The recollections of Joseph Smith’s plural wives contain several descriptions of how cautiously he introduced the subject to them, allowing them time to ponder his proposal and pray for guidance.1

Emily Dow Partridge recalled in 1892 that Joseph Smith approached her when they were alone “and asked me if I could keep a secret, and I told him I thought I could, and then he told me that he would some time if he had an opportunity,—he would tell me something that would be for my benefit, if I would not betray him, and I told him I wouldn’t.”2 Despite this introduction, time passed without more developments.

Emily continued:

Well it run along for a good while,—I don’t know just how long, and there was no opportunity of saying anything to me more than he had, and one day he sat in the room alone, and I passed through it and he called to me or spoke to me, and called me to him, and then he said that he had intended to tell me something, but he had no opportunity to do so, and so he would write me a letter, if I would agree to burn it as soon as I read it, and with that I looked frightened, for I thought there was something about it that was not just right, and so I told him that I would rather that he would not write to me,—that he would not write me any letter, and then he asked me if I wanted him to say any more, and I said yes, that I did not want to hear anything more about it at all, for I had got a little frightened about it.3

Although Emily does not state the reason for her fears, she undoubtedly knew that the subject of the letter was plural marriage.

Over the ensuing months, Emily’s feelings changed:

Well it went in that condition and there was not anything more said about it for several months, not until 1843 I think,—some time in ‘43, for he had no other opportunity until then and I did not think he would ever say anything more about it until then, but I had thought a great deal about it in that time, and I had prayed for it to know what it was, and if it was my duty. I thought I ought to have listened to it, that is, to what he was going to tell me or write to me, for I was greatly troubled over it, as I feared I had done wrong in not listening to it,—and so I prayed to be enlightened in regard to what I should have done. Well, in time I became convinced that there was nothing wrong about it, and that it would be right for me to hear what he had to say, but there was nothing more said for a good while after I came to that conclusion. I think it was months before there was anything more said about it, but I don’t know just how long it was.4

Perhaps sensing Emily’s change of heart, the Prophet approached her asking for another “opportunity to speak” and she “granted it. … He told me then what he wanted to say to me, and he taught me this principle of plural marriage called polygamy now, but we called it celestial marriage, and he told me that this principle had been revealed to him but it was not generally known; and he went on and said that the Lord had given me to him, and he wanted to know if I would consent to a marriage, and I consented.”5

Elsewhere Emily recalled that the sealing was performed at the Kimball home quickly at the end of a workday, then “Joseph went home his way, and I going my way alone.” She added: “A strange way of getting married, wasn’t it?”6

In 1883, Almera W. Johnson remembered her own protracted experience in learning about plural marriage “in the years 1842 and 1843”:

During that time the Prophet Joseph Smith taught me the principle of Celestial Marriage including plurality of wives and asked me to become his wife. He first spoke to me on this subject at the house of my brother Benjamin F. I also lived a portion of the time at Brother Joseph Smith’s in Nauvoo, when many conversations passed between him and myself on this subject. … At the time this [plural marriage] took place Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s brother, came to me and said, I need not be afraid. I had been fearing and doubting about the principle and so had he, but he now knew it was true.7

Almera lived several miles east of Nauvoo in Ramus, which would have presented limited opportunities to discuss the principle with Joseph, so the “many conversations” prior to their sealing likely would have required perhaps many months.

At least some accounts suggest that pre-marriage interactions between the Prophet and his prospective plural wives involved instructions concerning the underlying theological principles either from Joseph or an intermediary. Although no account specifically describes a number of times such instructional visits occurred, it seems likely that understanding the topic would have required several conversations over time.

Typical courting behaviors such as walks, buggy rides, the exchange of physical affection, or flirtatious conversations, whether publicly or privately, did not occur. In no case is there evidence of a quick sealing as a result of mounting passion or attraction.

  1. An exception may be Helen Mar Kimball whose father, Heber, initiated her introduction to plural marriage and her sealing to the Prophet when she was fourteen. Joseph participated, but his role, if any, in initiating the proceedings is unknown. I conclude, based on my reading of the available evidence, that this plural marriage did not include conjugality. Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, “Scenes in Nauvoo,” Woman’s Exponent 11, no. 5, (August 1, 1882): 39; and her “Scenes in Nauvoo after the Martyrdom of the Prophet and Patriarch,” Woman’s Exponent 11, no. 19 (March 1, 1883): 146; Helen [Mar Kimball Whitney], Letter to Mary Bond, n.d., 3–4, Biographical Folder Collection, P21, f11 [Myron H. Bond], item 22, 23, 24, Community of Christ Archives; Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, “Autobiography, March 30, 1881, MS 744, LDS Church History Library; typescript and copy of holograph reproduced in Holzapfel and Holzapfel, A Woman’s View, 482–87. See also Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 98.  (back)
  2. Emily D. P. Young, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, Part 3, p. 350, question 22.  (back)
  3. Emily D. P. Young, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, page 350, question 22.  (back)
  4. Emily D. P. Young, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, page 350, question 22.  (back)
  5. Emily D. P. Young, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, pages 350–52, questions 22–24. See also, Affidavit, May 1, 1869, Joseph F. Smith, Affidavit Books, 1:11, 13.  (back)
  6. Emily D. P. Young, Autobiographical Sketch, “Written Especially for My Children, January 7, 1877,” Marriott Library, manuscript owned by Emily Young Knopp, copy of typescript in my possession.  (back)
  7. Almera W. Johnson, Affidavit, August 1, 1883, digital holograph, MS 3423, Church History Library; typescript published in Joseph Fielding Smith, Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage, 70–71.  (back)

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