Skip to comments.More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910
Posted on 05/29/2011 3:53:15 PM PDT by Colofornian
Author: Kathryn M. Daynes
Reviewer: Sarah Barringer Gordon
Categories: Utah History, History of the Church
Any substantive evaluation of Kathryn Daynes's More Wives Than One should begin by emphasizing that this is a work of the highest orderDaynes brings originality, talent, and rigor to her work. Her book is likely to be extremely important; it received the Mormon History Association's Best Book Award for 2002. The award is richly deserved: the book includes innovative work in multiple dimensions of a complex and often elusive past.
The book, a study of polygamy in Manti, Utah, from religious, social, and legal perspectives over seven decades, does not simply investigate the laws and religious doctrines that were designed to govern the lives of residents of Manti. More importantand in the end, the heart of the bookis Daynes's examination of how and why women entered into plural marriage, how their decisions changed with different patterns of immigration and affluence, and what portion of the population was involved in plural marriage at different periods. Daynes is interested in ordinary folk, and her work allows her to piece together how men and women navigated a world in which religious command and legal mandates came into direct and prolonged conflict. As Daynes sees it, while the doctrines and beliefs that underlay plural marriage were firmly in place by the end of the Nauvoo period and continued after 1890, political reality meant that polygamy truly flourished only between 1847 and approximately 1882 (when the federal government disfranchised polygamists and prohibited "unlawful cohabitation"). This short but intense period, as well as the focus on a single community, allows Daynes to give her readers a deeper look at how plural marriage was lived by those who practiced it than has been achieved in prior works on the subject.
To make such detailed assessments, Daynes uses census data, Church membership records, tax assessment rolls, cemetery records, immigration indexes, and marriage licenses to reconstruct "a list of everyone who lived in Manti from 1849 [when the town was first settled] to 1910," when the Church enforced polygamy's prohibition (9). Gleaning valuable data about where and in what material circumstances the residents actually lived, Daynes meticulously documents and describes marriage, economics, divorce, inheritance, immigration, desertion, and many other topics of vital interest to historians of marriage and the family.
Daynes's analysis reveals that the percentage of Manti women who were involved in polygamy is higher than many scholars previously thought. For example, of those women born before 1852 whose first marriage took place in Utah, 56.7 percent were in a plural marriage at some point in their lives (98). For those born between 1852 and 1870 and those who immigrated between 1870 and 1887, the number is 12.2 percent (96).
As Daynes irrefutably demonstrates, plural marriage affected all aspects of marriage in Manti, monogamous as well as polygamous. Indeed, Daynes's subtle analysis of the "marriage market" (91), immigration, and the fact that many women entering plural marriage were fatherless (119) is a classic example of careful social history work. Part three of the book, "Numbers: An Analysis of the Marriage Patterns of Manti Women," is among the finest pieces of social history scholarship ever written. It demonstrates conclusively that women entered into and left plural marriage in response to religious doctrine (169), which told them that their exaltation in the celestial worlds depended upon their adherence to the Principle.
Daynes also demonstrates that there were material differences between marriage in a polygamous society and a monogamous one. Women throughout the period married young, younger than outside Utah. Immigrant women usually married soon after they arrived (97), often as plural wives, especially in the early period (118). Equally important, "plural wives came disproportionately from groups of economically disadvantaged women in the frontier economy" (91). Women who entered plural marriage improved their circumstances in this world while earning greater rewards in the celestial worlds for themselves, their children, and their sister wives. For women, plural marriage was often a response to difficult economic times as well as to religious fervor.
As might be expected, the women's circumstances improved because polygamous men were wealthier and held a higher rank in the Church than their monogamous counterparts. "Wealth and plural marriage in Manti were related," Daynes concludes, as they were in the rest of Utah (130). Yet polygamy also reduced economic disparity because "plural marriage helped give poorer women access to [the greater] resources [of polygamous men]" (133). Among Daynes's most interesting speculations about the relationship of plural marriage to the broader economy is her claim that "the United Orders were instituted to counter growing divergence in wealth at a time when plural marriage was decreasing" (133).
Polygamy declined over most of the period Daynes studied. Of the three generations who lived in Manti between 1849 and 1910, women in the first generation were considerably more likely to marry initially as plural wives. The decline in numbers, which shows conclusively that women increasingly and tenaciously opted for monogamous unions, should be paired with the recognition that for the Church leadership throughout the polygamous period, pressure to enter plural marriage was strong and even increased in the 1880s. Church pronouncements about whether a monogamist could be exalted were inconsistent, but it was clear that "plural marriage was not only the preferred type but also the most honored and most sacred" (72). In the end, Daynes concludes, believing in the divine nature of polygamy and practicing it were differentiated in many Church teachingsthe ability to practice was by definition limited to those men who could find and support women willing to marry them as plural wives. Over time the number of women willing to enter plural marriage declined.
Equally important, the number of divorces granted in Manti went overwhelmingly to polygamous unions, especially when the marriage had been created during the heady years of the Mormon reformation in 1856 and 1857 (165) and again during the government raids of the 1880s. Just under half of the women involved in such divorces later remarried polygamously. As Daynes shows, the Church urged reconciliation but also acknowledged that some marriages could not realistically be salvaged; in these circumstances, the Church permitted divorce in order to promote remarriage and continued reproduction (169). Implicit in this point is the conclusion that divorce was not a rejection of belief in plural marriage but should instead be recognized as an indication that plural marriages endured greater stress than monogamous ones (16567). Many such stresses in the early period had to do primarily with material and economic hardship; in the later period, with federal prosecutions and legal change.
Among Daynes's central points is that, before the 1880s, marriage in Utah was essentially a religious rather than a legal undertaking. Church divorce as well as polygamous marriage, for example, were both "non-legalistic and non-traditional" (188). The transition to a new legal regime imposed from without destroyed a system that was in decline, she maintains, but not necessarily in crisis. Daynes, while not a lawyer, has a solid grounding in legal thought and categories, and she understands well the vital role of law and custom in any society. Equally important, Daynes understands clearly that extralegal actions (such as a divorce from the pulpit or a "nominal" plural marriage) were also vital aspects of the Mormon marriage system in territorial Utah.
The shift from a religious to a legal regime, she says, was complete with the enactment of the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887: henceforth, the courts dictated what marriage meant and when it was over. In Utah, as in the rest of the nation, the state now controlled marriage and divorce, replacing the more flexible Church doctrines with legislation and judicial pronouncements. The "transformation," as Daynes refers to it in her title, was both heavy-handed and subtle. It became clear to all involved that for the Church to survive, it must give ground on polygamy. This breakdown of the religious system, she argues, plunged Latter-day Saints into a period of religious and legal turmoil as Church leaders' ability to regulate plural marriage evaporated, even though belief in its divinely sanctioned nature continued. Although she does not directly point this out, the last year of her study, 1910, coincides with a letter sent to stake presidents instructing them to enforce the 1904 decree that those who entered into or performed new plural marriages would be liable to excommunication. Finally, it truly was no longer possible to marry "more wives than one" and remain in harmony with the Church.
While the history of Mormon plural marriage has received significant attention over the past three decades and more, the topic remains exceedingly difficult to deal with. It combines a dramatic and controversial divergence from traditional Christian marital practices with a sense that the response from those outside the faith was excessive and oppressive. Balanced treatment under such circumstances remains difficult, yet Daynes's poise is unwavering.
Daynes finds richness that other scholars have missed, and her historian's sensitivity to change over time allows her to show polygamy's efflorescence and decline in nineteenth-century Manti with pinpoint accuracy. She is careful to situate her work within the broader historiography of nineteenth-century Mormonism and to make her differences with prior scholars clear. For example, she argues cogently that the Mormon marital practices during the polygamy period did indeed constitute a system, with clear-cut rules about sexual propriety, courtship, and the creation and dissolution of marriage. This conclusion differs from the arguments of Eugene Campbell and Bruce Campbell in their work on divorce among Mormon polygamists.1
Daynes has also benefited from a generation of insightful and probing work into the history of the Church and its conflicts with the outside world, as she readily acknowledges. Her book builds on the finest work in the field, including (but not limited to) that of Carmon Hardy, Lawrence Foster, Edwin Firmage, Richard Mangrum, and her dissertation adviser Jan Shipps. Daynes deserves to take her place among them as a leading scholar of Mormon history. This book is likely to propel her instantly into such company. Last, but not least, and especially gratifying to the reader, this was not a book researched or written in a rush to print. It glows in ways only a piece of scholarship that has had years of painstaking work lavished on it can.
1. Eugene E. Campbell and Bruce L. Campbell, "Divorce among Mormon Polygamists: Extent and Explanations," Utah Historical Quarterly 46 (winter 1978): 423.
The Mormon History Association has its annual conference this weekend in St. George, Utah. Several sessions were devoted to Mormon polygamy.
Sessions on polygamy included:
* What Lurked Behind Polygamy: Popular Constructions of Mormonism and the Mountain Meadows Massacre Janiece Johnson, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
* The 1944 Polygamy Raids and the Supreme Court Decisions That Followed Ken Driggs, Atlanta, GA
Allred/Jensen Group Fundamentalism
Prelude to Polygamy: The Early Life of Rulon C. Allred Eric Paul Rogers, Hamilton, MT
* Beyond Stereotypes: Understanding Diversity within the Allred/Jensen Fundamentalist Group Joseph Lyman Jessop, St. Anthony, ID
* Descendants of Early Mormon Polygamists among Contemporary Fundamentalists Marianne T. Watson, Lehi, UT
From the reviewer's article: Daynes's analysis reveals that the percentage of Manti women who were involved in polygamy is higher than many scholars previously thought. For example, of those women born before 1852 whose first marriage took place in Utah, 56.7 percent were in a plural marriage at some point in their lives (98). For those born between 1852 and 1870 and those who immigrated between 1870 and 1887, the number is 12.2 percent (96). As Daynes irrefutably demonstrates, plural marriage affected all aspects of marriage in Manti, monogamous as well as polygamous.
Wow! About 57% of women in the Manti, Utah area born before 1852 were given over to a guy sleeping with other wives!
From the article: Women throughout the period married young, younger than outside Utah. Immigrant women usually married soon after they arrived (97), often as plural wives...
Well, there went two myths: That the "youngness" of how young women were marrying in Utah was "just like" other states or territories. Nope. It wasn't. They were indeed younger in Utah! And the second myth, that Mormon missionaries weren't heading off to bring home additional young brides for married men. Indeed, they were!
Mormon "prophets" actually had two decrees vs. plural marriage: 1890 (Woodruff) and 1903 (Smith). B. Carmon Hardy in his book, Solemn Covenant, documents a few hundred specific additional plural marriages in his appendix -- these occurring between 1890-1910.
IOW, polygamy just went underground a bit more -- but was still solemnized by Mormon leaders...especially during the years of 1890-1903...in the 1900s, two Lds "apostles" were ex-communicated for still legitimizing polygamy. And it wasn't until this 1910 enforcement letter went around that Mormon leadership took seriously any line in the sand on polygamy.
So when people try to tell you Mormonism ended polygamy in 1890, they're "snowing you" -- or they just don't know.
Even in 1910, Mormon leadership didn't address existing polygamists. Some of those polygamous unions didn't die out until the early 1960s.
Also, if Mormons tell you or imply that polygamy is past tense, they indeed are snowin' you.
#1...they believe marriage is eternal...so all these 19th & 20th century polygamists, they think, are still practicing polygamy...it's just colonized to somewhere near Kolob.
#2...Mormon policy dictates that even Mormons living today can become eternal polygamists. All they need to do is to serially marry more than one spouse...and be sealed to each for eternity.
God created ONLY Adam and Eve.
Not Adam and Eve and another Eve and another Eve, etc.
Spelling correction in the author title...It’s “Daynes” — not “Dames”
Or Utah. With magic underpants, anything is possible.
Wife swapping before its’ time in Utah. We’re always ahead of the curve ping!
Swingers clubs galore in Manti and Ephraim in 1860. (Last night in Ephraim I couldn’t even find a beer. There was one little cutie at the bowling ally though. Didn’t dare ask.)
Bought a cup of coffee across the street from the Temple...Yea...
I think you meant magic pantaloons, yes?
How very Islamic of JSjr to have more than one wife.
The fLDS is keeping it real with polygamy. One fLDS family was featured on TLC with a show called ‘Sister Wives.’
So long as everyone involved is an adult and freely chooses, multiple marriage ought be allowed as a matter of freedom of personal choice.
And, no, I am not advocating same sex marriage, just polygamy or even polyandry, if freely chosen.
p.s. I am not a Mormon.
Solomon had more than one wife.
"Solomon had more than one wife." What year was that? BC or AD?
Can’t use OT Hebrew culture and compare it with Mormonism or any other culture today. They did a lot of things in the OT but that was peculiar to their society and cannot be used as a rule or guide for today’s. Finally, Polygamy was common back then among kings, despite God’s warnings against it. (Deuteronomy 17:14)
Yup. So did Abraham.
And so did Jacob whose name was changed by the Lord to Israel, father of the twelve tribes of Israel. The same man Israel who - as a polygamist - received tremendous promised blessings straight from God himself, as written in the Bible.
Looks like the Mormons who believe that polygamy may be authorized by God at times are in some pretty good historical company on that particular point, at least ...
#1...He also had 300 concubines. (Are you importing that "suggestion" into American culture -- that somebody should be able to sleep with 300 slaves & servants?)
#2...The God of Solomon had warned him from generations before NOT to get bogged down in that lifestyle: 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. (Deut. 17:17)
So what happened? Solomon became the "poster boy" for Deut. 17:17: 3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. (1 Kings 11:3-4)
I completely disagree with the Mormon faith and pray they will step away from it.
However I’d rather have a mormon as a neighbor than a muslim.
I'm sick of busting Mormons' chops with this embarrassing part of their history, particularly now that we have women walking around in chadors in Sam's club. Met one today. They man came up and touched me! He was just letting me know that he was moving his cart in such a way so as to not block traffic. He didn't really do anything out of line, but I sure didn't like being touched by a Muslim man when I know he is not supposed to do it, accding to his own Sharia.
Ugh. He didn't know who he was touching, and my instinctive reaction I managed to hide.
Anyway, I wish we'd stop picking on the Mormons when we've got Sharia to worry about.
Of course, it was economics. After the Civil War, there were thousands of destitute widows and girl orphans, and they got taken advantage of...such is life. We are all desperately wicked as the sparks fly upward.
Given the natural progression of "same sex marriage" we will see an inevitable return to polygamy and must think of our own daughters.
Did you know that polygamy is legal both in India and Ontario, Canada?
And what about Abraham, Israel?
Yup. So did Abraham.
(Except that's not" "justthe(full)truth"...)
The Bible records only Sarai (Sarah) as having placed her slave in that capacity. (When you're a slave, JustTheTruth, there's not exactly "I dos" and "I don'ts" involved!)
Here, I've made it "easy" for you to check out what the Bible has to say on this matter with a Q&A:
Q. Who continues to deem Hagar a servant/slave after sleeping with Abram?
the Angel of the Lord (who some say is the pre-incarnated Son of God),
Moses (Gen. 25),
even the apostle Paul (Gal. 4:21-31),
and Hagar herself.
Sarai labels Hagar as a gift as a "wife" to Abram, but as mentioned above, I question if a woman has the authority to "consent" on behalf of a slave.
Hagar was considered a slave both "before" and "after" sleeping with Abram. Why does the "before" matter? Just as a minor cannot "consent" to sex, a slave is in no better situation to "consent" to--or deny--her master's commands for sex. And in this case, the command didn't come from her husband, Abram; it came from her mistress (female word for "master"), Sarai (Sarai is twice referenced as "mistress"--Gen. 16:4,8).
Why does the "after" matter?
Because it shows she didn't become a "transformed" person--from slave to wifely status! Gen. 16:6,8,9; 21:11; 25:12; and Gal. 4:21-31 all are still referencing her as either a "slave" (twice in 21:11), "servant," or one who was told by the Angel to submit to her mistress (female word for "master"). By Gen. 25, Abraham is married to Keturah with no mention of Hagar (25:1) and is then buried with Sarah (25:10).
So, to summarize: If we were to call all the key witnesses to the stand, and hear what they have to say:
Q Hagar, after Sarai gave you to Abram and Ishmael was conceived, did you still acknowledge Sarai as your "mistress" in your conversation with the Angel of the Lord? [female master]
A Yes. (Gen. 16:8)
Q Sarai, when you were in your early nineties when Isaac was a toddler, how did you characterize Hagar?
A I told Abraham, Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son, Isaac. (Gen. 21:10)
Q Abraham, after Sarah gave you Hagar and you slept with her, how did you characterize Hagar?
A I told Sarah, as mistress (master) of her servant, Your servant is in your hands. Do with her whatever you think best. (Gen. 16:6)
Q When Sarah began to mistreat her servant, Hagar, did you intervene like what we might expect a husband to do?
A No. Hagar was Sarah's servant.
Q Angel of the Lord, when you called to Hagar after she conceived Ishmael, how did you reference her?
A Servant of Sarai (Gen. 16:8)
Q And when you conversed with Hagar, did you, Angel of the Lord, acknowledge that she was released from her servant role to Sarai?
A No. In fact, I told her Go back to your mistress and submit to her. (Gen. 16:9)
Q Moses, since you wrote Genesis, how did you identify Hagar in her last reference of that book? Did you link her to Abraham?
A No. I identified her as "Sarah's maidservant" (Gen. 25:12).
Q So in that same passage, you link Ishmael to Abraham, but you link Hagar only to Sarah?
Q Apostle, Paul How did the Holy Spirit lead you to interpret the Old Covenant as expressed through Abraham?
A For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother...Now you brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? 'Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son.' Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (Gal. 4:21-31)
We all know Jacob entered into polygamy unwilling as a matter of deception. (I didn't know deception was advocated or sanctioned by God)
As for receiving tremendous promised blessings, well God told Hosea to marry a prostitute, Gomer, who kept up her "cottage industry" post marriage.
I don't think you would claim that God cut off blessings to Hosea, right? Nor would we imply, like the implication you seem to be making, that God "blesses" or sanctions people who marry prostitutes who keep up a "cottage industry" post-marriage.
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