Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Did women turn Joseph down
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Joseph Smith era:
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Some critics have claimed that significant pressure was put on women to practice plural marriage in Nauvoo. Did any of these women resist or refuse? What were the consequences of doing so?
Several women seem to have refused plural marriage. If they did nothing to threaten the life and safety of Joseph and the Saints, they suffered no discernible consequences. Those who tried to "expose" Joseph had their character and testimony challenged.
It is difficult to know how many women refused plural marriage—if they said nothing, then we have no way of knowing if they refused. Some cited in LDS sources include:
- Sarah Kimball
- Rachel Ivins (Grant)
- Lydia Moon
- Cordelia C. Morley (Cox)
- Esther Johnson
Anti-Mormon sources list several other possibilities, but it is hard to know how far to trust them. As Compton notes, "Some...are fairly well documented; others are sensationalist and badly documented." These include:
- Sarah Pratt - wife of Orson Pratt
- Nancy Rigdon - daughter of Sidney Rigdon
- Jane Silverthorne (Law) - wife of William Law
- Leonora Cannon (Taylor) - wife of John Taylor
- Melissa Schindle
- Emeline White
- Mrs. Robert Foster
- Pamela Michael
- Mrs. Caroline Grant Smith
- Lucy Smith Milligan (or Miliken)
- Lavina Smith
- Miss Marks - daughter of William Marks
- Athalia Rigdon
- Eliza Winters
No woman was physically harmed for a refusal to practice plural marriage. Those who refused but maintained the secrecy necessary for the Saints' protection in Nauvoo suffered no ill effects. Joseph's reported reaction was relatively mild. As Sarah Kimball reported:
- Early in the year 1842, Joseph Smith taught me the principle of marriage for eternity, and the doctrine of plural marriage. He said that in teaching this he realized that he jeopardized his life; but God had revealed it to him many years before as a privilege with blessings, now God had revealed it again and instructed him to teach it with commandment, as the Church could travel (progress) no further without the introduction of this principle. I asked him to teach it to some one else. He looked at me reprovingly, and said, 'Will you tell me who to teach it to? God required me to teach it to you, and leave you with the responsibility of believing or disbelieving.‘ He said, 'I will not cease to pray for you, and if you will seek unto God in prayer you will not be led into temptation.'
(Sarah's husband was not a member of the Church until 1843. There was some tension between him and Joseph as a result of this episode, but he seems to have resolved any animosity he held for the prophet. They were later to go Utah with the Saints, where Sarah assumed a prominent role in the Relief Society. Her husband died while en route to a mission in Hawaii.)
Other women loudly trumpeted the plural marriage doctrine in Nauvoo and the hostile press. These women's testimony and character were generally attacked to try to discredit them in an effort to preserve the secrecy which surrounded plural marriage. (This factor is complicated by the fact that at least some were guilty of inappropriate behavior (e.g., likely Sarah Pratt). Despite attacks on their character, some remained in Nauvoo and likewise suffered no physical harm (e.g., Nancy Rigdon).
- [note] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 634–635. ( Index of claims ) We have here omitted Eliza Winters, a claim not supportable by the evidence.
- [note] Augusta Joyce Crocheron (author and complier), Representative Women of Deseret, a book of biographical sketches to accompany the picture bearing the same title (Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884).
- [note] See Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:12–13. BYU Studies link; Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Mormon Polyandry in Nauvoo," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18/3 (Fall 1985): 77; Van Wagoner, "Joseph and Marriage," Sunstone 10/9 (January 1986): 32.
- [note] Jill C. Mulvay, "The Liberal Shall be Blessed: Sarah M. Kimball," Utah Historical Quarterly 44/3 (Summer 1976): 209; citing (221n11) "Jenson dates Hiram's baptism July 20, 1843. Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City, 1901-36), 2:372. At the end of 1844 Hiram received a patriarchal blessing, an ordinance usually reserved for church members. Patriarchal Blessings, vol. 9, December 25, 1844, manuscript, LDS Archives."