As a personality of the nineteenth century, Joseph Smith stands out as extraordinary. While many writers have been critical of him and his teachings, most historians are impressed with at least some of his accomplishments, even those who believe he was a charlatan.

He published a five hundred-page book of scripture, organized a new religion, dictated more than a hundred revelations, founded at least three cities, built one temple and began others, and revealed a remarkable theological framework that both expanded and contradicted Christian thinking of the era.1

Of all of Joseph Smith teachings and practices, none has been more controversial than his introduction of the practice of plural marriage among his followers. He reported that an angel commanded him not only to establish it but also to teach it as a doctrinal mandate to other Church members.2


Joseph Smith Preaching

In the decades that followed, most writers criticized him and the practice using the harshest of terms. Scores of nineteenth century writers saw Joseph Smith’s libido as the sole driving force pushing the establishment of plural marriage forward.

Providing a contrasting view to the abundant anti-polygamy indictments are reports from Nauvoo polygamists themselves. While those accounts contain many more details, they are not nearly so numerous.

The best source of information would be Joseph Smith; however, he left only one document specifically discussing the subject: the revelation recorded on July 12, 1843, on celestial marriage, now Doctrine and Covenants Section 132.

The only additional pertinent contemporaneous statements are found in William Clayton’s journal.3

Beyond these historical sources, everything learned about Joseph Smith’s polygamy is second-hand, coming from later recollections and reminiscences, which may suffer from their own credibility problems.

Researchers seeking to understand the details surrounding Joseph Smith’s personal practice of plural marriage must acknowledge that the only individual who knew definitively about the Prophet’s motives, intentions, and practice of polygamy left no record about these central matters.

Given the plethora of accusations from antagonistic writers and the paucity of contemporary documents from participants, authors have been challenged in their attempts to reconstruct the process through which Joseph Smith established the practice of plural marriage.

In approaching this task, we acknowledge that indisputable conclusions are probably impossible to draw without additional documentation that may never have existed or has not survived the decades since the 1840s.

Plural Marriage May Have Been Difficult for Joseph Smith to Accept

Numerous narratives indicate that Joseph Smith initially resisted an angel who commanded him to marry plural wives.

Benjamin F. Johnson remembered that Joseph “put it off” and “waited untill an Angel with a drawn Sword Stood before him and declared that if he longer delayed fulfilling that Command he would Slay him.”4

Lorenzo Snow recalled that the Prophet “hesitated and deferred from time to time” and that he “foresaw the trouble that would follow and sought to turn away from the commandment.”5

Erastus Snow reported that the angel accused the Prophet of “being neglectful in the discharges of his duties” and spoke “of Joseph having to plead on his knees before the Angel for his Life.”6

According to Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, the angel was required to visit Joseph three times between 1834 and 1842 before he fully complied: “An angel came to him [Joseph Smith] and the last time he came with a drawn sword in his hand and told Joseph if he did not go into that principle, he would slay him. Joseph said he talked to him soberly about it, and told him it was an abomination and quoted scripture to him. He said in the Book of Mormon it was an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, and they were to adhere to these things except the Lord speak. … [The Prophet reported that] the angel came to me three times between the years of 1834 and 1842 and said I was to obey that principle or he would slay me.”7

Three of Joseph Smith’s other plural wives recalled similar reluctance:

Eliza R. Snow described Joseph as “afraid to promulgate it.”8

Helen Mar Kimball Whitney remembered, “Had it not been for the fear of His displeasure, Joseph would have shrunk from the undertaking and would have continued silent, as he did for years, until an angel of the Lord threatened to slay him if he did not reveal and establish this celestial principle.”9 She also said that “Joseph put off the dreaded day as long as he dared.”10

Lucy Walker reported that Joseph “had his doubts about it for he debated it in his own mind.” 11

Accounts from those who personally heard the Prophet’s teachings concerning plural marriage consistently relate that his initial response to the practice was revulsion—a response similar to that of most Mormons in the 1840s and now.

Additional evidence supports that Joseph Smith understood plural marriage as a difficult principle for his followers to accept, especially women. Polygamy on earth expands the man’s emotional and sexual relationships (as a husband) as it simultaneously diminishes the woman’s emotional and sexual relationship (as a wife).

Bathsheba B. Smith remembered that he [Joseph Smith] recognized that it would be a “troubling” doctrine: “I heard the Prophet give instructions concerning plural marriage; he counseled the sisters not to trouble themselves in consequence of it, that all would be right.” Then he promised them that it “the result would be for their glory and exaltation.” Bathsheba also related: “I heard him [Joseph Smith] tell the sisters one time not to feel worried,—that all was right … all will be well in the end.”12

The Prophet apparently realized that plural marriage would create anxiety in participants and sought to assuage those concerns.

To help his potential plural brides overcome their initial disgust at the thought of polygamy, the Prophet promised at least two of them that they could receive their own spiritual confirmation that polygamy was divinely sanctioned.13

The Prophet’s contemporaries recorded that Joseph Smith reacted to the command to practice polygamy with dismay, and he afterwards sympathized with the challenge that plural marriage represented to Church members.

Joseph Smith Cautiously Approached Potential New Wives

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.14

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.”15 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.16

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.17

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.”18

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?”19

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.20

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.

Rejections of Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriage Proposals

Lucy Walker remembered the Prophet’s emphasis that plural wives should not be coerced or manipulated: “A woman would have her choice, this was a privilege that could not be denied her.”21

When arranging a marriage for his brother William Smith, Joseph apparently respected this ideal by inviting the woman, Mary Ann Covington, to participate only if she “felt willing to consent to it.”22

Later sealing ceremonies in the Nauvoo Temple required the acknowledgement that all participants were there by their free will and choice, a requirement that likely began with Joseph. The only recorded ceremony sealing Joseph Smith to a plural wife was dictated by revelation to Church Bishop Newel K. Whitney who pronounced the ceremony marrying his daughter, Sarah Ann Whitney to the Prophet. It provided the opportunity for her to decline: “you both mutu[al]ly agree calling them by name to be each others companion so long as you both shall live.”23

Joseph Smith’s offers of plural marriage were apparently turned down by at least seven women. His preferred response to these rejections seems to have been to let the matter rest. No evidence of retaliatory excommunications or other vengeful reactions has been found, although twice he sought to counteract allegations he considered untrue.

Joseph Smith Quietly Allowed for One Divorce

In the spring of 1843, Joseph Smith was sealed to Flora Ann Woodworth and thereafter presented her with a gold watch.24 On August 23, 1843, William Clayton reported in his journal a conflict between Emma and Flora Ann: “President Joseph told me that he had difficulty with Emma yesterday. She rode up to Woodworths with him and called while he came to the Temple. When he returned she was demanding the gold watch of Flora [Woodworth]. He reproved her for her evil treatment. On their return home she abused him much.”25

Seymour B. Young, a member of the First Council of Seventy in 1883 and the son of Joseph Young, brother to Brigham recounted in 1912 secondhand information he had received that Joseph Smith had “given a gold locket or watch [to Flora] which was stamped under foot by Emma.” If this foot-stamping incident actually occurred, Flora reacted radically to the quarrel by marrying Carlos Gove, a non-member, the very next day.26

Helen Mar Kimball recounted a different sequence: “A young man boarding at her father’s after the death of Joseph not a member of the Church had sought her hand, in time won her heart, and in a reckless moment she was induced to accept his offer and they eloped to Carthage, accompanied by a young lady friend, and were there married by a Justice of the Peace.”27

Malissa Lott recalled in 1887, “Flora Ann Woodworth … married Carlos Gove at Navoo with the consent of the Prophet.”28 Malissa does not specify whether the “consent” was granted before or after Flora’s legal marriage to Gove; but after witnessing Emma’s confrontation with Flora, Joseph may have returned to the Woodworth home that very evening to discuss the situation. Regardless, he allowed Flora to separate from him without any public repercussions.

Flora’s eternal sealing to the Prophet may also have been cancelled. She was not one of the twenty-nine women who were sealed by proxy to Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo Temple in 1846.29

On a note sheet he created in late 1886 or early 1887, Andrew Jenson recorded: “She [Flora Ann Woodword] regretted her last marriage, her husband being an unbeliever, and intended to cling to the Prophet.”30

Helen Mar Kimball Whitney had earlier chronicled: “Flora was never happy with him as he hated the Mormons, and she felt condemned for the rash step she had taken. She made this confession to me while I was nursing her, and said she desired to cling to Joseph hereafter. … She still expressed herself as strong in the faith of the Gospel, also her great desire to cleave to the Prophet. I never saw her again as she died at that place, [Winter Quarters] leaving two or three children.”31

Flora Ann’s desire to “cling” and “cleave” to the Prophet could be references to an eternal sealing.

Joseph Smith Considered Himself A Genuine Husband to His Plural Wives

Joseph Smith always required a priesthood sealing ordinance to create an eternal marriage, either monogamous or polygamous. Thereafter, the man and the woman were married with all the obligations incumbent upon husbands and wives including the revelation that specified: “Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance” (D&C 83:2).

While little is known concerning Joseph Smith’s day-to-day interactions with his plural wives, they later wrote that they viewed him as their eternal husband. Detailed analysis of the living conditions experienced by all of Joseph Smith’s plural wives in Nauvoo is impossible due to a lack of documentation, but it appears that the Prophet accepted his husbandly responsibilities seriously.

Historians Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery wrote: “No evidence exists that [Joseph Smith] assumed the support of his wives in the traditional sense of providing them with food, clothing, and shelter, except for the young women in his house.” That is, Joseph’s plural wives did not all live together.

However, King and Avery also noted that their material needs were met: “Some remained with their parents; others lived with other plural wives; a few lived with other families where plural marriage was also practiced. Their personal accounts attest that, for the most part, they felt Joseph cared for them, and they felt important to him.”32

Typically the Prophet would arrange for the woman to live with a friend, relative, or other provider, thus allowing their material needs to be met. His friends were willing to lend support and keep secrets.

Reportedly Joseph asked members of the Quorum of the Twelve to marry and care for his widows in the event of his death.33

Oa J. Cannon, a descendant Zina D. H. Young and her first husband Henry Jacobs, and an energetic family historian, wrote: “There is a family tradition that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and the rest of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles approached the widows of Joseph Smith and offered themselves as husbands. Smith reportedly had asked the apostles to do this if he should die.”

Cannon added, “Thus Young and Kimball, in approaching Smith’s wives, were not simply adding numerous wives to their own polygamous families as quickly as possible; they may have been acting out of a sense of responsibility to their fallen leader.”34 If this tradition is true, it would constitute additional evidence that the Prophet considered his plural wives to be genuine spouses for whom he felt real concern and obligation.

Women May Have Sought to be Sealed to Joseph Smith

At least one woman sought to be sealed to Joseph Smith during his lifetime. (Scores more were sealed to him posthumously.) At the time that eternal and plural marriage was being introduced in Nauvoo, apparently some women had a choice about the man to whom they would be sealed for eternity.

Researcher Rex E. Cooper observed: “In some instances … women might have just preferred to be sealed eternally to Joseph Smith rather than to the man that they had married by civil authority.”35

Andrew Jenson interviewed many Nauvoo polygamists in 1886–87 in preparation for his 1887 Historical Record article identifying Joseph Smith’s plural wives. In his collected papers at the LDS Church History Library is a scrawled note in his handwriting that one of the Prophet’s plural wives, Ruth Vose Sayers, initiated her sealing to Joseph.36 Ruth died three years earlier and Jenson did not identify his informant, but the information is obviously secondhand.

It is apparent from this documentary record that at least one of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages was for eternity only—that is, without sexual relations during mortality. Historical data that is quoted to support the presence of sexual polyandry in any of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages is problematic and the contradictory evidence is compelling.37

With one exception, the exact wording used to perform any of Joseph Smith’s plural ceremonies was not recorded.38 Therefore, it is not possible to confirm or deny that ceremonies were performed during Joseph’s lifetime using the language “eternity only.”39

In addition, none of the participants claimed to recall the exact phrasing.40

Andrew Jenson’s notes regarding Ruth Vose Sayers’s sealing to the Prophet suggest that it was a union operational only for the next life and would not include conjugality on earth. Likely other plural sealings were similar.

For several reasons, women may have considered the Prophet attractive as an eternal mate, even if they remained with their legal husbands until death. In light of the documented case of Ruth Vose Sayers, assuming that the Prophet initiated every plural marriage proposal may not be justified.

The precise dynamics underlying Joseph Smith’s incentives for being sealed to so many plural wives remain unclear. It would oversimplify the situation, to identify only a single motivation, especially since he left no record concerning his personal thoughts and feelings regarding plural marriage.

Sealings after July 1843

It appears that Emma tried desperately to accept the principle and support Joseph in its practice at times, but this support never lasted very long. She participated in four plural sealings in May of 1843 by approving the candidate wives and placing each woman’s hand upon Joseph’s during the ceremony.41

Within weeks, her experiences in a plural household became unbearable for her, and she withdrew her support.42

In response, Hyrum asked Joseph to dictate a revelation explaining the practice. Sure that the infusion of prophetic clarity would assuage Emma’s concerns, Hyrum brought her the written document (now D&C 132) on July 12, 1843, and either read it to her or gave it to her to read. Her reaction was not the reconciliation he had hoped for but an outburst of frustration and bitterness.

While some details in the different versions of this episode are contradictory, Emma apparently insisted that the original revelation be burned, although a copy had already been made.43

Furthermore, she apparently confronted Joseph with an ultimatum that included the threat of divorce and/or exposure.44

On July 13, the day after her explosive meeting with Hyrum, Joseph and Emma came to an agreement that included the transfer of property and other resources into Emma’s name, so that if anything happened to him or to their marriage, she could support herself and their children.45 This was a token gesture as married women’s property was considered communal, but it seemed to give her solace.

Joseph Lee Robinson recalled those tensions, although he does not explain how he was privy to the details he declared:

[There] was at a time when she [Emma] was very suspicious and jealous of him [Joseph] for fear he would get another wife, for she knew the prophet had a revelation on that subject. She (Emma) was determined he should not get another, if he did she was determined to leave and when she heard this, she, Emma, became very angry and said she would leave and was making preparations to go to her people in the State of New York. It came close to breaking up his family. However, he succeeded in saving her at that time but the prophet felt dreadfully bad over it.46

An additional condition of their agreement was apparently Joseph’s concession not to marry any more plural wives without Emma’s permission.47

He was, in fact, sealed to two additional women after this episode, but each was a special circumstance. Two months after this agreement, at the end of September, Joseph was sealed to Malissa Lott, the nineteen-year-old daughter of Cornelius Lott, the caretaker of Joseph’s farm outside of Nauvoo.

In 1892, Malissa explained that Joseph “was the one that preached it [plural marriage], and taught it to me.”48 She also testified that Emma “knew all about it. … She gave her consent.”49

If Malissa is correct, Emma apparently permitted this new union after the July 13, 1843, agreement. It appears she displayed a resurgence of support in September and early October of 1843. During that time, she received all her temple ordinances and began administering them to other sisters in the Church. However, her ability to sincerely support polygamy was still shaky.

A sealing, apparently without Emma’s consent, occurred a month and a half later on November 2, when the thirty-seven-year-old Joseph was sealed to Brigham Young’s fifty-six-year-old sister, Fanny.

Brigham recalled:

I recollect a sister conversing with Joseph Smith on this subject. She told him: “Now, don’t talk to me; when I get into the celestial kingdom, if I ever do get there, I shall request the privilege of being a ministering angel; that is the labor that I wish to perform. I don’t want any companion in that world; and if the Lord will make me a ministering angel, it is all I want.” Joseph said, “Sister, you talk very foolishly, you do not know what you will want.” He then said to me: “Here, brother Brigham, you seal this lady to me.” I sealed her to him. This was my own sister according to the flesh.50

This sealing provided Fanny with a worthy husband in “the celestial kingdom,” with no conjugality on earth. Consequently, it may not have been a concern to Emma. There is no record of Joseph Smith marrying any additional plural wives during the remaining eight months of his life.


A review of Joseph Smith’s personal practice of plural marriage indicates that he was sealed to about three dozen women but could have been sealed to several more if he had desired. In addition, he may have had plural wives that have yet to be identified.

Joseph Smith’s actions implementing the practice of polygamy personally and among his followers might have been less than idyllic. Like all prophets, Joseph was not infallible nor did he claim to be. This was probably easier for those who knew him to accept than for us who have read more of his virtues than failings in traditional religious forums.

This reality makes some members of the Church uncomfortable. In that there is no shame or sin. Reconciling our moral compasses with fragmented details of peculiar events that are contrary to a contemporary religious world view may be a feat that some may not be able to achieve. But it would be a mistake to let something not understood unravel that which is.

If nothing else, an indepth study of early Mormon polygamy reveals its complexity, leading to not easily answered questions. On the one hand, the necessity or desirability of the earthly practice of plural marriage in modern times—let alone eternity—seems nebulous, but on the other there are the personal spiritual witnesses of participants propelling the practice in Nauvoo and later in Utah.

That they would see things so differently than we do should bear weight in our evaluation. As members we may feel a necessity to resolve these seeming inconsistencies.

Having gone through this process, we suggest a more open approach. Knowing may not be as important of a destination as continually searching and learning is as a journey.

And where we allocate those investigative energies is important. Joseph Smith himself declared: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth.”51

This is a brief overview of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. If it has piqued your interest, then please check out Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding.

  1. John L. Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644–1844 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), xvi.  (back)
  2. Brian C. Hales, “Encouraging Joseph Smith to Practice Plural Marriage: The Accounts of the Angel with a Drawn Sword,” Mormon Historical Studies vol. 11, no. 2 (Fall 2010): 23–39.  (back)
  3. William Clayton’s journal restricted; held in the First Presidency’s vault, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Administration Building, Salt Lake City. The most widely distributed copy is probably George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1995). This version contains excerpts compiled by George D. Smith from several sources, but primarily consists of excerpts copied by D. Michael Quinn in the 1970s from a transcription (made by an unidentified transcriber) held in the Church Historian’s Office. Excerpts can also be found in James B. Allen, No Toil Nor Labor Fear: The Story of William Clayton (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2002), 385–413; and Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner, eds., Clayton’s Secret Writings Uncovered: Extracts from the Diaries of Joseph Smith’s Secretary William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm Co., [1982]; Robert C. Fillerup, comp., “William Clayton’s Nauvoo Diaries and Personal Writings,” (accessed December 12, 2009).  (back)
  4. Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review 1st ed. (Independence, Missouri: Zion’s Printing & Publishing Co., 1947 (rpt., Mesa, Ariz.: 21st Century Printing, 1992), 95–96, and Dean R. Zimmerman, ed., I Knew the Prophets: An Analysis of the Letter of Benjamin F. Johnson to George F. Gibbs, Reporting Doctrinal Views of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon, 1976), 43. See also Zina Huntington quoted in “Joseph, the Prophet, His Life and Mission as Viewed by Intimate Acquaintances,” Salt Lake Herald Church and Farm Supplement, January 12, 1895, 212.  (back)
  5. Lorenzo Snow, quoted by Eliza R. Snow in Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Company, 1884), 69–70; Lorenzo Snow, Affidavit, August 18, 1869, in Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, 2:19, MS 3423, fd. 5, LDS Church History Library.  (back)
  6. Erastus Snow, quoted in A. Karl Larson and Katherine Miles Larson, Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, 2 vols. (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1980), 2:611, June 17, 1883.  (back)
  7. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner Smith, “Remarks” at Brigham Young University, April 14. 1905, Vault MSS 363, fd. 6, 2-3. See also Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner Smith, “Statement” February 8, 1902, Vesta Crawford Papers, University of Utah, Marriott Library, MS 125, Box 1, fd. 11; original owned by Mrs. Nell Osborne; see also Juanita Brooks Papers, Utah State Historical Society, MS B103, Box 16, fd. 13; Mary E. Lightner, Letter to A. M. Chase, April 20, 1904, quoted in J. D. Stead, Doctrines and Dogmas of Brighamism Exposed ([Lamoni, Iowa]: RLDS Church, 1911), 218–19; Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Letter to Emmeline B. Wells, Summer 1905, MS 282; copy of holograph in Linda King Newell Collection, MS 447, Box 9, fd. 2.  (back)
  8. Eliza R. Snow, quoted in J. J. J., “Two Prophets’ Widows: A Visit to the Relicts of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 18, 1887, 6/E.  (back)
  9. Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1884), 53.  (back)
  10. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1997), 142.  (back)
  11. Lucy Walker, Deposition, Church of Christ in Missouri v. Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 70 F. 179 (8th Cir. 1895), respondent’s testimony, part 3, page 474, questions 600; microfilm at CHL; hereafter cited as Temple Lot Transcript  (back)
  12. Bathsheba Wilson Bigler Smith, Autobiography, holograph: MS 8606; typescript: MS 16633, LDS Church History Library; Bathsheba B. Smith, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, pages 291, 313, questions 14, 466. See also Barbara Fluckiger Watt, “Bathsheba B. Smith,” in Vicky Burgess-Olson, Sister Saints (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1978), 206.  (back)
  13. See, for example, Desdemona Fullmer, Autobiography, excerpted in D. Michael Quinn Papers, Addition, Uncat WA MS 244, Box 1, Special Collections, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, Ithaca, New York; hereafter Quinn Papers. This source should not be confused with the Desdemona Fullmer autobiography catalogued as MS 734 in the Church History Library. See also 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.  (back)
  14. 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)
  15. Emily D. P. Young, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, Part 3, p. 350, question 22.  (back)
  16. Emily D. P. Young, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, page 350, question 22.  (back)
  17. Emily D. P. Young, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, page 350, question 22.  (back)
  18. 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)
  19. 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)
  20. 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)
  21. Lucy Walker Kimball, “A Brief Biographical Sketch of the Life and Labors of Lucy Walker Kimball Smith,” LDS Church History Library; quoted in Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints, 46.  (back)
  22. Mary Ann West, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, pages 495–96, 504, questions 13, 272. According to her testimony, this was the only time she discussed plural marriage with the Prophet. See ibid., page 503, questions 264–65.  (back)
  23. Revelation for Newell K. Whitney, July 27, 1842.  Original manuscript in CHL; quoted in Michael Marquardt, The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999, 315–16; see also Revelations in Addition to Those Found in the LDS Edition of the D&C on New Mormon Studies: A Comprehensive Resource Library. CD-ROM. Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998.  (back)
  24. No record exists of the exact date of the marriage or when Joseph gave Flora Ann the watch. However, a possible date for their sealing is March 4, 1843. The last line of the Prophet’s diary entry for that date appears to have been “Woodworth,” which is crossed out and is difficult to discern. Yet the name “Woodworth” reappears interlineally above in shorthand. Turley, Selected Collections, 1: DVD #20. See also Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 327, xviii. The Prophet may also have given a gold watch to Eliza R. Snow. Mary Ann Boice, in John Boice and Mary Ann [Barzee] Boice, “Record,” 174, MS 8883, microfilm of manuscript, reported that she was “acquainted with Eliza R. Snow Smith, his [Joseph Smith’s] wife and saw his gold watch which she carries.”  (back)
  25. George D. Smith, An Intimate Chronicle, 119.  (back)
  26. Flora Woodworth, Marriage to Carlos Gove, August 23, 1843, in Tri-County Genealogical Society, comp.,Hancock County, Marriage Index, 1829–49 (Augusta, Ill.: Tri-County Genealogical Society, 1983), 19.  (back)
  27. Helen Mar [Kimball] Whitney, “Travels beyond the Mississippi,” Woman’s Exponent, 13, no. 11 (November 1, 1884): 87; emphasis mine. This marriage is not listed in Lyndon Cook, Nauvoo Deaths and Marriages, 1839–1845 (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1994) possibly because his marriage records are extracted from Church publications and records.  (back)
  28. Letter of Malissa Willis to Andrew Jenson, June 27, 1887, in Andrew Jenson Papers (ca. 1871–1942), MS 17956, Document #14, Box 49, fd. 16, LDS Church History Library (hereafter cited by title, document, box, and folder number).  (back)
  29. Tinney, The Royal Family of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., 8–12. A proxy sealing was performed for her and Joseph Smith in the Salt Lake Temple in 1899 under the direction of Lorenzo Snow (41).  (back)
  30. Andrew Jenson, Document #13, “Flora Ann Woodworth biographical information sheet,” in Jenson, Papers, Box 49, fd. 16, Document #13  (back)
  31. Whitney, “Travels beyond the Mississippi,” 87.  (back)
  32. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery. Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1984), 147.  (back)
  33. Brigham Young told Amanda Barnes (who had married two men, both named Warren Smith) that if she had been a plural wife of Joseph Smith, “in Nauvoo, I would have taken you into my family as I did others of the Prophet’s wives.” Amanda Barnes Smith, quoted in Hulda Cordelia Thurston Smith, “O My Children and Grandchildren,” Nauvoo Journal, 4 (1992) 7. Catherine Lewis recalled: “The Apostles said they only took Joseph’s wives to raise up children, carry them through to the next world, there deliver them up to him, by so doing they should gain his approbation, &c.” Catherine Lewis, in Narrative of Some of the Proceedings of the Mormons; Giving an Account of Their Iniquities (Lynn, Mass: By the author, 1848), 19.  (back)
  34. Oa J. Cannon, “Zina Diantha Huntington Young,” 23, Church History Library.  (back)
  35. Rex E. Cooper, “The Promises Made to the Father: A Diachronic Analysis of Mormon Covenant Organization with Reference to Puritan Federal Theology” (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, June 1985), 321.  (back)
  36. “Ruth Vose Sayers Biographical Sketch,” Andrew Jenson Papers, Box 49, fd. 16, Document 5, transcribed by Don Bradley.  (back)
  37. See Brian C. Hales, “Joseph Smith and the Puzzlement of ‘Polyandry,’” in The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy, eds. Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster (Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books, 2010), 99–151.  (back)
  38. Joseph Smith, Revelation for Newel K. Whitney, July 27, 1842, quoted in Marquardt, The Joseph Smith Revelations, 315–16; see also “Revelations in Addition to Those Found in the LDS Edition of the D&C,” in New Mormon Studies: A Comprehensive Resource Library, CD-ROM (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998).  (back)
  39. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 298; see also 295. See also Gary James Bergera, “The Earliest Eternal Sealings of Civilly Married Couples Living and Dead,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 51, 59; Quinn, “Organizational Development and Social Origins of the Mormon Hierarchy,” 154–55; Quinn, “The Mormon Hierarchy, 1832–1932,” 64; Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 183.  (back)
  40. See for example, Malissa Lott, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, pages 95–96, questions 54, 70; Emily Partridge, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, page 359, question 198.  (back)
  41. Emily D. P. Young, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, pages 350–51, question 24; Joseph F. Smith, Affidavit Books, 1:11, 13; Emily D. P. Young, quoted in Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” 240, written February 28, 1887.  (back)
  42. Emily Dow Partridge Young, “Incidents in the Early Life of Emily Dow Partridge,” MS 2845, fd. 1, CHL; see also Emily D. P. Young, Autobiographical Sketch, “Written Especially for My Children, copy of typescript in my possession; Emily D. P. Young, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, pages 366, 384, questions 363, 747.  (back)
  43. Orson Pratt, October 7, 1869, Journal of Discourses, 13:193; Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” 226; Brigham Young, August 9, 1874, Journal of Discourses, 17:159; Comments of Joseph F. Smith, at Quarterly conference held March 3-4, 1883, USHS #64904, page 271; Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of Mormon Polygamy. Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Co., 1914, 153; William E. McLellan, M.D. to President Joseph Smith [III], Independence, Jackson Co. Mo.  July 1872, original in Community of Christ CHL, copy at CHL, MS 9090.  See also Mary B. (Smith) Norman, Idaho Falls, Idaho, to Ina (Smith) Coolbrith, 27 March 1908, original and typescript, Miscellaneous Letters and Papers, P13, f951, Community of Christ Library Archives.  (back)
  44. Emily Dow Partridge recalled that, at one point in 1843, Emma threatened Joseph, saying that he should “give up” his plural wives or “blood should flow.” Emma said that “she would rather her blood would run pure than be polluted in this manner.” Emily D. Partridge Young, Statement beginning “When I was eighteen,” 2, n.d., Ms 2845, LDS Church History Library. See also Boice and Boice “Record,” 174; George D. Smith, An Intimate Chronicle, 110.  (back)
  45. George D. Smith, An Intimate Chronicle, 110; “The Law Interview,” (Salt Lake Tribune, July 31, 1887).  (back)
  46. Oliver Preston Robinson, History of Joseph Lee Robinson, 54.  (back)
  47. D&C 132:64–65 specifies that once the holder of the priesthood keys (then Joseph Smith) teaches his wife concerning plural marriage, she must approve future plural marriages.  (back)
  48. Malissa Lott, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, page 102, question 181.  (back)
  49. Malissa Lott, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, page 97, 100, questions 102, 156. Rather confusingly, Joseph Smith III, president of the RLDS Church, recalled that he interviewed Malissa in 1885 and she denied that Emma knew anything about plural marriage “before or after.” Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, ed., Joseph Smith III and the Restoration (Independence, Mo.: Herald House, 1952, 374  (back)
  50. Brigham Young, August 31, 1873, Journal of Discourses, 16:166–67.  (back)
  51. History of the Church, 3:30; from an editorial published in Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 44.  (back)

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