Sunday, September 24, 2006

An Overview of Joseph Smith's Wives

In Sacred Loneliness
The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith


An Overview of Joseph Smith's Wives

I have identified thirty-three well-documented wives of Joseph Smith,
which some may regard as an overly conservative numbering (see chart).
Historians Fawn Brodie, D. Michael Quinn, and George D. Smith list
forty-eight, forty-six, and forty-three, respectively. Yet in
problematic areas it may be advisable to err on the side of caution.
Unless further evidence surfaces, I regard the "possible" wives as
subjects for additional research rather than as women whose marriages
to Joseph Smith can be conclusively demonstrated.

What criteria can be used to evaluate whether a woman's marriage to
Joseph Smith (during his lifetime) can be reliably documented? In 1869
Joseph F. Smith, countering Reorganized Latter Day Saint Church (RLDS)
denials of Joseph Smith's polygamy, had Joseph Smith's living widows
sign affidavits documenting their marriages to him. An affidavit is
very good evidence. A woman mentioning in a journal or autobiography
that she married the prophet is also good evidence, as is a close
family member's or friend's testimony or affidavit or reminiscence,
especially if he or she supplies convincing detail, anecdotal or

Even without an affidavit or holographic evidence for a woman,
multiple pieces of evidence can make a convincing case for her
marriage. The contours of a woman's life support or weaken the
likelihood that she married the Mormon leader. For instance, while two
or three uncertain pieces of evidence suggest that Vienna Jacques may
have married Smith, the rest of her life does not make her look like
his plural wife. (Some assume she married him in Kirtland, Ohio, but
then immediately left him and moved to Missouri, where she married
another man. Nor did she have a proxy marriage to Smith in the Nauvoo
temple.) If a woman lived in Smith's home, this is possible supporting
evidence for a wedding but not conclusive by itself.

Certain lists have proved to be reliable. Though John C. Bennett was
unscrupulous in many ways, he was a Nauvoo insider, and his 1842 list
of Smith's wives has been adequately substantiated. Assistant Church
Historian Andrew Jenson's 1887 list of twenty-seven wives, based on
interviews and affidavits, is also a basic resource. Small lists, from
sources both sympathetic and hostile to polygamy, have been

The eight "Possible Wives" listed in the chart (see below) are
supported by limited, problematic, or contradictory evidence,
sometimes only one attestation in a late source. For instance, Hannah
Dubois Dibble's marriage is supported only by two pieces of evidence
in late sources. Hannah did live in the Smith home briefly, but Joseph
officiated when she married Philo Dibble. Later she married Philo, not
Joseph, for eternity in the Nauvoo temple.

For another example, Orson Whitney, son and nephew of two of Joseph's
wives, referred to Mary Houston as a "[wife] of the Prophet." Mary
certainly married Smith for eternity after his death and was sealed to
Heber Kimball for time in a Nauvoo temple proxy marriage, and Whitney
possibly assumed that this proved she married him while he was alive.
But there is no evidence for a non-proxy marriage to Smith during his

This leads us to my final category, "Early Posthumous Proxy
Marriages"—sealings to Smith after his death. It is true that most of
his wives recommemorated their marriages to him by proxy after his
passing. But not all of the women sealed to him after his death had a
previous marital relationship with him. For instance, Cordelia Morley
stated in a memoir that she had never married Smith while he was
living. Other early posthumous-only marriages to Smith include Augusta
Adams Cobb Young (1848) and Amanda Barnes Smith (1852). Mary Ann Frost
Stearns Pratt seems to have married Parley P. Pratt for eternity
during Smith's lifetime, so her later sealing to Smith is also
probably posthumous-only.

Thus I arrive at a list of thirty-three well-documented wives of
Smith. Such a limited, but solid list allows a reliable overview that
offers great insight into the women themselves, into Joseph Smith, and
into pre-Utah polygamy. Antagonistic, often sensationalizing sources
list other women as wives of Joseph Smith; he also proposed to at
least five more women who turned him down.

The Timing of Joseph Smith's Marriages

As we trace the trajectory of Smith's marriages, we see that he
apparently experimented with plural marriage in the 1830s in Ohio and
Missouri. Detailed records are not extant, but the evidence, when
weighed carefully, suggests that these were probably authentic plural
marriages. In 1841 Smith cautiously added three wives. But in 1842 he
married eleven wives in the first eight months of the year. New
marriages then stopped for five months—a significant gap—perhaps
caused by the John Bennett exposé in which Smith's former right-hand
man published a series of lurid articles chronicling Joseph's alleged
misdeeds, including polygamy.

However, during the first half of 1843, Joseph married fourteen more
wives, including five in May. After July his marriages stopped
abruptly, with only two exceptions in September and November. He
didn't take any wives during the last eight months of his life—a
striking fact, especially when contrasted with the number of women he
married during the previous two years.

This puzzle has a number of possible solutions. Nauvoo stake president
William Marks suggested in 1853 that Smith came to have doubts about
polygamy before his death:

When the doctrine of polygamy was introduced into the church as a
principle of exaltation, I took a decided stand against it; which
stand rendered me quite unpopular with many of the leading ones of the
church ... Joseph, however, became convinced before his death that he
had done wrong; for about three weeks before his death, I met him one
morning in the street, and he said to me, "Brother Marks ... We are a
ruined people." I asked, how so? he said: "This doctrine of polygamy,
or Spiritual-wife system, that has been taught and practiced among us,
will prove our destruction and overthrow. I have been deceived," said
he, "in reference to its practice; it is wrong; it is a curse to
mankind, and we shall have to leave the United States soon, unless it
can be put down and its practice stopped in the church."

Smith then reportedly told Marks to excommunicate all polygamists.
This testimony seems to reflect a slight RLDS partisan coloring;
furthermore, Marks was not in the inner polygamy circle in Nauvoo.
However, the eight-month cessation of plural marriages before Joseph's
death might support Marks's story.

Another possibility is that the discontinuation of marriages resulted
from tensions between Smith and his first wife, Emma, who threatened
to leave him during this period. Such a scandal would have been
disastrous for him and the church. He was also under pressure from his
counselor in the First Presidency, William Law, a confirmed opponent
of polygamy. Whether Smith came to believe polygamy was wrong or was
merely pausing for tactical reasons, as he had during the Bennett
scandal, is uncertain. But the eight-month cessation of marriages at
the end of his life is a notable phenomenon.

The twenty-five or so wives whom Joseph married in early 1842 and 1843
bear impressive testimony to the fact that plural marriage was not
simply a footnote to his life or theology, particularly since he was
well aware of the threat of exposure. When he taught the principle of
plural marriage to Sarah Kimball, wife of Hiram Kimball (such teaching
usually presaging a proposal), "He said that in teaching this he
realized that he jeopardized his life." Furthermore, some of his
marriages were polyandrous, which incurred the danger of jealous

Thus the doctrine of plural marriage was of central importance to
Smith for religious, doctrinal, ecclesiastical, and emotional reasons.
William Clayton, his scribe and companion in Nauvoo, wrote that the
Mormon prophet spoke of little else in private in the last year of his
life. As he developed the principle of sealing ordinances that
connected families for eternity, this doctrine was inextricably bound
up with plural marriage. Later nineteenth-century Mormons taught that
a monogamist could not gain complete salvation, a belief that was
clearly based on Smith's teachings.

The Number of Joseph Smith's Wives

Though thirty-three is less than forty-eight, it is still a remarkably
large, polygamous family. One may wonder why Smith married so many
women when two or three wives would have complied with the reported
divine command to enter polygamy. However, the church president
apparently believed that complete salvation (in Mormon terminology,
exaltation, including the concept of deification) depended on the
extent of a man's family sealed to him in this life. Benjamin Johnson,
a brother of Smith's plural wife Almera, wrote:

The First Command was to "Multiply" and the Prophet taught us that
Dominion & powr in the great Future would be Comensurate with the no
[number] of "Wives Childin & Friends" that we inheret here and that
our great mission to earth was to Organize a Neculi [nucleus] of
Heaven to take with us. To the increace of which there would be no

The emphasis on increase echoes the Abrahamic promise, in which God
promised Abraham that his posterity would be as plentiful as the dust
of the earth, the stars in the sky, and the sands of the seashore
(Gen. 13:16, 16:10, 17:6, 18:18, 22:17). Early Mormons taught that the
doctrine of plural marriage was revealed to Smith "while he was
engaged in the work of translation of the Scriptures," and historian
Danel Bachman concludes that it was specifically the translation of
Genesis, the Abraham passages, that caused Joseph to pray about
polygamy in February 1831 and receive his first revelations on the
topic. The example of Abraham and the Abrahamic promise are
prominently mentioned in the LDS church's Doctrine and Covenants (D&C
132), the officially canonized revelation on polygamy and exaltation.

The idea that one had to be sealed to one's family nucleus in this
life probably depended on another biblical passage, Matthew 22:30, in
which Jesus states that "in the resurrection they neither marry nor
are given in marriage." Smith apparently interpreted this to mean that
one had to create one's "extended family," one's kingdom, by marriage
while on earth. Orson Pratt, in a discourse given in 1859, taught this

Thus the Mormon practice of polygamy, influenced strongly by these two
scriptures, is an example of the early American biblical primitivism
that shaped Joseph Smith and early Mormonism. The Old Testament, with
its prophets and temples and polygamy, is a central thread running
through Joseph's life and is clearly a primary source for his sense of
prophetic mission and for his doctrine.

The importance of the size of one's eternal family, and the necessity
of building it up on this earth, is shown by the custom of adoption
practiced in the late Nauvoo period by Brigham Young and other Mormon
leaders who would have grown men sealed to them as "sons." These
"sons" even signed their names with their new "father's" last name. In
the late Nauvoo period, Mormon leaders reportedly competed to add new
members, "sons," to their adoptive families.

In Helen Mar Kimball's marriage to the prophet, Smith and her father,
Heber Kimball, desired the marriage so that Heber's family would be
linked eternally to Smith, thus assuring their salvation. D. Michael
Quinn, with his interest in prosopography, emphasizes the fact that
Smith's marriages linked him with important men in the church, giving
them reciprocal earthly and eschatological advantages. When Jedediah
Grant preached on plural marriage, he spoke of Smith "adding to his
family": "When the family organization was revealed from heaven—the
patriarchal order of God, and Joseph began, on the right and the left,
to add to his family, what a quaking there was in Israel."

Thus in Smith's Nauvoo ideology, a fullness of salvation depended on
the quantity of family members sealed to a person in this life. This
puts the number of women Joseph married into an understandable
context. This doctrine also makes it clear that, though Joseph's
marriages undoubtedly had a sexual dimension, theological concepts
also drove his polygamy, as well as the related purpose of gaining the
highest possible exaltation by linking elite families to him for both
earthly and eternal reasons.

The Ages of Joseph Smith's Wives

In the group of Smith's well-documented wives, eleven (33 percent)
were 14 to 20 years old when they married him. Nine wives (27 percent)
were twenty-one to thirty years old. Eight wives (24 percent) were in
Smith's own peer group, ages thirty-one to forty. In the group aged
forty-one to fifty, there is a substantial drop off: two wives, or 6
percent, and three (9 percent) in the group fifty-one to sixty.

The teenage representation is the largest, though the twenty-year and
thirty-year groups are comparable, which contradicts the Mormon folk
wisdom that sees the beginnings of polygamy as an attempt to care for
older, unattached women. These data suggest that sexual attraction was
an important part of the motivation for Smith's polygamy. In fact, the
command to multiply and replenish the earth was part of the polygamy
theology, so non-sexual marriage was generally not in the polygamous
program, as Smith taught it.

One may ask why the Mormon leader married any older women at all. Two
reasons can be offered. First, two of these women, Fanny Young Murray
and Rhoda Richards, were sisters of favored apostles, so the marriages
were dynastic. Interestingly, Joseph's youngest wife, Helen Mar
Kimball, was the daughter of another loyal apostle, Heber C. Kimball,
so that marriage may also be considered dynastic, not motivated solely
by sexual interest. Second, older women served as teachers and
messengers to introduce and convert younger women to the practice in
Nauvoo. Elizabeth Durfee and Patty Sessions belong in this category.
Eliza R. Snow acted in this capacity in Utah. For Mormon feminists
unsympathetic to patriarchal polygamy, this will be one of the most
troubling aspects of Mormon polygamy: women co-opting other, younger
females into the order.

Sexuality in Joseph Smith's Plural Marriages

Joseph Smith's first wife, Emma, allegedly told the wife of Apostle
George A. Smith, Lucy, that Joseph Smith's plural wives were
"celestial" only, that he had no earthly marital relations with them.
"They were only sealed for eternity they were not to live with him and
have children." Lucy later wrote that when she told this to her

He related to me the circumstance of his calling on Joseph late one
evening and he was just taking a wash and Joseph told him that one of
his wives had just been confined and Emma was the Midwife and he had
been assisting her. He [George A. Smith] told me [Lucy Smith] this to
prove to me that the women were married for time [as well as for
eternity], as Emma had told me that Joseph never taught any such

Because Reorganized Latter Day Saints claimed that Joseph Smith was
not really married polygamously in the full (i.e., sexual) sense of
the term, Utah Mormons (including Smith's wives) affirmed repeatedly
that he had physical sexual relations with them—despite the Victorian
conventions in nineteenth-century American culture which ordinarily
would have prevented any mention of sexuality.

For instance, Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner stated that she knew of
children born to Smith's plural wives: "I know he had six wives and I
have known some of them from childhood up. I know he had three
children. They told me. I think two are living today but they are not
known as his children as they go by other names." Melissa Lott Willes
testified that she had been Smith's wife "in very deed." Emily
Partridge Young said she "roomed" with Joseph the night following her
marriage to him, and said that she had "carnal intercourse" with him.

Other early witnesses also affirmed this. Benjamin Johnson wrote "On
the 15th of May ... the Prophet again Came and at my hosue [house]
ocupied the Same Room & Bed with my Sister that the month previous he
had ocupied with the Daughter of the Later Bishop Partridge as his
wife." According to Joseph Bates Noble, Smith told him he had spent a
night with Louisa Beaman.

When Angus Cannon, a Salt Lake City stake president, visited Joseph
Smith III in 1905, the RLDS president asked rhetorically if these
women were his father's wives, then "how was it that there was no
issue from them." Cannon replied:

All I knew was that which Lucy Walker herself contends. They were so
nervous and lived in such constant fear that they could not conceive.
He made light of my reply. He said, "I am informed that Eliza Snow was
a virgin at the time of her death." I in turn said, "Brother Heber C.
Kimball, I am informed, asked her the question if she was not a virgin
although married to Joseph Smith and afterwards to Brigham Young, when
she replied in a private gathering, 'I thought you knew Joseph Smith
better than that.'"

Cannon then mentioned that Sylvia Sessions Lyon, a plural wife of
Smith, had had a child by him, Josephine Lyon Fisher. Josephine left
an affidavit stating that her mother, Sylvia, when on her deathbed,
told her that she (Josephine) was the daughter of Joseph Smith. In
addition, posterity (i.e., sexuality) was an important theological
element in Smith's Abrahamic-promise justification for polygamy.

Since there is a great deal of evidence that Joseph Smith had sexual
relations with his wives, one wonders why he did not have more
polygamous children. However, some of his children apparently grew up
under other names, as Mary Lightner suggested. Furthermore, he may not
have had numerous posterity because he was not able to visit his wives
regularly, both because he was often hiding from the law and because
Emma, his first wife, watched him carefully. In addition, polygamy was
illegal. On top of these pressures, he soon had many wives, which made
it more difficult to visit all of them frequently and regularly. Since
polygamists generally had favorite wives, Smith probably neglected
some of his. Finally, some of his wives were married to other men in
polyandrous relationships, so such wives would probably have had
children by their "first husbands," with whom they were cohabiting
regularly, not by Joseph. All of these factors would have combined to
limit the number of his children. However, it is clear that some of
his plural wives did have children by him, if we can rely on the
statements of George A. Smith, Josephine Fisher, and Elizabeth

Despite this evidence, some have argued that Joseph did not have
marital relations with his wives, using the following arguments:
First, some conclude that Helen Mar Kimball, who married Smith when
she was fourteen, did not have marital relations with him. This is
possible, as there are cases of Mormons in Utah marrying young girls
and refraining from sexuality until they were older. But the evidence
for Helen Mar is entirely ambiguous, in my view.

Some, like Emma Smith, conclude that Joseph's marriages were for
eternity only, not for time (thus without earthly sexuality). But many
of Joseph's wives affirmed that they were married to him for eternity
and time, with sexuality included. Eliza Snow, in her autobiography,
wrote that "I was sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, for time and
eternity, in accordance with the Celestial Law of Marriage which God
has revealed." Furthermore, there are no known instances of marriages
for "eternity only" in the nineteenth century.

Some have pointed out that Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner said in
1905, "I ... was sealed to Joseph for Eternity." Thus, they argue,
Smith had no relations with her, a polyandrous wife, as he was married
to her for eternity only. However, Lightner apparently was merely
emphasizing eternity in this statement; she testified in three
different places that she was also sealed to Smith for time. For
example, in a 1902 statement, she said, "Brigham Young Sealed me to
him [Smith], for time & all eternity."

Zina Huntington Young also had a polyandrous relationship with Smith
and her first husband, Henry Jacobs. Some point out that she gave an
interview in which she referred to her marriage to Smith as "eternal,"
not for "time." However, in the same interview she emphasized that she
was married to the Mormon leader for time, as well:

[Zina:] ... he [Joseph Smith] married me ... When Brigham Young
returned from England, he repeated the ceremony for time and eternity.
... I was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity.

[Question:] Mrs. Young, you claim, I believe, that you were not
married to him "for time?"

[Zina:] "For eternity." I was married to Mr. Jacobs, but the marriage
was unhappy and we parted ...

[Q:] Is it a fact then, Mrs. Young, that Joseph was not married to you
only in the sense of being sealed "for eternity?"

[Zina:] As his wife for time and eternity.

[Q:] Mrs. Young, you have answered that question in two ways; for
time, and for time and eternity.

[Zina:] I meant for eternity.

Some interpreters place great weight on these statements, as showing
that Zina's marriage was "spiritual" only. But the interview is so
contradictory on this issue, as the elderly Zina sounds defensive and
confused while answering an RLDS judge's harsh questions, that it
cannot be used as solid evidence. One even wonders if early Mormons
did not use the term "marriage for eternity" to encompass "time and
eternity," as Mormons do today.

In conclusion, though it is possible that Joseph had some marriages in
which there were no sexual relations, there is not any explicit or
convincing evidence for this (except, perhaps, in the cases of the
older wives, judging from later Mormon polygamy). And in a significant
number of marriages, there is evidence for sexual relations.

Lucy Walker (Smith Kimball) in later life.
(Courtesy Salt Lake City Daughters of Utah Pioneers.)

Marital Status at the Time of Marriage: Polyandry

Eighteen of Joseph's wives (55 percent) were single when he married
them and had never been married previously. Another four (12 percent)
were widows. One, Agnes Coolbrith Smith, was the widow of his younger
brother, Don Carlos, making this a strict Levirate marriage. However,
the remaining eleven women (33 percent) were married to other husbands
and cohabiting with them when Smith married them. Another woman, Sarah
Ann Whitney, married Smith, then married another man soon after in a
civil, "pretend" marriage. I use the term polyandry—which means one
woman being married to two men simultaneously—to describe this marital

Polyandry is one of the major problems found in Smith's polygamy and
many questions surround it. Why did he at first primarily prefer
polyandrous marriages? Did the husbands know about the marriages, and,
if so, how did they feel about them? Did they allow the marriages to
Joseph willingly or reluctantly? Did such marriages include sexuality,
and what was the doctrinal rationale for them?

In the past, polyandry has often been ignored or glossed over, but if
these women merit serious attention, the topic cannot be overlooked.
Joseph F. Smith, seventh president of the LDS church, and Andrew
Jenson, Assistant Church Historian, documented these women's
polyandrous marriages to Joseph Smith, including affidavits with dates
of the ceremonies. Their civil marriages and dates of childbirths are
also easily corroborated. Joseph F. Smith and Andrew Jenson have
forced the issue for the serious historian, and the only option is to
try to come to as complete and balanced an understanding of the
phenomenon as possible.

A common misconception concerning Joseph Smith's polyandry is that he
participated in only one or two such unusual unions. In fact, fully
one-third of his plural wives, eleven of them, were married civilly to
other men when he married them. If one superimposes a chronological
perspective, one sees that of Smith's first twelve wives, nine were
polyandrous. So in this early period, polyandry was the norm not the
anomaly. His later marriages were largely to single women, with two
exceptions in 1843. Polyandry might be easier to understand if one
viewed these marriages to Smith as a sort of de facto divorce from the
first husband. However, none of these women divorced their "first
husbands" while Smith was alive and all of them continued to live with
their civil spouses while married to Smith.

Some have suggested that the first husbands in these marriages were
generally disaffected from Mormonism or were non-Mormon and that Smith
married the women to offer them salvation. In such cases, the women
would have wanted to be married to Smith as a righteous husband who
could bring them exaltation. If so, one would have expected the women
to leave the unworthy men.

The totality of the evidence, however, does not support this theory.
In the eleven certain polyandrous marriages, only three of the
husbands were non-Mormon (Lightner, Sayers, and Cleveland) and only
one was disaffected (Buell). All other husbands were in good standing
in the church at the time Joseph married their wives. Many were
prominent church leaders and close friends of Smith. George W. Harris
was a high councilor in Missouri and Nauvoo, a position equivalent to
that of a twentieth-century general authority. Henry Jacobs was a
devoted friend of Joseph and a faithful missionary. Orson Hyde was an
apostle on his mission to Palestine when Smith married his wife.
Jonathan Holmes was one of Smith's bodyguards and served as a
pallbearer after Smith's death. Windsor Lyon was a member in good
standing when Smith united with Sylvia Lyon, and he loaned the prophet
money after the marriage. David Sessions was a devout Latter-day

These data suggest that Joseph may have married these women, often not
because they were married to non-members, but because they were
married to faithful Latter-day Saints who were his devoted friends.
This again suggests that the men knew about the marriages and
permitted them.

Another theory is that Joseph married polyandrously when the marriage
was unhappy. If this were true, it would have been easy for the woman
to divorce her husband, then marry Smith. But none of these women did
so; some of them stayed with their "first husbands" until death. In
the case of Zina Huntington Jacobs and Henry Jacobs—often used as an
example of Smith marrying a woman whose marriage was unhappy—the
Mormon leader married her just seven months after she married Jacobs,
and then she stayed with Jacobs for years after Smith's death. Then
the separation was forced when Brigham Young (who had married Zina
polyandrously in the Nauvoo temple) sent Jacobs on a mission to
England and began living with Zina himself.

Having rejected the theories that Smith married polyandrously when the
marriages involved non-member husbands or were unhappy, we turn to
statements in the historical record that do supply a convincing
rationale for polyandry. First, Smith regarded marriages performed
without Mormon priesthood authority as invalid (see D&C 132:7), just
as he regarded baptisms performed without Mormon priesthood authority
as invalid. Thus all couples in Nauvoo who accepted Mormonism were
suddenly unmarried, granted Joseph's absolutist, exclusivist claims to
divine authority. John D. Lee wrote:

About the same time the doctrine of "sealing" for an eternal state was
introduced, and the Saints were given to understand that their
marriage relations with each other were not valid. That those who had
solemnized the rites of matrimony had no authority of God to do so.
That the true priesthood was taken from the earth with the death of
the Apostles ... They were married to each other only by their own
covenants, and that if their marriage relations had not been
productive of blessings and peace, and they felt it oppressive to
remain together, they were at liberty to make their own choice, as
much as if they had not been married. That it was a sin for people to
live together, and raise or beget children in a!ienation from each
other. There should be an affinity between each other, not a lustful
one, as that can never cement that love and affection that should
exist between a man and his wife.

This is a radical, almost utopian rejection of civil, secular,
sectarian, non-Mormon marriage. Civil marriage was even a "sin,"
unless a higher "affinity" "cemented" spouses together.

Another relevant doctrinal statement comes from an 1861 speech by Brigham Young:

The Second Way in which a wife can be seperated from her husband,
while he continues to be faithful to his God and his preisthood, I
have not revealed, except to a few persons in this Church; and a few
have received it from Joseph the prophet as well as myself. If a woman
can find a man holding the keys of the preisthood with higher power
and authority than her husband, and he is disposed to take her he can
do so, otherwise she has got to remain where she is ... there is no
need for a bill of divorcement ... To recapitulate. First if a man
forfiets his covenants with a wife, or wives, becoming unfaithful to
his God, and his preisthood, that wife or wives are free from him
without a bill of divorcement. Second. If a woman claimes protection
at the hands of a man, possessing more power in the preisthood and
higher keys, if he is disposed to rescue her and has obtained the
consent of her husband to make her his wife he can do so without a
bill of divorcement.

This allows for two options: (1) if a man apostatized, his wife could
leave him without a formal divorce; (2) if a woman desired to be
married to a man with greater priesthood authority than her current
husband, and if both men agreed, she could be sealed to the second man
without a formal divorce. In some ways this principle can be applied
directly to Smith's polyandrous marriages, for clearly he was regarded
as having more priesthood authority than any other living man. The
emphasis on the desire of the woman is notable. In nineteenth-century
Utah there are well-documented cases in which married women asked to
be joined to a prominent church leader. In Nauvoo, however, such cases
would not be frequent, as polygamy was secret. In Young's statement
the husband is granted his own volition, which would be consistent
with the suggestion made above that the first husbands in Smith's
polyandrous marriages may have known about the marriages and permitted

Jedediah Grant's 1854 statement already referred to can now be quoted
more fully:

When the family organization was revealed from heaven—the patriarchal
order of God, and Joseph began, on the right and the left, to add to
his family, what a quaking there was in Israel. Says one brother to
another, "Joseph says all covenants [previous marriages] are done
away, and none are binding but the new covenants [marriage by
priesthood sealing power]; now suppose Joseph should come and say he
wanted your wife, what would you say to that?" "I would tell him to go
to hell." This was the spirit of many in the early days of this Church
[i.e., unwillingness to consecrate everything to Smith as the
mouthpiece of God] ... What would a man of God say, who felt aright,
when Joseph asked him for his money? [he would give it all willingly]
Or if he came and said, "I want your wife?" "O yes," he would say,
"here she is, there are plenty more." ... Did the Prophet Joseph want
every man's wife he asked for? He did not ... the grand object in view
was to try the people of God, to see what was in them. If such a man
of God should come to me and say, "I want your gold and silver, or
your wives," I should say, "Here they are, I wish I had more to give
you, take all I have got." A man who has got the Spirit of God, and
the light of eternity in him, has no trouble about such matters.

This remarkable sympathetic testimony to Smith's polyandrous marriages
touches on many areas of interest. First, Grant sees the practice in
terms of extended "family organization." Polyandry would obviously be
useful in linking families to Smith. "Joseph says all covenants are
done away, and none are binding but the new covenants." Here we have
the doctrine that previous marriages are of no effect, "illegal," in
Orson Pratt's words. Grant disapproves of those who were asked to give
up their wives and refused. The proper response, according to Grant,
would have been instant, unquestioning consecration of all
"possessions" to the prophet. He states that Smith did not want every
wife he asked for, which implies that he wanted some of them. The
emphasis here is on Smith's testing his followers, as when Smith
demanded Vilate Kimball from Heber Kimball. Yet the fact that at least
eleven women were married to Joseph polyandrously, including the wife
of prominent apostle Orson Hyde, shows that in many cases Joseph was
not simply asking for wives as a test of loyalty; sometimes the test
included giving up the wife.

Another doctrine that apparently served as an underpinning for Smith's
polyandry was his doctrine of a pre-existence, which holds that our
spirits lived with God before birth and were given assignments there
relating to what we would do here. According to Mary Elizabeth
Lightner who was married to Adam Lightner when Joseph proposed to her,
"Joseph Said I was his, before I came here. he said all the Devils in
Hell should never get me from him." Elsewhere she wrote that Smith
told her he had been commanded to marry her, "or Suffer
condemnation—for I [Mary] was created for him before the foundation of
the Earth was laid." Apparently, if Smith had a spiritual intuition
that he was linked to a woman, he asserted that she had been sealed to
him in the pre-existence, even though she was legally married to
another man. But, as we have seen, he taught that civil marriages
performed without the priesthood sealing power were not valid, even at
times sinful. Therefore, the link in the pre-existence would take
immediate priority over a marriage performed by invalid, secular or
"sectarian ," authority in this life. John D. Lee wrote that a
spiritual "affinity" took precedence over secular ceremonies. Perhaps
Joseph Smith also felt, as the Brigham Young statement suggests, that
men with higher priesthood had a greater aptitude for spiritual

According to an early, though antagonistic, eyewitness source, William
Hall, the doctrine of "kindred spirits" was found in Nauvoo polyandry.
According to this report, Smith taught that "all real marriages were
made in heaven before the birth of the parties," which coincides
neatly with Lightner. There is at least one early "friendly" reference
to the "kindred spirit" doctrine. In an 1845 patriarchal blessing,
William Smith said, "But the fullness of her salvation cannot be made
perfect until her companion is with her and those who are of his
Kingdom, for the kindred spirits are gathered up and are united in the
Celestial Kingdom of one."

Thus heavenly marriage in the pre-existence required earthly polyandry
here. Certain spirits were "kindred," matched in heaven, were born
into this life, and, because of unauthorized marriages performed
without priesthood sealing power, became linked "illegally" to the
wrong partners. But when the kindred spirits recognized each other,
the "illegal" marriages became of no effect from a religious, eternal
perspective and the "kindred" partners were free to marry each other
through the priesthood sealing power for eternity as well as for time.

Apparently, however, Joseph would allow the wife to continue living
with her first husband after such a marriage. There were not any
divorces as a result of his polyandrous marriages. But the first
husband probably recognized that he and the wife were married only
until death, while Smith was married to her for eternity as well as
for time. When eternal sealings were repeated in the Nauvoo temple in
late 1845 and early 1846, two "first husbands," George W. Harris and
Jonathan Holmes, stood proxy for the prophet as their wives were
sealed to him for eternity. Another "first husband," Henry Jacobs,
stood as witness when his wife, Zina, was sealed eternally to Smith
(with Brigham Young, not Jacobs, standing proxy in this case), then
witnessed his wife's sealing to Young for time, after which, Henry and
Zina with their son, Zebulon, began the pioneer trek to the west
together. Zina bore a second son to Jacobs, Henry Chariton, halfway
across Iowa.

This kind of marriage was not viewed as eternal polyandry. A man could
be sealed to many women for eternity, but a woman could be sealed to
only one man for eternity. The distinction between civil and spiritual
marriage produced what might be called practical polyandry—i.e., on
earth there were clearly two co-existent marriages, but they were of
different types. By Joseph Smith's authoritarian perspective, there
was only one marriage that was "real," performed by priesthood
authority—the eternal bond.

Neither of these concepts—the divine illegality of civil, sectarian
marriage, and the idea of higher, spiritual "affinity" between male
and female spirits (even though they may happen to be married civilly
to other people)—was original to Joseph Smith, though he developed
them in his idiosyncratic way. An 1868 study by William Hepworth
Dixon, Spiritual Wives, traces the roots of "spiritual affinity" to
Protestant Europe, in particular to the Swede Emanuel Swedenborg. In
Joseph Smith's milieu, we find Rev. Erasmus Stone experiencing a
vision of men and women in the sky looking at each other with yearning
and pain; this meant, said Stone, that "in the present stage of being,
men and women are nearly always wrongly paired in marriage." The
people in the vision sought their spiritual mates with whom they had
true "affinity," a crucial word in this tradition. Stone proceeded to
find a spiritual affinity with a married woman, Eliza Porter. When
true affinity is found, such love would not be limited to this life
but would be eternal, and so we have a comparand to the Mormon
doctrine of eternal marriage. Swedenborg also taught that spirits were
matched in a pre-existent life: "Two souls which grew up together
before life are bound to find each other again on earth," which
foreshadows the doctrine Joseph taught Mary Elizabeth Lightner when he
proposed to her.

Stone's story, like Joseph Smith's, was the product of the Burned-over
District in New York, where a Protestant revival atmosphere served as
a seeding ground for a great deal of religious and marital
experimentation. The "Spiritual Wives" polyandrous doctrine, so
foreign to twentieth-century Mormons, was part of Joseph Smith's
Zeitgeist. Though the system was clearly subject to the danger of
extremist abuse, it was developed by sincerely religious men: "The
advocates of Spiritual wifehood are, and have been, for the most part
ministers of the gospel, men of thought and learning," wrote Dixon.

Some historians have proposed the interpretation that Joseph either
did not have any marital relations with his "polyandrous" wives, if
the husband was faithful to the church, or that the "first husband"
had no marital relations with the woman. Such a theoretical
relationship has been called "pseudopolyandry." However, the Josephine
Lyon Fisher affidavit argues against this. According to Josephine, her
mother, Sylvia, one of Smith's polyandrous wives, "told me that I was
the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she having been sealed to
the Prophet at the time that her husband Mr. Lyon was out of
fellowship with the Church."

Another piece of evidence used to show that polyandrous wives were
married only for eternity, not for time, is the interview with Zina
Huntington Jacobs, which, as we have seen, is unsatisfactory for
taking either side of the argument. In the same way, Mary Elizabeth
Lightner's statement that she was married to Smith for eternity (as a
polyandrous wife) has been used to show that she was not married to
him for time; but she elsewhere specifically and repeatedly stated
that she was married to him for time and eternity. Patty Sessions,
another polyandrous wife, wrote in a genealogical record that she had
been married to Joseph Smith "for Eternity," but to clarify, wrote
above the line, "time and all eternity."

Therefore there is not any good evidence that Joseph Smith did not
have sexual relations with any wife, previously single or polyandrous.
On the other hand, there is evidence that he did have relations with
at least some of these women, including one polyandrous wife, Sylvia
Sessions Lyon, who bore the only polygamous offspring of Smith for
whom we have affidavit evidence.

Finally, one wonders why these "first husbands" apparently acquiesced
to their wives' marriages to Smith. One possibility would be that they
were promised spiritual rewards as a result of the marriages, as was
the case with the families of three "single" plural wives. When Fanny
Alger married Joseph, her family was proud of the sealing, according
to Ann Eliza Webb. In the same way, when Sarah Whitney was sealed to
the prophet, he re-baptized her parents and gave special blessings to
her father, Newel Whitney. Heber C. Kimball greatly desired that his
daughter, Helen, should be married to the prophet so that there would
be an eternal connection between the two families; Joseph himself told
Helen that her marriage to him would ensure her family's salvation.

If this held true for the polyandrous families as well, including the
husbands, it would explain some of the psychological dynamics of these
unusual marriages. The husbands may have been promised that Smith's
marriage to their wives would contribute to their own higher
exaltation after this life. "Buckeye's Lament," an attack on Smith
published shortly before his death, supports this interpretation: "But
if you yield willingly,/ Your daughters and your wives,/ In spiritual
marriage to our POPE,/ He'll bless you all your lives;/ He'll seal you
up, be damned you can't, No matter what you do—If that you only stick
to him,/ He swears HE'LL take you through." The phrase "your daughters
and your wives" clearly suggests that Joseph offered salvation to
"first husbands" as well as to the fathers of his brides.

It should also be borne in mind that the men and women involved in
Nauvoo polygamy and polyandry did not understand it thoroughly. It was
new doctrine, preached only in great secrecy, and though Smith taught
polygamy to his inner circle, practical experience often differed from
didactic religious doctrine. So a husband giving his wife to Joseph
may not have understood fully what the marriage would entail. Helen
Mar Kimball, a non-polyandrous wife, found her marriage to mean much
more, on an earthly plane, than she had expected; possibly the
husbands and wives in polyandrous triangles had the same experience.
In Nauvoo-period theological terminology, there was some ambiguity in
the terms "sealing" and "marriage," and it is possible that some men
and women did not grasp that "sealing" also meant "marriage" and
therefore sexual relations. It is unfortunate that we do not have a
full, frank memoir from even one of the polyandrous "first husbands,"
although two polyandrous wives, Mary Elizabeth Lightner and Zina
Huntington Jacobs, left autobiographies.

Whatever the uncertainties in documenting this aspect of Latter-day
Saint practice, there is a clearly discernible outline of ideology in
the historical record that explains the development and rationale for
the practice of Smith's polyandry. "Gentile" (i.e., non-Mormon)
marriages were "illegal," of no eternal value or even earthly
validity; marriages authorized by the Mormon priesthood and prophets
took precedence. Sometimes these sacred marriages were felt to fulfill
pre-mortal linkings and so justified a sacred marriage superimposed
over a secular one. Mormonism's intensely hierarchical nature allowed
a man with the highest earthly authority—a Joseph Smith or Brigham
Young—to request the wives of men holding lesser Mormon priesthood, or
no priesthood. The authority of the prophet would allow him to promise
higher exaltation to those involved in the triangle, both the wife and
her first husband.

But with polyandry, as with the better-known polygyny, despite the
elaborate doctrinal justifications, despite the reverence for a modern
prophet and the unquestioning devotion to a restored biblical
religion, the emotional challenges of this new marital system must
have been tremendous. In the cases of most of the polyandrous wives,
the human dimensions of polyandry are not recorded; it is not even
openly acknowledged. However, the wives and husbands must have felt
conflicted. Puritanical New England morality and attachment to the
first husband or wife undoubtedly warred with devotion to Joseph
Smith, viewed as an infallible oracle of God, and to a church and
community that were believed to be a restoration of primitive
Christianity. Only in the marriage of Zina and Henry Jacobs, as
enigmatic as their relationship was, do we even have hints of the
human price that Smith's polyandrous system demanded. The other
polyandrous husbands and wives probably paid the same high price.

Chart: Joseph Smith's Plural Wives
(see Key to Abbreviations and Terms below)

Well Documented Wives
1. Fanny Alger {early 1833} single [16] Fanny separated from JS and
married Solomon Custer, non-LDS
2. Lucinda Pendleton (Morgan Harris) {1838?} married 37? Lucinda
remained with polyandrous first husband, George Harris, LDS; married
by proxy in Nauvoo temple to JS {Harris}; later divorced Harris
3. Louisa Beaman 5 April 1841 single 26 Louisa was married by proxy to JS {BY}
4. Zina Diantha Huntington (Jacobs) 27 Oct. 1841 married 20 Zina
remained with polyandrous first husband, Henry B. Jacobs, LDS;
polyandrous proxy marriage to JS {BY} but remained with Jacobs;
eventually left Jacobs and became BY's connubial wife.
5. Prescendia Lathrop Huntington (Buell) 11 Dec. 1841 married 31
Prescendia remained with polyandrous first husband, Norman Buell,
disaffected LDS; polyandrous proxy marriage to JS {HCK} but stayed
with Buell; eventually left Buell and became HCK's connubial wife.
6. Agnes Moulton Coolbrith (Smith) 6 Jan. 1842 widowed 33 Agnes was
married by proxy to Don Carlos Smith {G. A. Smith}. Don Carlos was
JS's deceased brother and Agnes's first husband. She then married
William Pickett, erratic LDS, in a technically polyandrous union;
eventually separated from Pickett.
7. Sylvia Sessions (Lyon) 8 Feb. 1842 married 23 Sylvia remained with
polyandrous first husband, Windsor Lyon, LDS; polyandrous proxy
marriage to JS {HCK}; remained with Lyon until his death; married
Ezekiel Clark, non-LDS; divorced Clark; moved to Utah (to be with
8. Mary Elizabeth Rollins (Lightner) late Feb. 1842 married 23 Mary
remained with polyandrous first husband, Adam Lightner, non-LDS;
polyandrous proxy marriage to JS {BY}, but stayed with Lightner till
his death.
9. Patty Bartlett (Sessions) 9 March 1842 married 47 Patty remained
with polyandrous first husband, David Sessions, LDS, till his death;
married John Parry for time.
10. Marinda Nancy Johnson (Hyde) Apr. 1842 married 27 Marinda remained
with polyandrous first husband, Orson Hyde, LDS apostle, and was
married eternally to him in the Nauvoo temple; later eternal proxy
marriage to JS; eventually divorced Hyde.
11. Elizabeth Davis (Goldsmith Brackenbury Durfee) <June 1842 married
50-51? Elizabeth apparently remained with polyandrous first husband,
Jabez Durfee, LDS, after JS's death; separated from Durfee; proxy
marriage to JS {Cornelius Lott}; separated from Lott.
12. Sarah Kingsley (Howe Cleveland) < 29 June 1842 married [53-54]
Sarah remained with polyandrous first husband, John Cleveland,
non-LDS; polyandrous proxy marriage to JS {John Smith}; stayed with
Cleveland to her death.
13. Delcena Johnson (Sherman) <July 1842 widowed [37-38]? Delcena was
married by proxy to Lyman Sherman {Almon Babbitt}.
14. Eliza Roxcy Snow 29 June 1842 single 38 Eliza was married by proxy
to JS {Brigham Young}.
15. Sarah Ann Whitney 27 July 1842 single 17 Sarah separated from
Joseph Kingsbury, her "pretend" polyandrous husband; proxy marriage to
16. Martha McBride (Knight) Aug. 1842 widowed 37 Martha married by
proxy to JS {HCK}; separated from HCK?
17. Ruth Vose (Sayers) Feb. 1843 married 33 Ruth remained with
polyandrous first husband, Edward Sayers, non-LDS, till his death.
18. Flora Ann Woodworth Spring 1843 single 16 Flora married [Carlos]
Grove, non-LDS.
19. Emily Dow Partridge 4 March 1843 single 19 Emily married by proxy
to JS {BY}.
20. Eliza Maria Partridge 8 March 1843 single 22 Eliza married by
proxy to JS {Amasa Lyman}. Later divorced Lyman.
21. Almera Woodard Johnson 2-22 Apr. 1843 single 30 Almera married
Reuben Barton (proxy marriage?).
22. Lucy Walker 1 May 1843 single 17 Lucy married by proxy to JS {HCK}.
23. Sarah Lawrence May 1843 single 17 Sarah married by proxy to JS
{HCK}; divorced HCK; married Joseph Mount.
24. Maria Lawrence May 1843 single 19 Maria married by proxy to JS
{BY}? Separated from BY? Proxy marriage to JS {Almon Babbitt}.
25. Helen Mar Kimball May 1843 single 14 Helen married by proxy to JS
{Horace Whitney}.
26. Hannah Ells <mid-1843 single 29-30 Hannah never remarried. Died [1845].
27. Elvira Annie Cowles (Holmes) 1 June 1843 married 29 Elvira
remained with polyandrous first husband, Jonathan Holmes, LDS; proxy
marriage to JS {Holmes}.
28. Rhoda Richards 12 June 1843 single 58 Rhoda married by proxy to JS
{BY}; separated from BY or never cohabited.
29. Desdemona Fullmer July 1843 single 32-33 Desdemona married by
proxy to JS {Ezra Taft Benson}; separated from Benson; married
Harrison McLane but later separated.
30. Olive G. Frost summer 1843 single 27-28? Olive married by proxy to JS {BY}.
31. Melissa Lott 20 Sept. 1843 single 19 Melissa married by proxy to
JS {John Bernhisel}; separated from Bernhisel; married Ira Willis.
32. Nancy M. Winchester [1842-43?] single [14?] Nancy married by proxy
to JS {HCK}; divorced HCK; married Amos Arnold.
33. Fanny Young (Carr Murray) 2 Nov. 1843 widowed 56 Fanny never remarried.

Possible Wives
1. Vienna Jacques 1823-33/41-43? single/
married? 43-44?
54-57? Vienna married Daniel Shearer in 1838; separated by 22 Jan. 1846.
2. Hannah Ann Dubois (Smith) 11 Feb 1841? widowed? 32-33? Hannah
married Philo Dibble 11 Feb. 1841; sealed to Dibble for eternity in
Nauvoo temple 15 Jan. 1846
3. Sarah Bapson <June 1842? single? 48-51? ?
4. Mrs. G***** June 1842? married/
 ? ?
5. Sarah Scott (Mulholland) 1841-43? widowed 24-27? Sarah married by
proxy to James Mulholland {HCK}, 3 Feb. 1846.
6. Mary Houston 1841-43? single 23-26? Mary married by proxy to JS
{HCK}, 3 Feb. 1846.
7. Mrs. Tailor 1841-43? married/
widowed? ? ?
8. Mary Heron (Snider) 1842/3? married 38-39? Mary continued with
polyandrous first husband, John Snider.

Posthumous Marriages
The following women were sealed to Joseph Smith after his death, with
no evidence that they were married to him during his lifetime. Morley,
in fact, stated that she had not married Joseph Smith before his
Olive Andrews January 15, 1846, Brigham Young proxy
Jane Tibbetts January 17, 1846, Elam Luddington proxy
Phebe Watrous (Woodworth) January 17, 1846, Lucien Woodworth proxy
Aphia Sanborn (Dow Yale) January 27, 1846, Gad Yale proxy
Cordelia Morley January 27, 1846, Frederick Cox proxy
Mary Ann Frost (Stearns Pratt) February 6, 1846, Parley P. Pratt proxy
Sally Ann Fuller January 29, 1847, Samuel Gully proxy
Lydia Kenyon (Carter) possibly sealed in late 1844, HCK proxy

Key to Abbreviations
< earlier than
? unknown
[ ] unverified
{ } "proxy"
BY Brigham Young
HCK Heber C. Kimball
JS Joseph Smith

Marital Status: On this chart "marital status" refers to the civil
status at the time a woman married Joseph Smith. For instance,
"married" means civilly married to another man at the time, creating
polyandry, as the woman continued to cohabit with the "first husband."
Polygamy ("many marriage"): A man or woman has two or more marriage
partners. Plural marriage is the preferred Mormon term.
Anthropologically polygamy is divided into two subcategories: polygyny
and polyandry.
Polygyny ("many women"): A man is married to two or more women simultaneously.
Polyandry ("many men"): A woman has multiple husbands.
Proxy:  When one is sealed for eternity to a deceased person, with a
living partner standing in for the deceased, the living surrogate is
known as a proxy. In early Mormon history the woman was also sealed
(for time, not eternity) to the living proxy. Children from the "time
only" marriage were sealed eternally to the deceased husband, not to
the biological father. On this chart the living proxy's name is given
with S brackets.

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