LDS Mormon Women Celestial Marriage





What Mormon Women Felt About Polygamy

(All of the following are excerpts from "Mormon Polygamy: A History", by LDS Author Richard S. Van Wagoner, Chapter 9, "Women in Polygamy")

1. Did Mormon Women Really Have a Choice to Accept or Reject Polygamy?

No, women had no real choice, thank's to the Mormon "Law of Sarah."

The process for exempting a wife from the "Law of Sarah" is outlined in the 1843 revelation on the law of polygamy in Doctrine & Covenants 132:64-65

64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the [plural wife] law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.

65 Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law [of polygamy], for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife.

Apostle Orson Pratt also explained this clause in the Lord's Law of Celestial Marriage:

Apostle Orson Pratt"When a man who has a wife, teaches her the law of God, and she refuses to give her consent for him to marry another according to that law, then, it becomes necessary, for her to state before the President the reasons why she withholds her consent; if her reasons are sufficient and justifiable and the husband is found in the fault, or in transgression, then, he is not permitted to take any step in regard to obtaining another. But if the wife can show no good reason why she refuses to comply with the law which was given unto Sarah of old, then it is lawful for her husband, if permitted by revelation through the prophet, to be married to others without her consent, and he will be justified, and she will be condemned, because she did not give them unto him, as Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham, and as Rachel and Leah gave Bilhah and Zilpah to their husband, Jacob." (The Seer, Vol.1, No.3, p.41)
When cross-examined during the Reed Smoot hearings, church president Joseph F. Smith gave the official church position on the necessity of a wife's consent to polygamy:
Prophet Joseph F SmithPresident Smith: The condition is that if she does not consent the Lord will destroy her, but I do not know how he will do it.
Question: Is it not true that ... if she refuses her consent her husband is exempt from the law which requires her consent.
President Smith: Yes; he is exempt from the law which requires her consent. She is commanded to consent, but if she does not, then he is exempt from the requirement.
Question: Then he is at liberty to proceed without her consent, under the law. In other words, her consent amounts to nothing?
President Smith: It amounts to nothing but her consent.

In 1875 Apostle Wilford Woodruff announced, "We have many bishops and elders who have but one wife. brigham youngThey are abundantly qualified to enter the higher law and take more, but their wives will not let them. Any man who permits a woman to lead him and bind him down is but little account in the church and Kingdom of God."

Brigham Young declared "Let the father be the head of the family … and let the wives and the children say amen to what he says, and be subject to his dictates, instead of their dictating the man, instead of trying to govern him."

2. Women Felt Obligated to Accept Polygamy

sarah rich"Many may think it very strange that I would consent for my dear husband, whom I loved as I did my own life and lived with him for years, to take more wives," wrote Sarah D. Rich, wife of Apostle Charles C. Rich. "This I could not have done if I had not believed it to be right in the Sight of god, and believed it to be one principal of his gospel once again restored to earth, that those holding the priesthood of heaven might by obeying this order attain to a higher glory in the eternal world." (spelling corrected)

annie clark tannerAnnie Clark Tanner was similarly certain that "women would never have accepted polygamy had it not been for their religion. The principle of Celestial Marriage was considered the capstone of the Mormon religion. Only by practicing it would the highest exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom of God be obtained."

George S. Tanner, prominent Utah educator and polygamous son, reasoned: "I doubt there was a woman in the church who was in any way connected with Polygamy who was not heartsick. They would not admit it in public because of their loyalty to the church and their brothers and sisters." Tanner was persuaded that "the women try to be brave, but no woman is able to share a husband whom she loves with one or more other women. Only a few of the women involved in polygamy asked for a divorce simply because it was not a popular thing to do."

Mrs. Hubert Howe Bancroft, a prominent visitor to Salt Lake City in 1880, commented on the ability of polygamous women to maintain appearances. She observed that Mormon women viewed polygamy as "a religious duty and schooled themselves to bear its discomforts as a sort of religious penance, and that it was a matter of pride to make everybody believe they lived happily and to persuade themselves and others that it was not a trial; and that long life of such discipline makes the trial lighter."

3. What Mormon Women Really Felt About Polygamy

Phebe Woodruff
Phebe Woodruff, first wife of Apostle Wilford Woodruff, also shared the ambivalent feelings of Mormon women in polygamy. Called upon to defend the principle in a mass meeting of Mormon women, Phebe bore testimony that "If I am proud of anything in this world, it is that I accepted the principle of plural marriage, and remained among the people called 'Mormons' and am numbered with them to-day." A few days later in a conversation with a long-time friend she was asked, "How is it Sister Woodruff that you have changed your views so suddenly about polygamy? I thought you hated and loathed the institution." "I have not changed," was her response: "I loathe the unclean thing with all the strength of my nature, but Sister, I have suffered all that a woman can endure. I am old and helpless, and would rather stand up anywhere, and say anything commanded of me, than to be turned out of my home in my old age which I should be most assuredly if I refused to obey counsel."

mary ann youngMary Ann Angell Young
Mary Ann Angell Young, Brigham Young's second wife, was a patient, uncomplaining woman. But even she reportedly remarked to a friend, "God will be very cruel if he does not give us poor women adequate compensation for the trials we have endured in polygamy."

The highly favored Emmeline Free Young experienced, as Mary Ann put it, "the torments of the damned" over being displaced by Brigham's younger wife, Amelia Folsom. When a friend asked one of Mary Ann's daughters if it did not grieve her mother to see Young's devotion to his new wife, she replied, "Mother does not care. She is past being grieved by his conduct, but, on the other hand, it gives her most intense satisfaction to see Emmeline suffer as she does. She can understand now what mother had to undergo in past years. In fact, all the women are glad that Emmeline is getting her turn at last."

zina youngZina D. Jacobs Smith Young
When a woman whose husband had taken a second wife went to Zina in great anguish of mind to ask, "Does the fault lie in myself that I am so miserable; or is the system to blame for it?" Zina reportedly replied, "Sister, you are not to blame, neither are you the only woman who is suffering torments on account of polygamy. There are women in this very house [Brigham Young's] whose hearts are full of hell, and in that room … is a woman who has been a perfect fury ever since Brother Young married Sister Amelia Folsom. Brigham Young dare not enter that room or she would tear his eyes out. It is the system that is to blame for it, but we must try and be as patient as we can."

Zina was quoted in the 19 November 1869 New York World. "They expect too much attention from the husband, and because they do not get it, or see a little attention bestowed upon one of the other wives, they become sullen and morose, and permit their ill-temper to finally find vent." Zina felt that "a successful polygamous wife must regard her husband with indifference, and with no other feeling than that of reverence, for love we regard as a false sentiment; a feeling which should have no existence in polygamy."

vilate kimballVilate Kimball
Vilate Kimball, first wife of Heber C. Kimball, also recognized the value of romantic distance in a plural marriage. Counseling an unhappy plural wife, she advised the woman that "her comfort must be wholly in her children; that she must lay aside wholly all interest or thought in what her husband was doing while he was away from her" and be as "pleased to see him when he came in as she was pleased to see any friend."

Sarah Pratt
Sarah Pratt insisted that the first wife "should be it, and resented her husband's affections toward his other wives. Being away from home on church assignment was a hallmark of dedication for Mormon males, and during the years 1839-68, Orson Pratt was absent from his home for a total of nearly eleven years. Thirteen children were born during this period. Death took many, and other hands than Orson's usually buried them.

Ultimately Pratt's preoccupation with church work and his habit of marrying much younger women dealt a fatal blow to his relationship with Sarah. After returning from England in early 1868, the fifty-seven-year-old man began courting a sixteen-year-old girl who would become his tenth wife on 28 December 1868. At fifty-one, Sarah could no longer bear children, and she had come to resent bitterly Pratt's relationships with women younger than their oldest daughter. In an 1877 interview she lashed out at him. "Here was my husband," she said, "gray headed, taking to his bed young girls in mockery of marriage. Of course there could be no joy for him in such an intercourse except the indulgence of his fanaticism and of something else, perhaps, which I hesitate to mention."

Sarah castigated polygamy as the "direst curse with which a people or a nation could be afflicted. It completely demoralizes good men, and makes bad men correspondingly worse. As for the women—well, God help them! First wives it renders desperate, or else heart-broken, mean-spirited creatures; and it almost unsexes some of the other women, but not all of them, for plural wives have their sorrows too."

martha cannonMartha Hughes Cannon
Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon, twenty-seven-year-old resident physician at Deseret Hospital in Salt Lake City and later the first female state senator in the United States, became the third plural wife of fifty-year-old Angus Cannon, Salt Lake City stake president and one of Deseret Hospital's directors. She described her polygamous marriage as "a few stolen interviews thoroughly tinctured with the dread of discovery." In a 3 February 1888 letter to her husband while she was in Europe, she wrote that the trials of polygamy would be unendurable without "a thorough knowledge from God, that the principle for which we are battling and striving to maintain in purity upon the earth is ordained by Him, and that we are chosen instruments in His hands to engage in so great a calling." She added that "even with this assurance grounded in one's heart, we do not escape trials and temptations, grievious at times in their nature."

Martha was acquainted with several monogamous families and yearned for an exclusive relationship. She described such a marriage as "a joy and comfort to witness, where the wife and Mother is proud and happy in the devotion of a noble husband, while he in turn is equally contented and happy in the possession of the partner he has chosen for life; while at home in each other's association is where their greatest joys are centered." "Oh for a home!" she lamented in a 30 December 1891 letter to Angus: "A husband of my own because he is my own. A father for my children whom they know by association. And all the little auxiliaries that make life worth living. Will they ever be enjoyed by this storm-tossed exile. Or must life thus drift on and one more victim swell the ranks of the great unsatisfied!"

Martha wrote her polygamous husband: "How do you think I feel when I meet you driving another plural wife about in a glittering carriage in broad day light? I am entirely out of money—borrowing to pay some old standing debts. I want our affairs speedily and absolutely adjusted—after all my sacrifice and loss you treat me like a dog—and parade others before my eyes—I will not stand it."

Sadie Jacobs
"If anyone in this world thinks plural marriage is not a trial," Sadie Jacobson said, "they are wrong. The Lord said he would have a tried people."

Daughter of Jedediah M. Grant
"Polygamy is alright when properly carried out—on a shovel."

emmeline wellsEmmeline B. Wells
Emmeline's marriage to Daniel was unhappy. "O, if my husband could only love me even a little and not seem to be perfectly indifferent to any sensation of that kind," she wrote in her 30 September 1874 diary. "He cannot know the craving of my nature; he is surrounded with love on every side, and I am cast out.… O my poor aching heart when shall it rest its burden only on the Lord.… Every other avenue seems closed against me." On their twenty second wedding anniversary she wrote in her diary, "Anniversary of my marriage with Pres. Wells. O how happy I was then how much pleasure I anticipated and how changed alas are things since that time, how few thoughts I had then have ever been realized, and how much sorrow I have known in place of the joy I looked forward to."

(For the above references and more information on polygamy, refer to Mormon Polygamy: A History, by LDS Author Richard S. Van Wagoner)

For more discussion on Mormon sexuality, see this on-line article:
Sexuality Within The Contemporary Mormon Experience

Notice how little Mormon apologists have to say about this great revealed Mormon doctrine and experience:

Next: Summary of Mormon Polygamy Facts and Myths

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