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.1
Within weeks, her experiences in a plural household became unbearable for her, and she withdrew her support.2
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 rather 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.3
Furthermore, she apparently confronted Joseph with an ultimatum that included the threat of divorce and/or exposure.4
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.5 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.6
An additional condition of their agreement was apparently Joseph’s concession not to marry any more plural wives without Emma’s permission.7
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.
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.
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.10
This sealing provided Fanny with a worthy husband in the celestial kingdom, conditional on her righteousness, 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.
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- George D. Smith, An Intimate Chronicle, 110; “The Law Interview,” (Salt Lake Tribune, July 31, 1887). (back)
- Oliver Preston Robinson, History of Joseph Lee Robinson, 54. (back)
- 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)
- Malissa Lott, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, page 102, question 181. (back)
- 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)
- Brigham Young, August 31, 1873, Journal of Discourses, 16:166–67. (back)