or “it just didn’t work for me” as a legitimate reason for a divorce in any non-religious case. So even if the woman did ‘want’ to marry Brigham for religious reasons I think a liberal historian might have a hard time in some cases not still seeing that as force in some way since ‘religious duty’ is an unacceptable reason in the first place.
Just a minor point: if any of Jefferson’s family was in fact inoculated against smallpox in 1776, while he was working on the Declaration of Independence, it probably occurred in Philadelphia, where he was serving as a member of the 2nd Continental Congress, and not in Boston, which had been occupied by the British until March of that year.
“ but she is talking average bride ages in the mid to late twenties being reduced to the late teens (pp 16, 18-19).”
And that is most definitely a problem. Girls getting married in their late teens are more likely to die in childbirth, for instance, and have less education and financial opportunities—even in early Utah. I also submit it is quite a stretch to say Utah was not industrialized at the time as well.
“ So while I admit these two largest populations don’t conform to the expected shortage of women pattern, I submit that there are other factors in play. Do you have any reason to conclude that violence against women would be less intense if there were a surplus of women in these cultures?”
I used these cultures as examples because they are well documented in the media. But the same thing can be seen in indigenous cultures in Brazil. Violence against women is on the rise in places (India and China too) where gender imbalances are also on the rise (take, for instance, the Caucasus). It is well documented across disciplines of anthropology, sociology, and political science that gender imbalance leads to more violence. I have seen no evidence in my studies of to the contrary. That isn’t to say there are not other factors, but I see zero evidence to you theory that women and children are more protected where there is a shortage of women. Rather than submit a hypothesis that is not based in evidence, I’d really be interested to know where your theory is coming from.
“You are confusing a woman being expected to accept any random bloke to her bed with a specific bloke attempting to regulate his conjugal visits with his wives. Being a member of a harem of 20 visited once a month or so is different from being an individual sex slave expected to service 20 men in a day (or even merely multiple random men during a month). Same numbers, different location in the denominator and numerator positions in the equation.”
So are you suggesting in Cochran’s case that there were so many men that 20 men a day was normal for a woman? This seems hard to believe—the gender imbalance would have to be enormous—which, by the way, would back up the idea that a gender imbalance leads to more violence against women. There is a difference between BY and Conchran, but perhaps not as big a one as is being portrayed.
“In my view he was doing his best to do the minimum he thought required to meet the commandment he believed he was under.”
If you think 34 wives is the minimum required to meet the commandment. People who support the notion of asexual polygany and polyandry seem to discount evidence to the contrary.
“If you think 34 wives is the minimum required to meet the commandment. ”
Hidden in my long comment above I pointed out that, yes, that would be required to implement the command if by ‘the commandment’ you mean “create a polygamous society by introducing as many people as possible into it as quickly as possible.”
Some reads on the topic:
Hudson, Valerie M. and Andrea M. Den Boer (2005) “Missing Women and Bare Branches:
Gender Balances and Conflict,” Environmental Change and Security Program Report, 11: 20-24
Hudson, Valerie M. and Andrea M. Den Boer (2002) “A Surplus of Men, a Deficit of Peace:
Security and Sex Ratios in Asia’s Largest States,” International Security, Vol. 26, No. 4, 5-38
I appreciated your comment, and agree with it, mostly.
Hi Mark B.,
Looking at the Monticello site discussing inoculation it seems you are right about the probability of Philadelphia in 1776 (facepalm).
Hi M Miles,
I cannot immediately locate the scholarly paper on the impact of gender imbalance. I may have come across that piece in conjunction with my son-in-law’s graduate studies at Marymount, and he hasn’t returned from vacation. I would submit that the oft-cited benefits of polygamy during the latter 1800s (reduced need for women to resort to prostitution to support themselves, for example) are amongst the benefits to be considered. Mormons in the 1880s didn’t appear to be enacting violence on their women, based on my studies. Life was crappy, but that was true just because it was the stinking west in an insular population dealing with economic blows like the Mormon War and Brigham’s willingness to allow livestock and fields to die rather than yield to the invading federal forces.
Amongst my folks, unwanted marital situations could be terminated easily when desired; women, children, and orphans were cared for; meaningful skill-stretching employment was found for all available hands, and a woman of merit had the chance to be recruited into a family by not just a man with sexual desire on the brain but an entire group of adults who were assessing the emotional, physical, social, and economic merits (and needs) of the woman being invited into a family. There were multiple examples (again in my families) of women cherishing their female friends and therefore wanting these women to remain part of the family construct to retain the close friendships they had previously enjoyed (sisters-in-law, mothers to their husband’s ward, blood sisters, etc.).
I don’t know that Cochran sent multiple men to an individual woman at the same time, but the descriptions I’ve encountered indicate the women were to receive whoever came to them as part of their purification from the possessiveness associated with traditional marriage. Once Bennett and his ring started seducing women in Nauvoo, we have an indication that relations occurred with more than one man present in the room with a woman (though it’s not clear this was necessarily a menage a trois). Also Catherine Fuller Warren testified that she had been party to sexual encounters with multiple men of Bennett’s group, including John C. Bennett, Chauncy Higbee, and William Smith, who had “taught the doctrine that it was right to have free intercourse with women and that the heads of the Church also taught and practised it which things caused her to be led away thinking it to be right.” Again, this need not have been multiple individuals at the exact same time, but was certainly multiple individuals in quick succession. Gustavius Hill was another of the Bennett conspirators [Van Wagoner , Mormon Polygamy: A History, pp. 24-25].
I do take the liberty of convolving the Bennett ring with Cochran’s teachings, since they seem so inconsistent with what Joseph himself is known to have taught. However many students of this period of Mormon history have come across all these weird factoids bundled together in a single group, so will not appreciate that the two sets of behavior are severable.
If you consider the possibility that Joseph was attempting to obey the commandment by teaching lots of people within the bounds of a ceremonial covenant rather than actually being a polygamous husband to multiple wives, then I think as you consider who the women were, you can see that he had a compelling tactical need to explain the doctrine to each of those women, evaluated on her own merits. But there’s plenty of time for me to cover that in future planned posts.
Pardon me for being totally off-topic, but I notice that you have a sideline in aquaponics. Would love to hear a little more about that if the admins here will let you.
Hi M Miles,
Looking at the papers and proceedings, we are talking about gender disparity in cultures where girls are either culled (infanticide, selective abortion) or allowed to die due to neglect of females relative to males. Again I submit that violence against women in these societies is a continuation of a spectrum of anti-female cultural practices. As an eldest child of a Chinese father, I have experienced at least a hint of the “you’re a girl, you’re not good enough” cultural bias.
This artificial gender disparity due to institutional devaluation of females is different from a society where females are valued but a bit scarce. After the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth, you don’t see reports of gang rapes against Priscilla Mullins and the maidservant, Dorothy. By my count, there were something like 104 marriageable men living in or passing through the settlement and only these two girls – quite an extreme gender disparity. Dorothy apparently was able to marry Eaton without any power struggles and Priscilla was allowed to marry the unusually young cooper from the Mayflower, John Alden.
I would also submit that violence against women in cultures that has created the gender disparity by fatal violence against female infants is also implicit violence against the powerful men on the part of the tens of millions of excess men denied a legitimate part of the reproductive future of their culture. After a while, the powerful men potentially decide they want some of the fun as well (if the violence isn’t against their own women, who cares, neh?).
Hi Adam G.,
In my other lives I do lots of cool things. One of my roles is Chairman of the Aquaponics Association (all you preppers should completely check that out) and I wrote the 2013 Complete Idiot’s Guide to Aquaponic Gardening. My paying job is being a fed, though I wasn’t at work the day idiot boy shot up the Navy Yard and killed a bunch of great folks, including the guard only separated from my office space by a glass panel.
If you are only talking about Mormons in early-Utah, please don’t make broad claims that polygamy leads to less violence and better outcomes for women and children. Even if your claims in this thread are meant only to address the early Utah period (although the JS/Nauvoo period is also addressed), and as much as I’d like to think that there was less violence, given the fact that Utah culture is not outside the rest of society in most social attitudes, I’m skeptical.
“ I would submit that the oft-cited benefits of polygamy during the latter 1800s (reduced need for women to resort to prostitution to support themselves, for example)”
This is cited by apologists—First, there isn’t contemporary data to back up this claim. Actually, in many contemporary societies polygamy leads to prostitution. And, as in China and India, a sex ratio imbalance has not at all lowered prostitution levels, but the opposite has happened. Beyond this, I have personally talked to prostitutes who would rather be independent and prostitutes than be married in a polygamous marriage, often a very patriarchal set-up. So supposing prostitution is less likely, that hardly means it’s necessarily better for women.
I’m not sure how you are using the term ‘valued’ when suggesting women in China and India are not valued, but in other societies they are-but scarce. There are plenty of societies where women are ‘valued’—as in not killed and seen as useful—no epic proportions of infanticide/ selective abortion-and a scarcity is created via polygamy. I assure you, I have seen close up that this doesn’t protect them from violence or early marriage. Further, if polygamy is economically protective, then the society isn’t fair to women in the first place—that is the only viable option a woman has to support herself (even in early Utah where she can move around families at will).
Lastly, in Utah it wasn’t even illegal to rape your wife until 1991 (and Utah has a higher than average rape rate). Although early Utah women were relatively free to choose another family for economic gain, given the facts, I’m skeptical there was less violence against women; and if there was less violence, I see zero evidence it had to do with polygamy.
Meg: “a ceremonial covenant rather than actually being a polygamous husband to multiple wives.”
Meg, you seem to find solace in the idea that JS practiced polygamy and polyandry on purely a ceremonial level, not a sexual one.
But this really is no solace for a true Mormon, who should be primarily concerned with heaven, not earth. It doesn’t matter whether relationships were sexually consummated in this life or not. The reality is that these are ETERNAL marriages. Whatever happens on earth pales in significance to the infinite expanse of eternal polygamy that forever faces these women sealed only to Joseph Smith, some who lived and bore children with other husbands they fell in love with.
Why the heck would Joseph seal a bunch of already married women to himself, effectively stealing them eternally away from their loved ones? That’s what these dynastic marriages mean. Who cares whether they were consummated on earth? That’s meaningless when compared with eternity.
The only true solace that can be found, when looking at these stolen wives, is that in fact, eternal polyandry, the sharing of two or more husbands will exist in the eternities. Then these dynastic wives will get to be eternally with their beloved earthly husbands, AND with Joseph Smith. Who could ask for anything more?
Otherwise, JS is guilty of living the parable of Nathan to King David: the rich man, with many flocks, steals tge poor man’s only lamb, kills it, and gives it to the traveler. Joseph didn’t have enough in his eternal harem he had to steal from others?
*Beyond this, I have personally talked to prostitutes who would rather be independent and prostitutes than be married in a polygamous marriage, often a very patriarchal set-up. So supposing prostitution is less likely, that hardly means it’s necessarily better for women*
What a load of hoohah.
Hi M Miles,
By the way, my name is Meg, derived from Margaret, not Megan. My mother felt compelled to name me after her mother, but she strongly disliked her mother at the time, so couldn’t bear to call her tiny precious daughter by a name she despised. So Meg it was (inspired by the spunky character in Little Women).
I assume the women you are talking to who would rather be independent prostitutes rather than plural wives are ladies in Asia, as I don’t know of any America location where this kind of conversation seems likely (the intersection of resisting plural marriage in a strong patriarchy where being an independent woman by means of selling one’s body is the alternative). I know there is plenty of human trafficking in the United States, just that it seems these two alternatives would not be the ones at the top of the option list. However if you are discussing a conversation you’ve had with a woman in America, that is interesting.
There’s actually a relatively rich and documented history of legalized prostitution in Utah. The vast majority of these prostitutes were not Mormon and were not refugees from polygamous families. There were charitable homes set up to accept Mormon women who wanted to flee the marriages everyone presumed were horrific, but these refuges were infrequently utilized (if at all?) by the supposedly suffering Mormon women.
The trope of Mormon polygamy even launched the entire Sherlock Holmes franchise. I find it hard to believe that there really isn’t any contemporary data (or lack of data) supporting the position that Mormon women had greater rights than common elsewhere in America during that time. They had the vote, they had a political vehicle (Relief Society) to effect efforts to ameliorate bad situations, there were trained female doctors at a time when the rest of America didn’t do this. Early Mormon women were advocates of national improvements in women’s rights, and friends and partners in this cause with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
I think polygamy sucks in general. I quite agree with Jacob on that point. But I do believe there was a reason why a loving God might have required a brief spell of plural marriage if eternal marriage is a valid pattern in Heaven, and if baptism of the dead by the mechanism of bringing families together is the means for effecting the commandment and promise of Malachi 4:6.
As a woman who has been subjected to abuse, I know violence can happen in the richest county of America when monogamy and good laws and women’s resources and every other beneficial social program are available. My Mom said when she’d hear a news story about some woman being beaten or killed during that time, she often worried I was the one it was happening to. We actually have some really funny stories from that period of time. For example, my then-husband complained to my mother that we were trying to kill him. Not sure why he thought complaining to my mother was a good idea, but she is very much in the “love all children of God” camp. When we discussed this amazing claim later, my sister snorted, “Of course we don’t want to kill him. If we wanted to kill him, he’d be dead.”
I’m interested to hear the causal chain by which polygamy leads to prostitution in current societies. I think this may be that the patriarch supplements the family income by selling the services of his lower-status women? Whatever the causal relationship you are seeing in modern situations, I am curious that you project this same causality back onto those involved in plural marriages in the Mormon settlements of the 1800s. I would be particularly interested to hear if you have data (or even anecdotes) that these abusive patterns were statistically prevalent in the Mormon colonies.
Utah is a weird place, with some odd laws. I was shocked to hear how trivial (six weeks, no contest) it is to get a divorce in Utah (where I live the couple must be separated at least six months, a full year if children are involved). And of course my parents couldn’t legally be married in Utah, though my mother would claim it would have been legal had she been marrying a reptile. Probably not something that happened often enough for anyone to craft a law making it illegal, I’m guessing.
As for rape in Utah, the 2011 statistics on forcible rape put Utah around the middle of the pack, with a rape rate roughly 2/3 that of Colorado. In the eastern state where I live, the rate is 2/3 Utah’s rate.
I have the feeling that you are arguing against a Meg who isn’t saying what you think I’m saying. This is the constant challenge with written communications over the internet. If you’ve read the entirety of this series, I think you would see that I’m not arguing that polygamy is good, per se. In fact, I’m trying to point out that the common sordid assumptions about Joseph’s practice of polygamy are questionable. Since American practitioners of polygamy and Mormon men tend to be influenced by what they think was going on with Joseph, I’m actually arguing that they’re very wrong to assume they have license to behave as they have presumed is appropriate.
You seem to believe in a God so rigid on honoring covenants made here on earth that He will force individuals into partnerships that are not their ultimate choice in eternity.
Based on that rigidity, you would prefer to believe that God will allow complex marriages in heaven, to allow individuals to enjoy eternal marital relationships with all those they loved on earth.
I personally don’t subscribe to the idea that God will force anyone to honor an earthly partnership that is not ultimately their choice. And I don’t see any doctrinal or theological basis for your hope that eternal marriages will include complex marriages (monogamous, polyandrous, and polygynous marriages).
Of course, I’m cool with whatever God actually does. He (if you’ll allow me to use the masculine singular for our concept of God) doesn’t have to play by my rules.
Regarding Adam G.’s comment about hoohah, I think he means that marriage to a single individual carries less risk of disease and violence on average than selling oneself to whomever has means to pay.
Goodness, I even find it is much more comforting being at a dance with my husband as partner than the varied range of skill levels and sweat levels and groping levels I experienced when single. But my current husband was on the BYU ballroom dance team, so that might account for my reported level of satisfaction.
In the event that the marriage is horrific, it ought to be possible to walk away from the marriage, allowing a woman to “upgrade” in case she finds her individual marital experience to be less desirable that the experience a prostitute might expect. Good and well, but I don’t think M Miles is talking about marriages the women are able to escape, at least not alive.
Meg: “You seem to believe in a God so rigid on honoring covenants made here on earth that He will force individuals into partnerships that are not their ultimate choice in eternity.”
I’m just trying to understand these countless “eternal” marriages as having some kind of meaning beyond a pointless “trial of faith” that will simply be dissolved in the next life. These women were honored to marry JS, and would rather follow God and His commandments than eternally with the earthly husbands they loved.
I’m not rigid on the ordinances themselves however. I subscribe to the Swedenborgian idea that the level of heaven we attain will be a reflection of the desires of our hearts.
I think my position is actually more flexible than yours, because according to the sealing records, these women were sealed eternally to JS, and only for time to their true intimate partners. So eternal polyandry is already a speculative belief. However you adhere to the rigid cultural notion that God would never allow a woman to have more than one husband in heaven. I recognize that notion reflects your idea of heaven, but it is not everyone’s idea of heaven. In the D&C, the rational for polygamy is based on the language of desire: “if a man desire to espouse a virgin…” And the language of abundance: “I will bless him and give him flocks, herds, mansions, wives, children…”
So these marriages were a reflection of JS’s desires. How shall he be denied the desires of his heart, since The Lord declared them to be upright, and his sacrifice to be acceptable? JS will have as many wives as he wants, and there will be as many women as he wants willing to marry such a man.
I think I expressed that I’m cool with whatever God does. I express my preference for the LDS worldview because the God that I’ve experienced in my life has pointed me in that direction.
If in a future time we’re all in heaven and I’m in a place where marriage matters, and God tells me that in addition to the lovely man I knew I was sealed to in life He’d also like me to accept my first, wife-beating, husband into my household (everyone having repented and been purified, etc.) I’d say yes.
I don’t think that’s the way these things work. But as I said, I’m cool with whatever He wants.
Concerning the mechanism to prostitution: it was in Central Asia. Women are sometimes married very young into polygamous marriages, and the family is very violent. Violence against women is socially acceptable, even by, if not especially by, women themselves.. When the home becomes too violent, the girl leaves, or in some cases is thrown out. She then become a prostitute.
I’m not trying to project current practices back to Utah, I’m kicking against your blanket statement that polygamy is more protective for women and children than monogamy. How so? You haven’t shown how except to say there wasn’t prostitution. So you are saying if my own family was bad, I could agree to go live with another man and sleep with him instead. That isn’t so protective. It’s a system set up in such a way that a woman cannot live without agreeing to sleep with a man–in one case it’s one man at a time, in other cases it’s several. You are projecting your own values that sleeping with one man is better than sleeping with several for economic stability. While I personally feel the same way, not all women would.
Truly. If you are a woman and have to live in a very violent (but wealthy) home and can’t leave the house, ever–or can live on your own and at least choose your clients–prostitution is risky, but can actually be the better option.
Hi M Miles,
The Utah period is sufficiently well documented that you would be able to find any women who fled polygamous households, particularly if they then entered into the (legal!) prostitution business. As I recall the brothels were located near the SLC train station and up in Ogden. Further, there was at least the one charitable home expressly set up to accept the expected hordes of oppressed polygamous women who would need refuge. [Edited to add that the women employed as prostitutes were almost always from somewhere else. Similarly, very few if any of the women taking advantage of the charitable home were actually Mormon.]
I’m not saying your scenario never happened in the Mormon polygamous homes during the 1800s. Just that all the data I’ve seen (and I’ve looked) indicate that such situations were extremely rare. And if they occurred, there would be documentation.
The closest I can come to such a situation in my past is Sarah Holmes, who became a plural wife of a 40 year old butcher when she was 16. That marriage got dissolved and Sarah then married a man named Weaver, becoming one of his two wives. The other wife was named Sarah, so they were referred to as Black Sarah and White Sarah (likely based on hair color). Then Weaver died. Weaver’s sister-in-law was a lady named Caroline, and Caroline’s husband didn’t want to subject her to polygamy. So even though it was expected that he marry his brother’s widows, he refrained. Then he was assigned to help settle Cache Valley. Weaver’s brother (also surnamed Weaver, of course) came home to find his wife, Caroline, in tears. When he could finally get her to talk, she sputtered, “I won’t go to Cache valley unless you marry those two poor girls so they can come with us.” [This is from memory, so I may have slightly mangled the quote, but you can find it in the Compton’s Sacred Loneliness in the chapter about Elvira Annie Cowles.]
Asian culture isn’t woman friendly (though Taiwan appears to be a nice pocket of sane, influenced as it was by the wife of Chiang Kai-shek). Painting Mormon polygamy in the 1800s as aligning with the horrific realities of modern polygamy in asia isn’t responsible, in my view, unless you have actual data to support the extension of modern facts onto the Mormon situation. The data are there, so you can’t simply claim the experiences are extensible because the term polygamy is used to describe both cultural phenomena. You have to go to the data.
“Asian culture isn’t woman friendly (though Taiwan appears to be a nice pocket of sane, influenced as it was by the wife of Chiang Kai-shek). Painting Mormon polygamy in the 1800s as aligning with the horrific realities of modern polygamy in asia isn’t responsible, in my view, unless you have actual data to support the extension of modern facts onto the Mormon situation. The data are there, so you can’t claim the experiences are extensible merely because the term polygamy is used to describe both cultural phenomena.’
Again, I am not trying to project that they are identical, but rather your statement that polygamy is protective is not true. Nor am I saying all polygamy leads to prostitution. Nor that Utah polygamy did. I am simply saying that a woman not being a prostitute is not proof that polygamy is protective. Again, I am asking you, how is it protective?
Being a prostitute is a bad and destructive thing, so not being a prostitute is generally a good thing. Possibly you can find a situation where its the lesser of two evils, but you can’t then generalize that prostitution isn’t something ipso facto to be avoided.
I’d never argue prostitution is a good thing. I am not, and never did, argue that prostitution is not to be avoided. But yes, it’s simply the lesser of two evils-and least sometimes.
I see you did not mention anything about Carter being a founding father. I must have thought you did because that was the point of the book. Carter was not a man who tried to please the people he lived with. Most of his life was one that left little to be highly regarded, unless being wealthy is enough to earn one stature in a community. Yet, he lived a long way away from any community out in the place most people have never heard of. I admit I did not read every word of the book. I did read the part about what Carter saw when he had a high fever and thought he was going to die. The author did not use the word vision as I recall. Neither did he say Carter saw the father and the son. Carter then went out looking for religion but he did not say the vision told him to look. Additionally Carter was not the first southerner to free his slaves long before the civil war.
My experience with Tanya and the books we talked about was that she never asked the question is it true and does it matter. If it was written down she believed it. I realize that is not exactly how she was, but she only recommended books she liked and learned from.
I have never felt upset about polygamy. I do not know why. I have ancestors who practiced plural marriage. I know that divorce was not frowned on. I have one ancestors who left and married an other. I have sometimes thought it was a misunderstanding of the need to restore all things. I do believe that building a generation of righteous believers could be a valid justification. The thing that upsets me is all the arguing over it. It is in the past. I am glad it is not an issue in my life.
Further, when there are hundreds of young girls marrying older men, I have a hard time seeing marital rape NOT being involved. IE. Lorenzo Snow marrying a 17 year-old-girl as his 6th or 7th wife when he was 57. That is abusive.
Hi M Miles,
By the way, would you freak if I used your actual first name (which I know because I can see your gmail address through the magic of being an admin here at M*)? Until you were to OK that, I’ll keep using M Miles.
Anyway, the paper I originally read (which I can’t put my hands on at the moment) was talking about the dynamics in populations where women are roughly equal in numbers to me, more available than men, and less available than men. The paper mentioned nothing about polygamy. But it was indicating that historically when women are relatively scarce, they receive better treatment than women who are not scarce. A similar statement was made in the first chapter of the Howell book I referenced earlier.
On a small scale in a population where people are civilized (e.g., respecting appropriate age-boundaries, not beating each other, only marrying when they are able to provide for their family using socially-acceptable (legal) means), it makes sense that a scarcity of women would make those women more precious, based on the normal rules of supply and demand.
It was my assertion that the Mormon practice of plural marriage created an artificial scarcity of women, and I asserted that this could also result in the improved status of women that other researchers had identified for regular scarcity of women. Given that the only men permitted to be polygamists were the go-getters who had abilities to support a larger family, the fact that a prospective polygamist had to present his suit cold turkey and go away if the woman didn’t fancy him (and his demonstrated treatment of his other wives), and the empowered nature of 1800s Mormon women, I did not see opportunities for the kind of abuses you have seen in your experience and research into other polygamous societies.
I am grateful for the various individuals who have documented their detailed experiences. A smattering of these can be found in Sam Taylor’s writings (e.g., Family Kingdom), Annie Tanner’s Mormon Mother, and the personal histories of John W. Taylor’s wives.
So under the specific conditions present in the Mormon colonies during 1850-1870, polygamy served to create an artificial scarcity of women, with some benefits related to market forces. Once federal opposition forced polygamy underground, it was no longer possible for the Church to regulate activities. But the fact that the reason for entering into plural marriage was religious meant that those seeking to enter into this state were doing so with at least the knowledge of one other recognized Church authority, even during the most severe periods of opposition. Women were still permitted to tell a suitor to pound sand. And the men and women in this society lived a very inter-twined life. The kind of community where you could have a line of mourners stretching for thousands of feet to pay their respects to the deceased woman or man.
There’s a cute story in Martha Spence’s diary. Martha was in her 30s and had no teeth. She had no homemaking skills, but she was a milliner. Reading between the lines, it appears she began the diary as a result of J.L. Heywood’s proposal that she become his plural wife once she arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Many months and journal entries later, Martha arrives in the valley and attends a dance. There she is presented with a ring by someone other than Heywood. When she tried to decline the gift, given her earlier attachment, the man (whose name you would recognize, but I don’t trust my memory as to which leader it was) laughed and refused to take it back, urging her to keep it and wishing her well in her future with her intended.
I do not wish for polygamy to be reinstated by the Church. But it was not a bad thing for a woman to be able to choose between multiple able suitors, and to be able to choose to keep close friends as part of the family construct.
A minor factoid. After the excommunication of Apostle John W. Taylor, the descendants of President John Taylor were very vigilant to keep their families from entering into polygamy. I remember being given a book describing a modern polygamist household (from the standpoint of a disaffected wife). Apparently they felt that the fundamentalists would consider it a coup to be able to claim their numbers included a descendant of the last Mormon leader to die still preaching polygamy was required. So I suppose you could say that I belong to one of the groups most focused on making sure loved ones don’t enter into polygamy, above and beyond just being a modern-day Mormon.
PS – I think you meant to say “But yes, [prostitution is] simply the lesser of two evils –at least sometimes.”
I prefer my first initial and last name.
I don’t think women had more rights, to the contrary. For instance, Wilford Woodruff married two 17 year old girls when he was well into his forties. However, they chose to go hang out with boys their own age, and he divorced them and Brigham Young had the boys whipped. Clearly they didn’t have any choice here. You seem to be selective in which facts you choose, yet offer no clear evidence polygamy was protective. In the rest of the country women could also divorce. Utah was not unique in this. They appear to have less choice (being married at 17 to older men) than other women.
However, I think we’re just going in circles, and will have to agree to disagree.
I know others freed their slaves, but the fact that Carter freed hundreds of slaves during his lifetime rather than at his death is at least a little bit outstanding.
Hi M Miles,
I have the hardest time imagining Lorenzo Snow being anything but completely gentle. Of all Mormon men, he went out of his way to obey. When polygamy became undeniably illegal (after the court cases had been determined by the US Supreme Court), Lorenzo became a monogamist. I presume he continued to provide for his former wives and families financially, but he obeyed the law. He’s the only general authority to revert to monogamy at that time, as far as I’m aware.
I was a college student when I was 17, so I don’t find that age quite as immature as you appear to. Nor does a significant disparity in spousal age necessarily impute a finding of marital rape (or at least, I don’t think Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones would think that would be a truism).
There was a time when Lorenzo was sealed to a woman, Hannah Goddard, before leaving on an extended mission. Hannah was a sister of one of his other wives. I believe this must have happened during the two months the Nauvoo temple was operating, and may have been along the lines of making sure everyone was sealed into a family that would care for them.
Hannah had second thoughts and returned to her parents. Before Lorenzo returned and without taking steps to formally dissolve the marriage, Hannah had a child by Joseph Ellis Johnson. Subsequently Joseph Ellis Johnson petitioned to be sealed to Hannah and the children they had engendered together. The rest of the brethren were completely uncool with this. In their mind Joseph Ellis Johnson had cuckolded Lorenzo. They even suspected that Joseph Ellis Johnson might be a previously undiscovered member of Bennett’s sex ring (he wasn’t). But Lorenzo urged them to permit Joseph Ellis Johnson and Hannah to be sealed and for their children to be sealed to them.
Again, Mormons are record-keeping people. Did the young lady in question document that she viewed the sexual relations she had with Lorenzo the way you do?
Again, marital rape in Utah wasn’t possible until 1991. Comparing two movie stars over the age of consent to a 17-year-old and 57 year-old is hardly fair. There are plenty of criminal cases today where sex is consensual, but rape. Any case involving a 17 year old and 57 year old would fall into this category. Or perhaps you stand with those that feel this should not be criminalized behavior. Just because he is “gentle” doesn’t mean it isn’t rape. I’m not sure what reverting to monogamy has to do with it–especially when he chose his youngest wife to be monogamous with.
Hi M Miles,
From a case law standpoint, the situation as I read it for the young ladies (by the way, names would be appreciated) who married Wilford Woodruff is:
1) They agreed to marry Wilford Woodruff. Perhaps they were pressured by family, but I am completely unaware that any of these marriages were solemnized without concurrence of the female involved.
2) The women could have voiced their dissatisfaction with the marriage to Wilford Woodruff at any time prior to doing whatever with the young men. With a bit of patience, they could have been free of him. This is almost exactly the same time frame Sarah Holmes (16) separated from her first husband (butcher, age 40).
3) As married women, they consorted with young men who were not their spouse. Your description does not indicate whether they were studying with the young men, dancing with the young men, kissing the young men, or engaging in sex with the young men. I doubt it was just dancing, since dances were community affairs and everyone danced with everyone else.
4) The young men in question had stepped beyond the line of being mere friends. They did this knowing the young women were married (the community was crazy tiny back then – no way did they think these were just two young and unattached women). I’m not sure I see a big problem with a whipping in this circumstance.
5) You indicate Wilford become divorced from the two women you do not name. It is not clear whether this was at his instigation or theirs. Either way, Brigham’s policy was that the man in a divorce case had to pay the fee ($5 I think – a lot of money in those days).
I don’t mind disagreeing, but I do love (read that LOVE) data. As long as we’re discussing, I would love to know enough about your assertions to be able to understand.
“I have a hard time seeing marital rape NOT being involved. IE. Lorenzo Snow marrying a 17 year-old-girl as his 6th or 7th wife when he was 57. That is abusive.”
Of course, with our sophisticated, evolved 21st century sensibilities, everybody back in the 19th century was a criminal.
It is not anymore fair to believe they weren’t pressured (with lack of data) than it is to assume they weren’t. It seems clear to me that young girls who are with boys their age, whatever they are doing, are not happy with the marital set-up. I am kind of blown away by your mental gymnastics here. And if they wanted to be with someone sexually rather than their husbands, a whipping is justified? Meanwhile their husband can marry a series of teenage girls no problem? Stunned.
Hi M Miles,
I believe you are using a definition where sexual relations between a man and a woman who is younger than 18(?) is considered rape, even if the couple is married, and even if they are in love and enjoying every moment of their mutual intimacy.
When I read the word “rape,” I think of a sexual act where one of the individuals involved doesn’t want it happening. I typically interpret the word rape as the set of activities that would correctly be euphemized as forced unlawful carnal knowledge.
I know Catherine Zeta Jones was in her twenties when she married Michael Douglas. But the folks who thought he was robbing the cradle because of the large difference in their ages would often joke/talk as though he were committing statutory rape.
I’m reminded of the scene in Gandhi where a woman tells Gandhi she’s been drinking blood. When he asks a follow-up questions, she clarifies that every Sunday she takes the sacrament, where she partakes of the blood and body of Christ. Which in case anyone reading this does know, refers to drinking water/wine and eating bread/wafers in memory of Christ’s sacrifice.
It’s nice to know what we respectively mean when we’re using words.
Marriage was not romantic by any stretch in the Utah period. It was, as you noted, a family arrangement. I’m not sure there was lots of time being spent with one’s spouse. And yes, I have a very hard time seeing a girl who is 17 wanting to engage is sexual relations with a 57-year-old.
Thank you for the link to the story.
After marrying 39-year-old Wilford Woodruff on August 2, 1846, at Winter Quarters, “The two young wives [Mary Carolyn Barton (17) and Sarah Brown (18)] began keeping company with three young men nearer their own ages, staying out with them until early in the morning for several days. . . . The thirty-nine-year-old Woodruff forebade his teenage wives from consorting with the men . . . they continued dating their friends, and Woodruff thought some sexual misconduct had taken place . . . As promised, he sent Carolyn Barton back to her parents and Sarah Brown to another famly, and Hosea Stout whipped the boys.”
So the day before these two young ladies were married to Wilford Woodruff, he was still a monogamist (presuming he married Mary Ann Jackson on August 2, 1846, as well).
So no whipping by Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff was not well into his 40s, and at least one of the women was 18 (the other was 17 and 7 months, 18 if we round up, which I know you won’t let me do). Wilford had asked his wives to stay away from the young men, they continued hanging out with the young men into the wee hours of the morning and Wilford thought they had been sexual (kisses?, petting?, banging away?) with the young men. And we’re talking Winter Quarters here. So I take back my earlier statements about $5 divorces and this having any relationship to what happened between Sarah Holmes and her butcher.
Unlike the hundreds of others who died there of hunger and black canker, these ladies remarried, got to Utah circa 1851-1852 (love me that Mormon overland pioneer database) and lived into the 1900s.
By the way, I was a Relief Society President when I was 17 and 7 months old. I know it isn’t germane to anything, but I’m amused at the thought.
[Edited to add] Regarding a teen wanting to have sex with a man roughly 60, I had a colleague who was a teenage intern at the White House when Lyndon Johnson was president (he was in his late fifties when he became president). She said if he had wanted to bed her, she would have completely agreed. I think this story was shared in the mid-nineties, which was before the revelation about the business between Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton. Power is sexy, dude.
So how is this not abusive? especially when he asked they be whipped?
In the Old Testament, the lot of them would have been stoned (the two women and the three men).
I think Bruce was referring to the difference between men, who experience sexual jealousy, and women, who experience emotional jealousy.
Now that I know Wilford Woodruff had this painful experience in his initial foray into plural marriage, it makes more sense that he was the one willing to step away from polygamy. He reaches out to three women to expand the number of people he cares for during a time when it’s clear there will be starvation conditions. Then two of the women start cavorting with a group of young men. He asks them to desist, and they don’t. Further, he has reason to think they’ve been intimate (kisses or more) with the men. Wilford has seen his faith and city torn apart by foolish women and predatory men having sex (the Bennett sex ring). The salvation of mankind as he sees it is being put on hold due to this kind of stupidity.
In context, I actually really don’t see this as abusive. However it appears you don’t think married women having sex with other people is objectionable, and you don’t appear to have any tolerance for physical punishment, so I can see why you would perceive this as abuse.
I find corporal punishment objectionable, yes. I find forcing young women to marry older men and then punishing them for philandering objectionable, yes (on par with Sharia law). Mostly because I’ve seen this close up. I don’t find such marriages to be holy in the first place. And frankly, I’m fighting hard against this because these women mattered. Their lives mattered. To boil down complex situations into a blissful polygamy that was protective is nonsense.
To be clear, I actually have no problem with polygamy in general, but the way it was often practiced in Utah I find extremely problematic.
Hi M. Miles,
Wow – we temporarily took the site down…
I agree that polygamy as practiced in Utah was messed up. It was not sustainable, even though there were some protections relative to the kinds of abuse you’ve personally observed in Central Asia. Joseph was trying so hard to reinstate the idea that plural marriage was an acceptable form of marriage (while in my mind avoiding actually living the realities of plural marriage) that he contracted way too many ceremonial marriages. Those who survived him honestly believed that plural marriage was required for a large set of men, rather than merely seeing it as an option in extreme circumstances and an acceptable form of marriage for when they seriously started knitting the family of mankind together.
I like to think there will be a resurrection and that in that resurrection we will see clearly (though now as through a glass darkly). At that time I also (loving data as I do) hope that we will know what was going on. Where shame is deserved. Along that line, I will be fascinated to find out exactly why those three women married Wilford Woodruff on August 2, 1846. Though perhaps one of them left a journal? Oh be still my heart.
When you say you’re fighting hard against this, what is “this”? Depending on what “this” is, I might be entirely on our side. [meant to write “I might be entirely on your side…]
Thanks for your patience and your response. By ‘this,’ I mean the notion that polygamy was protective.
Ah. So let me restate as I might have wished to say it initially if we had had this conversation prior to what I wrote:
“In the academic literature, there have been assertions that a scarcity of women can improve the status and power and privileges of women.
“In modern times, the scarcity of women combined with polygamy (e.g., Asia, Middle East) has actually resulted in increased levels of violence towards women. In fact my friend M Miles has encountered women who preferred the freedom of prostitution to the extreme violence and limitations they experienced as junior wives.
“I think the way polygamy was practiced in Mormon culture resulted in some really weird stuff. And I think these practices were based on a misconception of what Joseph was actually doing. I don’t think he was actually being plurally married in any significant sexual, social, or economic sense, and so contracted far more marriages than any sane and sexually active polygamist ever would have.
“We can see the long-term negative consequences of this in the fundamentalist communities that remain, where girls are expected to marry very young to ranking males in the community, while boys become surplus baggage, eventually evicted from the community that gave them birth.
“However, I maintain that a loving God could have had a purpose for briefly implementing polygamy. And even though I would not want polygamy reinstated, I can see in the stories of my ancestors that it sometimes was a blessing.”
“I would be fascinated could I compare what did happen with what would have happened without plural marriage.”
And now off to 1) watch Thor with the family and 2) fold my daughter’s laundry before she gets home from vacation (her requested holiday gift). So if the site crashes later today, it won’t be my fault… 🙂
It’s an interesting argument – that an artificial scarcity of women created by polygyny, combined with the law of supply and demand, might in some cases produce greater deference toward and protection of women.
But it seems the outcome would likely hinge on the relative rights and power of men and women at the time the practice is initiated – on whether women are initially more like equal citizens or more like a commodity.
If equal citizens, then it might look like a shortage of skilled labor, which can drive up wages and benefits, and increase the negotiating power of both the applicant pool and the already employed.
But where women comprise an unequal, lower class, it seems more likely that they will just become a more scarce commodity. The scarcity of gold does not confer power upon gold itself, but on the people who have lots of it. It might garner special care and treatment for gold, but only as a prized possession, and always in service of the owner’s interests. Similarly, a scarcity of slaves seems less likely to increase the power and improve the treatment of slaves, and more likely to increase the power and status of those who succeed in procuring slaves.
The fact that women in most societies have historically had less power and fewer rights than men weakens the “greater protection” argument in my mind, especially when coupled with the pervasive exploitation of women, including sexual exploitation. Women in 18th century America were not without rights, but they were far from equal to men in power. The inherent inequity of polygyny itself suggests unequal power at the time of its institution. Therefore, I think the burden of proof in any particular case is on those who would claim greater protection of women. Meg, you’ve posited a causal mechanism, but I still don’t see any evidence to support it in the Utah case (or any other case, for that matter). What am I missing?
Happy New Year, all.
In the early Mormon marriages I’m most familiar with, the men valued the women as peers. This was (in my opinion) true of Joseph Smith and John Taylor. It was also true to a certain extent with Brigham Young, who vehemently argued that women should be allowed to do all regular tasks (keeping books, running businesses, being healers), urging the men to get out of the shops and do the hard muscular labor women can’t do as well.
I argue that Brigham’s appropriation of Zina Huntington (with her consent – she was technically Brigham’s wife because he’d stood proxy when she was sealed to Joseph Smith) was because he felt her talents would be wasted if she remained the wife of Henry Jacobs, a nice but ineffectual man. Zina went on to have great power in the Mormon community. I assert it was Zina’s choice because my ancestor (Elvira Annie Cowles Holmes [Smith]) refused to be collected by Brigham et al. It meant that my ancestor and her public spouse didn’t have the advancement in the community others enjoyed, but Compton admits that of all the ladies he characterized as “lonely,” my ancestor’s experience with polygamy stands out “because of its mostly peaceful, idyllic tenor… unlike many of [Joseph’s plural wives], Elvira’s experiences with polygamy were not traumatic…”
In the families I am familiar with (regular people, not just the wives of Joseph Smith), the women worked together and supported one another. I am not aware of abuse, and in one family, the 20 children claimed they never even heard their mothers argue (the mothers in question were blood sisters and widows as well, which might have something to do with it). The main tension I’m aware of was between Nellie Taylor and John W. Taylor. Since Nellie hemorrhaged badly whenever she had a child, John finally decided he wasn’t going to let her risk her life anymore. Pissed Nellie off (possibly because he had other wives so he wasn’t having to go without conjugal intimacy and the joy of additional children). He tried to give her a blessing where he pronounced wonderful things – being a leader in Zion, preaching before congregations, being acclaimed by prophets and apostles. When John was done with the blessing, Nellie gave him a tongue lashing and told him if he didn’t give voice to the blessing she wanted (having more children), she would go to the prophet himself (which would have been Joseph F. Smith) and have him give voice to the blessing.
Again in the case of John W. Taylor, his wives adored him. Samuel Taylor claims his father was the kind of man where each of his six wives believed he loved them best, as did each of his thirty-six kids. When John W. died of stomach cancer, his wives were all still young enough that they had suitors – important since the five plural wives had no legal rights. But with John W. excommunicated for marrying multiple women after the manifesto, they knew marrying again would put in question which man they would be with in eternity, and which father their children would be with in eternity. So each of them rejected the chance to marry again.
Now, one could call that abuse, a belief system that would make six women believe they couldn’t remarry without risking the loss of their eternal love. But five of them had a chance to love that a man who would not otherwise have been available to them.
I’m curious what everyone’s source is for the experience of Mormon women (circa 1850-1870) with polygamy? I keep hearing broad assertions. While I don’t think the system was sustainable, I think one point indicating Mormon women were benefitted is the fact Utah women were gladly given suffrage 50 years before the United States granted universal suffrage. Even though Wyoming technically granted suffrage earlier, the business was held up in court, while in Utah no one challenged suffrage once it was passed, and a female member of Brigham Young’s family was the first woman to cast her vote. Martha Hughes Cannon became the first female state senator (running as a Democrat in an election where her husband was running as one of the Republican candidates).
Depending on your source for the oppressed state of Mormon women, you might want to make sure you aren’t taking in data contaminated by the oppression created by federal criminalization of the practice. After circa 1870, life did truly suck for those involved in polygamy, but life tends to suck for any group that is being hounded by the feds.
Thanks, Meg. Here’s what I get from your last:
(1) In early Mormon marriages, men typically valued women as peers (including Joseph Smith).
(2) They had progressive employment opportunities and were treated well. Utah women were among the first granted suffrage.
(3) You are not aware of widespread abuse or oppression.
As far as I can tell, none of this supports your assertion that plural marriage resulted in increased deference or protection. A lack of widespread abuse does not necessarily show increased protection due to polygamy. Were Mormon women treated worse before polygamy was instituted or post-Manifesto? What evidence is there to suggest that this deference or protection was due to polygamy vs. general Mormon or Christian theology, or other factors? How were Utah Mormon women treated vs. other frontier women during the same period? What do you even mean by protection in this context? And finally, how do you reconcile Joseph’s marriages in the face of Emma’s strong opposition with equal peer status between the two?
What do I mean by protection? I mean (in this context) that a woman is able to become a mother and have a husband who acknowledges the children as his responsibility to nurture and protect. I mean that the woman also has a mechanism to be protected from abuse, both prior to marriage and within marriage. Within marriage this freedom from abuse occurs because the husband has reasons to not abuse her or she is free to leave the relationship if the husband abuses her despite those reasons. By protection I mean that a woman an alternative to selling her body (which in those days meant risk of pregnancy, infection, and abusive sexual intercourse) and starvation. I mean that the dynamics are such that men in the society act to both protect the women from harm and encourage the women to fulfill their intellectual potential.
No other Christian group produced the first instance of operational women’s suffrage. No other Christian group produced the first female state senator.
As for Joseph and Emma, the point of this series is to explore that dynamic, among other things. I think Joseph respected Emma to the point that he didn’t consummate the plural marriages he was entering into, with the possibility of select situations where Emma had expressly given her permission for the marriages. I think his contortions to attempt to obey the commandment he believed he was under to restore plural marriage yet refrain from consummating the plural marriages in which he was a partner caused serious subsequent problems for the long-term shape of Mormon marriages.
So protection means the woman and her children are provided for and are not beaten, and this happens because she is free to leave the marriage if it is bad. But why is she free to leave a polygamous marriage but not so free to leave a monogamous marriage? Did divorce laws relax as polygamy was instituted and then tighten up again after it ended? What is the connection here?
You also say that protection means an alternative to prostitution and starvation. I have several problems with this. The first concern the causal logic. You have correctly characterized the shortage of women as artificial, which diminishes the significance of opportunities to enter into plural verses monogamous marriages. You have also pointed out that Mormon women in Utah had progressive employment opportunities, which would suggest that marriage should be far from the only alternative to starvation or prostitution. You have implied some connection between these expanded opportunities and the institution of plural marriage, but have offered no evidence to back it up. Even if we accept the causal logic and are ready to consider supporting data, you haven’t provided any for us to consider. Was there an explosion of Mormon prostitutes after the Manifesto ended the artificial shortage of women (not a literal explosion – that would be gross)? Was there a glut of Mormon prostitutes before the widespread introduction of plural marriage?
And what is the connection to women’s suffrage that you keep bringing up? Mormons were quick to grant the vote to women, and Mormons had polygamy, so therefore polygamy lead to women’s suffrage in Utah? Utah Mormons also abstained from tea and laid out their cities on grids. Was that because of polygamy too?
Finally, you claim that Joseph only consummated marriages with wives when given Emma’s express permission. Have you presented real evidence elsewhere in this series to back that up? If so, you can just point me to it rather than go into it again here. It doesn’t sound at all consistent with my admittedly limited background on this topic.
Regarding the situation with Joseph, I recommend as a first read Brian Hales’ Joseph Smith’s Polygamy (1500+ pages – sorry). While Brian thinks only 12 ladies seem possible as actual conjugal partners with Joseph, I submit that even that number is questionable. I think if you simply re-read this series, you will get the gist of why.
Of course it’s always possible that Joseph was having rampant sex with everyone he could lay hands on, but the data don’t support that, in part because of the extreme allergy many had to the kind of improper sexual activity they’d seen conducted by Cochran.
Key female leaders and advocates for women’s rights in Utah were women who had embraced polygamy during Joseph’s time. These included Zina Huntington and Emmeline B. Wells. I have spoken in a sort of shorthand, presuming that in this forum readers are conversant with the life histories of individuals in early Mormon history (or at least capable of doing a google search and reading Wikipedia). Both these women headed the Relief Society in their day, which was formed to “warn the unwary” amongst other things. That “warn the unwary” portion of the original mission has no explanation in the current apologetic or antagonistic histories of Joseph Smith, but I believe is absolutely consistent with Joseph’s attempts to simultaneously restore plural marriage and root out the sex ring Bennett was operating in Nauvoo.
There was no explosion of prostitutes at the end of polygamy in part because the Manifesto did not mandate that already married men separate from plural wives.
Though not the kind of evidence you are likely seeking, a key factor in the Wyoming legislation to grant female suffrage was Godbe, a disaffected ex-Mormon who believed that getting the vote to women would end up toppling the Mormon/Utah hierarchy that had hurt his business prospects. But the rest of the folks in Wyoming weren’t so keen on women actually having the vote, hence the challenges when it was originally passed. Mormons, on the other hand, were cool with the idea, once it had arisen. There were large meetings in Utah where the women themselves debated the merits of accepting the vote. The men pretty much stood by and let the women determine their destiny in this regard. If you go and study the Relief Society minutes and artifacts from the 1800s, the organization was very much political and even governmental in nature, compared to the sweet, correlated, happy homemaker feel it has today.
Polygamy as an issue caused the death of Joseph Smith, which thereby precipitated the Mormon migration to the west. I’m not arguing that a drop of polygamy added to any random social situation will result in massive benefits – M Miles has certainly put forward information showing that polygamy in the context of women-despising cultures in Asia hasn’t helped women (killing female infants and/or selectively aborting female fetuses in my mind warrants the epithet “women-despising”). However you cannot reasonably assert that women’s suffrage in Utah and Martha Hughes Cannon as the first state senator would naturally have emerged without the unique scar polygamy created on the face of Mormon (and therefore Utah) history.
One point is that with polygamy more women can have access to the good men. With the current ratio of singles in the Church, I can see why that might be an advantage, given the right circumstances. 😉
The question of Joseph and Emma’s relationship is kind of a sideline to my main issue, which is a near complete lack of evidence presented to support the claim that plural marriage resulted in increased deference to and protection of women. So, very quickly: Brian Hales says 12. You thinks maybe less, because of lack of proven children, and because testimony to the contrary is both limited and suspect. But my question there was regarding the claim of peer status between Joseph and Emma, and even a small number does of conjugal relationships does not intrinsically equate to “only in cases when Emma gave her express consent.”
To my main issue, you add only that “there was no explosion of prostitutes at the end of polygamy in part because the Manifesto did not mandate that already married men separate from plural wives.” So you have made an assertion without evidence, and then explained the lack of supporting evidence by reasserting the unsubstantiated claim. And that lack of supporting evidence is itself supporting evidence. Kind of like the lack of plant life on the Moon suggests that Earth’s plant life originated from an ancient and complete transport of the Moon’s flora to the Earth.
Then more on women’s suffrage, which is supposed to support the claim because one “cannot reasonably assert that women’s suffrage in Utah and Martha Hughes Cannon as the first state senator would naturally have emerged without the unique scar polygamy created on the face of Mormon (and therefore Utah) history.” Not because you have shown that there is a connection, but because I can’t show that there’s not.
Like I said, it’s an interesting concept (enhanced deference and protection), and you are clearly devoted to it for one reason or another, but unless you’re holding back something of substance to pull out as a late-inning zinger, resolution will have to await some scholarship or some future social experiment.
So let’s leave it this way:
Some scholarly sources have asserted that a scarcity of women results in increased protection (defined above) for women based on evaluation of historical situations.
Modern findings in Asian populations indicate that scarcity of women is correlated with violence towards women, particularly when polygamy is also practiced. These Asian cultures lack gender parity because women are being killed or differentially allowed to die near birth (pre-birth or post-birth).
Prior to this invigorating discussion, I had hypothesized that polygamy in the Mormon faith (1850-1870 particularly) resulted in an artificial scarcity of women, potentially yielding benefits similar to those observed for the initial studies.
M Miles and ARM have taken me to task on my hypothesis. However we are now at a standstill, since there is no data to support the hypothesis that Utah polygamy resulted in the kind of increased violence that modern scholars in contemporary women’s studies might conjecture, nor do the anecdotal instances of female empowerment cited by Meg Stout appear to be accepted as useful evidence by the critics.
I will merely ask that folks don’t go claiming that Mormon women in Utah were massively abused simply because there is a pattern in Asian cultures where scarcity of women in the context of perceived overpopulation has resulted in increasing violence towards women.
You may not let me assert my 1800s forebears had protection, power, and respect, but don’t assert without data that they didn’t.
Truly, we are at a standstill.
1) As I stated before, I am not trying say Utah is the same as Asia–further, I used Central Asia (not East Asia), where there is not an over population problem as you are indicating in your previous post. You want Utah to be different than all other data on the subject of outcomes of polygamy for women. You cite a book, but never explain how the book says it is protective. I am assuming you mean women don’t become prostitutes? Choosing a bad outcome over a worse outcome isn’t really all that protective. Beyond this book, what studies are you referencing?
2) You refuse to acknowledge evidence there was violence or coercion despite evidence to the contrary (eg, Wilford Woodruff marrying 3 women on the same day, two of them teenage girls. You claim they could have been in love–yet newly married women in love don’t wander our with boys immediately after marriage. You also have no problem with Wilford Woodruff asking the girls be whipped–which clearly indicates violence against women. You also fail to recognize that WW decided the girls’ fate after he divorced them).
3) There are plenty of journal entries from marriages that indicate lack of equality or choice in polygamous marriages, my own ancestors included. I won’t bother citing all these references, because they will come off as purely anecdotal, much like all the rosy stories you have given.
4) I am familiar of the work of Brian Hales, and several other scholars on the topic. You are choosing to only accept the work of one scholar that fits your viewpoint.
Hi M Miles,
As for the silly paper that claimed a scarcity of women leads to improved conditions and protections for women, I haven’t been able to locate it. Apparently it wasn’t something I became aware of as a result of my son-in-law’s studies. I can only suppose it was one of the many (hundreds, thousands) of such papers I’ve glanced at in the course of researching the various topics it occurs to me to investigate. I’m not even sure what search terms brought the paper to my attention, since I wasn’t trying to prove that polygamy or scarcity of women is a good thing. That insight was purely incidental to the purpose I actually had that day several months ago when I read the paper. I still think the insight (regarding simple scarcity of women in historical, medieval context) is potentially valid.
Would the forebears you refer to have preferred to be prostitutes? Presuming not, it’s intriguing to imagine what alternative you would have preferred for these ladies. Perhaps it would have been different if they could have been linked with another man, one who didn’t coerce and didn’t beat. Do you have good reason to think they would have been better treated if polygamy hadn’t existed? I have plenty of forebears who didn’t participate in polygamy, despite being Mormons in Deseret during the 1850-1870 period. They were also pretty lucky in marriage.
Coercion has a precise meaning I’m not willing to impute to the particular events you are focusing on with Wilford Woodruff and his two teenage brides of 1846. Were there pressures on all the parties involved? Absolutely, Wilford Woodruff most of all. He and Phoebe were being asked to open up their home to three additional women at a time when it was clear that there would almost certainly not be enough food to make it through the coming winter. I’m guessing Wilford was one of the few who had actually gathered a year’s supply of food for the exodus. And I’d guess that the three women who became his family members on August 2 were members of families who had not prepared, for whatever reason. You are presuming Wilford married the girls so he could have sex with them. I assert the possibility that they were marrying him to gain privileged access to the resources he had prepared, that they or their families had not.
If economic motives had prompted the girls to agree to the marriage, it must then have been a grand thing, to enjoy food from the Woodruff wagon while two of them spent their nights in the arms of the young bucks (three of them?) who did not have excess to share. If I were Phoebe, I might have been rather frosted at the presumption of these young twits, willing to eat my food while openly shaming my husband, and heading in the direction of getting knocked up with someone else’s child. I would love to have been a bug on the wall as it was decided these girls could go back to being under the rule of the parents that gave them birth (the mothers of both girls were still alive, though one of their fathers had passed away).
I’d need more data to be seduced off this deliciously fraught interpretation of events. So perhaps it’s best if we just stop talking about these two teens, because it isn’t making me see them in a better light.
I’ve read many of the scholars on this topic, and have quite enjoyed the insights I’ve gotten from Van Wagoner, Quinn, Compton, Newell, Avery, and others. Before I even knew Hales existed, however, I had arrived at an alternate interpretation of events. Hales’ tomes are merely a delightful addition to the wealth of information I have on my shelves (and Hales’ stuff is searchable, since I have the books on Kindle). If you’ll look again at the scholars you think I disagree with, you’ll notice that they insert suppositions about motivations in the midst of the facts. They present the facts in a manner to emphasize their intepretations–they would be poor authors if they did not. You do not find their views jarring because you live in the same mental world they do.
You find me jarring because I do not repeat the same group-think conclusion. But I don’t believe there are facts you can throw at me that will cause my worldview to crumble. I am more than happy to accept all truth, but that doesn’t mean I will accept all the inferences other have drawn from those truths.
Yeah. Damn those teenage leeches! The ones from the story you just made up.
LOL – You do know that I write midrash, yes? I make no pretensions to necessarily capturing the actual facts in a case like this, where we merely have a tissue of factoids on which to construct a story.
[edited to note that I thought this draft had failed to post, since the site appeared to have gone down for a bit there. I’m leaving this one here as an example of the bifurcations my responses sometimes take. If I had to vote, I’d say I like the second one better, since I feel I got to know Sarah and Mary, who were delightful women.]
M Miles has also constructed a story, one in which Wilford Woodruff is a predator who forced these teenagers not quite half his age into a situation where he could have bangy sex with no conceivable benefit to them, while they had parents in the community who were so cowed by his august majesty that they stood by and said nothing. Or maybe they were so cowed and awed by his august personage that they were the ones who supposedly forced their daughters into vile rape. Then all the girls do is [not flee back home to their parents but] go have loving sex with men closer their age, and their abusive, coersive, raping husband has the audacity to be upset, to turn them out, to have the men who have cuckolded him whipped, and then shames everyone by returning the girls to their families of origin.
I’ll admit that Mormon polygamy, even or perhaps especially as practiced in this case, caused terrible things to happen. I’m just honestly not convinced that there is only one valid interpretation of this story, or that the teen girls were the only ones traumatized by what happened.
LOL – You do know that I write midrash, yes? I feel no compunction to do more than weave a story through the extant facts.
Looking at the later life of these ladies from the data available on FamilyTree, Mary Caroline Barton (KWJZ-W58) married Erastus Curtis in 1848, two years after these events. Mary went on to have a large family (eleven children), and preside as first wife to Erastus as he married three other women in the 1860s. These three ladies were all relatively young, and Erastus was born in 1828, so at least thirty-two when the first of his plural marriages took place. FWIW, FamilyTree records Mary’s birthdate as 1832, but the Pioneer Overland Travel database indicates 1829.
Johanna Price Fullmer was supposedly a new-minted 20 when she became the second Mrs. Curtis in 1860. Sarah Henrie was about 16 when she became the third Mrs. Curtis in 1861, but died giving birth to her first child, a daughter who was given to Mary Caroline to raise. Margaret Alvira Stump was a mature 18 when she became the fourth (and apparently last) Mrs. Curtis in 1864.
Sarah Elinor Brown (KWNL-HWV) married Lisbon Lamb (born the same year as Sarah). She apparently had difficulty carrying her children to term, with only three surviving to be born in a strange pattern hinting at many miscarriages, which is heart-rending. Sarah and Lisbon lived in Farmington, so probably knew my relatives descending from Elvira Annie Cowles. Lisbon, Sarah, and Sabrina were likely amongst the mourners when Elvira died, with a line that stretched half a mile (impressive when people are standing rather than driving in cars).
Lisbon married Sabrina Catherine Smith in 1866, when Lisbon was 38 and Sabrina was 18, a few years after Sarah had given birth to the last of her children. Lisbon and Sarah were almost exactly the same relative ages that Sarah and Wilford Woodruff had been at the time of the ill-fated marriage in Winter Quarters. Sabrina went on the bear twins, then other singleton children every two years until death took Lisbon in 1880.
It would be interesting to know if Lisbon Lamb and Erastus Curtis were among the group of young men who got whipped for spending time with Sarah and Mary. I find it very interesting that both Mary and Sarah ended up being in Phoebe’s shoes – a first wife agreeing to her husband marrying a teenager when he was in his thirties. Whatever these girls’ status in 1846 (victims, leeches, misunderstood innocents), they grew into mature [and I would submit honored] women who in turn permitted their husbands to become polygamists.
On the other hand, I can imagine someone asserting that these poor, traumatized girls were coerced into allowing a repetition of the terrible rapine they, themselves, had endured in 1846. Not a story I could tell with a straight face, but I’m sure someone else might.
[A few minutes/hours of web searches later, a tale I think does justice to all involved. Because the site was down, I drafted this up as a private e-mail to ARM and M Miles. If you see this, it means the website decided to come back up.]
I stand by the story I wove from the standpoint of Phoebe Carter Woodruff. I think it’s reasonable that she could have initially seen events that way.
But in looking up Sarah and Mary on FamilyTree, I found out that Lisbon Lamb had mustered into the Mormon Battalion on July 16, 1846.
Putting on my storymaker hat, let’s consider a possibility where Sarah Brown and Lisbon Lamb had been acquainted prior to his departure with the Battalion. Sarah is sad her friend is gone, but hard times are coming. Her family and she agree that it would be a wise thing for her to become a wife to one of those men who have prepared for the coming hardships, and Wilford Woodruff was the man who converted them to the gospel. Sarah is delicate (looking at her picture on FamilyTree and guessing at her subsequent reproductive history). So many others are already skin and bones. This marriage may save her life.
Wilford Woodruff agrees to marry Sarah and two others in the wake of the loss of men occasioned by the departure of the Battalion. But there’s no hurry to consummate the marriages.
Sarah finds herself haunted by fears for Lisbon, who has become more dear now that he is sent off to war and she is forever severed from him by marriage. Sarah confides in Mary. The circle of confidants expands to include those of Lisbon’s friends who were too young to enlist (18 was required, and parental permission was required between 18-20). Perhaps this includes Erastus Curtis. The group of confidants can’t be with one another during the day, but teenagers don’t sleep at night anyway, and the depth of their loss keeps them up into the wee hours of the night talking about events at Nauvoo and the Battalion and their fears.
Phoebe and Wilford misunderstand the nature of the discussions. They confront the girls, demanding that they stop seeing the young men. The girls are outraged, knowing that their visits into the wee hours have been completely innocent. Hell, they’ve even made sure there were more guys than just two, to prevent the appearance that this was an assignation.
The girls remain at the Woodruff cabin, outraged but obedient. But in the dark of night, they hear a birdcall that isn’t natural enough to fool anyone, even if birds made those kinds of calls at night. Mary and Sarah awake, used to being up so late. They decide to go out to tell Lisbon’s friends they are under orders not to meet any more. But the young men are also offended. A ruckus occurs, waking Wilford, the rest of his family, and those in surrounding cabins. Words fly, accusations are made, leaving Wilford with the impression that the girls have been unfaithful.
Wilford divorces Mary and Sarah, and asks Hosea Stout, Chief of Police, to punish the lot of them. Aside from his pride, he feels a responsibility to Sarah’s dead father to curb her immorality before she is lost forever. Hosea interrogates the teenagers. In the face of the law, the boys sober up and tell the truth, begging him to spare the girls. The boys accept responsibility for bringing shame on the girls and causing their divorce. A nominal whipping is performed (the kind of punishment schoolboys got in those days). As Hosea notes, the legal punishment under territory law for the crime of which they had been accused is death.
Hosea goes to Wilford to privately convey the truth of the matter. Wilford is horrified at how badly he interpreted the situation. But with a somber face, he confides, “If Sarah is so concerned about Brother Lisbon, then perhaps it is better that she is now free to worry about him without an old man doubting her integrity.” Privately Wilford apologizes to both Mary and Sarah, offering to take them back if they’re willing to have him. But too much has happened, and the two young girls decline to renew vows with Wilford.
None of this, of course, gets written down. This is shame and misunderstanding and good people all, with no hanky panky or even marital rape. Meanwhile the privations begin to take their toll on the community. A toddler, James Brinkerhoff Jr., is the first to die. Mary’s baby cousin, Phebe Elen, dies less than three weeks later.
Sarah has returned to her parents, but longs to send word to Lisbon of her concern and regard, unsure if she will live to see him again. She learns that Elvira Annie Cowles Holmes is trying to send a letter to her husband, who is in Company D along with Lisbon. Sarah encloses a note in Elvira Annie’s letter to her husband.
On July 1847 the Mormon Battalion musters out in San Diego, CA. Soon thereafter they get word from Brigham Young. He asks the Battalion to remain in California to work, since the Saints who got to Salt Lake arrived late. There will be little to no harvest, and those in Salt Lake face a second year of death and black canker, even without the extra mouths from the Battalion to feed.
Lisbon Lamb, however, is horrified at the thought of Sarah’s plight, now so beloved after months of pondering her love note. Her father died in 1839 while traveling to join the Saints after he’d been baptized by Wilford Woodruff in 1838. If folks are starving, the delicate Sarah will be among the first to perish. Lisbon sets out on his own to return to Sarah. Somehow he gets from San Diego in July 1847 to Winter Quarters in February 1848. Sarah is there near death (oh, the drama), and the two wed.
It takes a couple of years to nurse Sarah back to health, but Mary (now Curtis) has stayed by her friend through these troubles. Lisbon gets word that towns are being settled in the valley, and decides to travel back to Utah in 1850 to ensure he and Sarah have a place among friends, who have settled in Farmington. Sarah pines for Lisbon. Despite the plan to travel to Utah in 1852 with Mary, Sarah decides she can’t endure another year away from Lisbon. She joins a company that travels to Utah in 1851, joyfully reuniting with her beloved.
Of all the fictions we’ve spun about these two teenaged brides of Wilford Woodruff, this last tale is the one I prefer best.
Meg, and here I thought we had moved beyond Arthur Conan Doyle territory. Apparently not.
The written word is so open to multiple interpretations. Is your comment:
1) A implicit rebuke for creating romantic fiction based on the factoids of Sarah and Lisbon’s marriage?
2) An implicit rebuke to those imputing violent and coercive rapine to senior church leaders (also inferential fiction)?
3) An implicit rebuke for all us fiction-weaving Amazons?
I don’t know who else here is a rabid fan of Benedict Cumberbatch, but I quite look forward to Season 3 of BBC’s Sherlock. I do wonder if they will “do” A Study in Scarlet and how they will modernize the tale.
ARM and M Miles responded to be privately. As I think their points and my response add to this thread, I’ll repeat it here.
M Miles disputed my fiction, pointing out that the two girls were baptized the day of their marriage to Wilford Woodruff, asserting that further conversation appeared to be a waste of time, since I am so dedicated to the stories I create.
ARM did a scatterplot of the ages at which women married the polygamist prophets, pointing out that a large number of wives married when they were in their late teens, even though their leader-husband was sometimes many decades older than them (I think John Taylor takes the cake here, though, marrying a young woman in the wake of his 1886 revelation on plural marriage).
Here was my response:
I wouldn’t say it’s a waste of your time. And I do think the implementation of plural marriage was seriously monkeyed up in Utah, all-too soon leading to the mess we see in modern fundamentalist communities.
While it’s possible the girls had never been baptized before the day they married Wilford Woodruff, it was common in those days to perform subsequent baptisms to demonstrate dedication and purification. It is most likely (given that these girls had somehow arrived at Winters Quarters) that the wedding day baptisms were of this second sort, rather than their initial commitment to the gospel of Christ.
I agree that polygamous men in Utah mostly married young women at the beginning of their reproductive “career.” I argue that was in part a casualty of Bennett’s activities in Nauvoo. There is a time when Joseph Smith asked Heber C. Kimball to take on plural wives. Heber selected a couple of widows he felt his wife would get along with. It’s been imputed that these widows were older women, but I don’t recall off hand if the record actually mentions age or just that these are women Heber felt would get along with Vilate. However Joseph asked Heber to instead marry Sarah Peak Noon. Sarah was a widow, but still of childbearing age. She proceeded to bear a number of children after the marriage to Kimball, the date of which is inferred from the birth of her first child.
The case of Sarah Peak Noon is cited repeatedly as discounting the validity of using polygamy for the purpose of providing for older women. “It’s for raising up the next generation,” I’ve been told time and again, always with the citation of the Kimball-Noon situation.
However if you consider the possibility that the Bennett sex ring had resulted in multiple pregnancies, another possible explanation for the Kimball-Noon marriage emerges. Catherine Fuller Warren [Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, pp. 24-25] makes it clear that some of the female participants in these sex acts acted in good faith. I think Sarah Peak Noon was another of these. But there was no reason to expose more than a small number of these ladies to public knowledge.
With the exception of Sarah Whitney, all the plural marriages conducted in 1842 have characteristics that potentially link them to the investigation and cover-up of the Bennett sex ring. The majority of 1843 marriages, I submit, were colored by an attempt to reach out to the women who had been misled as a result of the questioning conducted in 1842. All too many of these 1843 women were young ladies in their late teens, further reinforcing the idea that Mormon plural marriage was primarily for procreation and to be contracted with girls in their teen years.
I completely agree that widespread polygamy doesn’t always protect, and that it certainly pushes down the age of women entering into marriages.
I would perhaps suggest, however, that the status of women, and protection of women, is not so much correlated with scarcity of women in the context of gender parity, but perceived population pressure. Even though the women M Miles studied in Central Asia might not be in over-populated conditions, the entire world is believe to be over-populated. The range of social realities inimical to the protection of children is vast, and goes well beyond violence against women in polygamous households.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the 1650 situation in Germany: “On February 14, 1650, the parliament at Nürnberg decreed that, because so many men were killed during the Thirty Years’ War, the churches for the following ten years could not admit any man under the age of 60 into a monastery. Priests and ministers not bound by any monastery were allowed to marry. Lastly, the decree stated that every man was allowed to marry up to ten women. The men were admonished to behave honorably, provide for their wives properly, and prevent animosity among them.” By the definition of protection I’ve proposed (women allowed to bear children in the context of a respectful marriage where they are cared for), the 1650 case seems to fit the bill.
Luckily there was a time limit for Nürnberg. And I submit the possibility that had Joseph lived, he would have put an end to polygamy after a period of several years (1890 being a year that is at least hinted at in scripture).
My husband and I were intrigued by the discussion of polyandry (in the Wikipedia article on polygamy) where all brothers married the same woman, allowing the family to maintain a reduced population in resource-constrained conditions and avoiding division of the family property into parcels that would be too small to be useful for crop production.
So M Miles and ARM, please don’t desist (though perhaps we should desist commenting on this thread). I am grateful for the intellectual tension, as it provides me with the impetus to seek more truth. It is like playing one of those Zuma-inspired bubble games, though. The factoids you shoot at me don’t always produce the effect you wanted. But they are producing an effect.
Meg, number 2. Sorry for not being more precise.
S’Okay – I could wish Joseph had been more precise in his teachings regarding polygamy. Then the rest of us wouldn’t have had such a difficult and faith-challenging time piecing it together. But I guess Emma wanted him to live as long as permitted, so I won’t begrudge him the obfuscation.
[Edited May 13, 2014 to add more]
As the author of this thread, I can insert stuff even when comments are closed.
When I started this series, I had a choice to make about Bennett, and I didn’t have as complete a knowledge as I now do about the events of May-July 1841.
1) Was there a way to explain the alienation between John C. Bennett and his wife that didn’t necessitate Bennett being an adulterer, as his wife believed?
2) Why would Joseph not reprimand Bennett as soon as he received George Miller’s damning letter of 2 March 1841, which clearly portrayed Bennett as a married man who had abandoned his wife and also a dishonest fellow who had left a trail of ruin in his wake?
3) Given Miller’s March letter, why did Joseph attack Bennett after receiving a letter from Hyrum repeating what had been in Miller’s letter?
I had happened across the story of Dr. Jesse Bennett some years ago when trying to determine if it would be credible for one of my fictional characters to survive a Cesarean section. Dr. Jesse Bennett was also a doctor specializing in female medicine, highly unique in that day. Dr. Jesse Bennett’s wife had died in the 1830s. And Dr. Jesse Bennett lived not terribly far away from Dr. John Bennett – far enough that they wouldn’t likely be acquaintances, but close enough that garbled word of the death of Jesse’s wife could have reached Mary Bennett and been misunderstood. I think one lived in Mason County, Virginia and the other in Mason County, Ohio, or something confusingly similar like that.
Obviously Dr. John Bennett could have been the fly-by-night adulterer his wife believed him to be. However as I plan to eventually write a necessarily fictional treatment in which Bennett is a POV character, it is easier to start with a character who is misunderstood than a character who is already grossly evil. Bennett’s later pattern of behavior also seems consistent with the kind of behavior exhibited by those who endured sexual abuse as children, so my plan is to have him reflect on having been the catamite of a rich lawyer (who had studied far too much Greek philosophy) during the period after John’s father died and his family was impoverished. In this case, his temptations are powerful and compelling things a more well-adjusted man could have walked away from.
All this above is plausible speculation in the service of creating backstory for a character in fiction. Therefore the standard is plausibility rather than likelihood.
As for the matter of Joseph Smith and the letters revealing Bennett to be a married man, others had speculated that Joseph’s July 1841 attack on Bennett, recounted by Lorenzo Wasson, was a result of the letter from Hyrum. This left the dangling issue of why Joseph would be so upset upon receiving Hyrum’s letter if he hadn’t been upset by George Miller’s letter. So for a while I supposed that the same plausible newspaper clipping that could have caused Mary Bennett to believe her husband was a bigamist could have also been used by a mostly-innocent John Bennett to imply his wife was dead, negating Joseph’s need to curtail Bennett’s romantic activities.
However in light of the July 1841 accusation from Backenstos that he found Bennett in an intimate situation with Sarah Pratt, followed by Bennett’s accusation that Francis Higbee had the clap from cavorting with a whore from Warsaw, all of which had been discussed before dozens of men at the Masonic Hall and then written up in the papers in 1844, it becomes clear that the angry confrontation between Joseph and Bennett was not prompted by Hyrum’s letter at all, but by Bennett’s seduction of Sarah Pratt, wife of Orson Pratt.
This means Joseph likely curtailed Bennett’s access to whatever single woman he had been courting sometime in March 1841. Bennett had from mid-March until July to ripen in temptation, desire, and sin. There is no need to explain why Joseph’s attitude regarding Bennett changed so utterly between March (Miller’s letter) and June (Hyrum’s letter) because the confrontation was prompted by actual adultery, not the discovery that Bennett had a living wife.