Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Plural wives/Helen Mar Kimball/Circumstances of her plural marriage

The circumstances of Helen Mar Kimball's marriage to Joseph Smith, Jr.

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The Prophet said...that it [plural marriage] would damn more than it would have because \so many/ unprincipled men would take advantage of it, but that did not prove that it was not a pure principle. If Joseph had had any impure desires he could have gratified them in the style of the world with less danger of his life or his character, than to do as he did. The Lord commanded him to teach & to practice that principle.

—Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Letter to Mary Bond, n.d., 3-9 quoted in Brian Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy: History, Vol. 1, 26-27. off-site

Question: Was Joseph Smith's marriage to 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball indicative of "pedophilia"?

It is claimed by critics of the Church that Helen Mar Kimball expected her marriage to Joseph not to include physical relations but that it actually did

The use of the term "pedophilia" by critics is intended to generate a negative emotional response in the reader. Pedophila describes a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. There is no evidence that Helen ever cohabited with or had sexual relations with Joseph. Pedophiles don't advertise their obsession, and they certainly don't discuss marriages with the parents of their intended victims. It was Heber C. Kimball that requested that this sealing be performed, not Joseph. There is no evidence that Joseph was a pedophile.

It is claimed by critics that Helen Mar Kimball,

"expected her marriage to Joseph Smith" to be a ceremony "for eternity only," not an actual marriage involving physical relations. How surprised she was to discover "that it included [marriage for] time also": a physical union at age fourteen with a thirty-seven year-old man.[1]

Joseph was sealed to Helen Mar Kimball at her father's request

Joseph was indeed sealed to 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball, and it was at her father's request. According to Helen:

My father was the first to introduce it to me, which had a similar effect to a sudden shock of a small earthquake. When he found (after the first outburst of displeasure for supposed injury) that I received it meekly, he took the first opportunity to introduce Sarah Ann [Whitney] to me as Joseph's wife.
—Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, 1828-1896, Autobiography (c. 1839-1846), "Life Incidents," Woman's Exponent 9-10 (1880-1882) and "Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo," Woman's Exponent 11 (1882-83)) off-site

Helen continued to live with her parents after the sealing, and then married someone else and had children with them after Joseph's death

Helen continued to live with her parents after the sealing. After Joseph's death, Helen was married and had children.

Unlike today, it was acceptable to be sealed to one person for eternity while being married for time to another person. It is not known if this was the case with Helen, however.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Helen's marriage to Joseph was ever consummated

There is, despite the critics' insinuations, no evidence that Helen Mar Kimball's marriage was consummated. (Consummation would not have been inappropriate, since this was a marriage, but the critics are too anxious to find problems where no evidence for such exists. Helen did have some disappointments—these mostly revolved around being less free to participate in parties and socials, not at being physically joined to an older husband.

But, Helen later saw her youthful displeasure as inappropriate and insisted that she had been protected and blessed by being a plural wife, even though she did not know it at the time.

Helen spoke out on the subject later in her life

Helen ought to allowed to speak for herself:

I did not try to conceal the fact of its having been a trial, but confessed that it had been one of the severest of my life; but that it had also proven one of the greatest of blessings. I could truly say it had done the most towards making me a Saint and a free woman, in every sense of the word; and I knew many others who could say the same, and to whom it had proven one of the greatest boons--a "blessing in disguise." [2]

Question: Was Helen Mar Kimball's marriage to Joseph Smith ever consummated?

Critics generally do not reveal that their sources have concluded that Helen's marriage to Joseph Smith was never consummated

Critics generally do not reveal that their sources have concluded that Helen's marriage to Joseph Smith was unconsummated, preferring instead to point out that mere fact of the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to a 37-year-old man ought to be evidence enough to imply sexual relations and "pedophilia." For example, George D. Smith quotes Compton without disclosing his view,[3] cites Compton, but ignores that Compton argues that " there is absolutely no evidence that there was any sexuality in the marriage, and I suggest that, following later practice in Utah, there may have been no sexuality. All the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage.” [4] and Stanley Kimball without disclosing that he believed the marriage to be "unconsummated." [5]

Helen wrote a poem entitled "Reminiscences," which is often cited by critics

Later in life, Helen wrote a poem entitled "Reminiscences." It is often cited for the critics' claims:

I thought through this life my time will be my own
The step I now am taking's for eternity alone,
No one need be the wiser, through time I shall be free,
And as the past hath been the future still will be.
To my guileless heart all free from worldly care
And full of blissful hopes—and youthful visions rare
The world seamed bright the thret'ning clouds were kept
From sight, and all looked fair but pitying angels wept.
They saw my youthful friends grow shy and cold.
And poisonous darts from sland'rous tongues were hurled,
Untutor'd heart in thy gen'rous sacrafise,
Thou dids't not weigh the cost nor know the bitter price;
Thy happy dreems all o'er thou'rt doom'd alas to be
Bar'd out from social scenes by this thy destiny,
And o'er thy sad'nd mem'ries of sweet departed joys
Thy sicken'd heart will brood and imagine future woes,
And like a fetter'd bird with wild and longing heart,
Thou'lt dayly pine for freedom and murmor at thy lot;
But could'st thou see the future & view that glorious crown,
Awaiting you in Heaven you would not weep nor mourn. [p. 2]
Pure and exalted was thy father's aim, he saw
A glory in obeying this high celestial law,
For to thousands who've died without the light
I will bring eternal joy & make thy crown more bright.
I'd been taught to reveire the Prophet of God
And receive every word as the word of the Lord.
But had this not come through my dear father's mouth,
I should ne'r have received it as God's sacred truth.[6]

The first portion of the poem expresses the youthful Helen's attitude. She is distressed mostly because of the loss of socialization and youthful ideas about romance. But, as Helen was later to explain more clearly in prose, she would soon realize that her youthful pout was uncalled for—she saw that her plural marriage had, in fact, protected her. "I have long since learned to leave all with Him, who knoweth better than ourselves what will make us happy," she noted after the poem.[7]

Helen was disappointed that she was not permitted to attend a party or a dance

Thus, she would later write of her youthful disappointment in not being permitted to attend a party or dance:

I felt quite sore over it, and thought it a very unkind act in father to allow William to go and enjoy the dance unrestrained with other of my companions, and fetter me down, for no girl danced better than I did, and I really felt it was too much to bear. It made the dull school more dull, and like a wild bird I longed for the freedom that was denied me; and thought to myself an abused child, and that it was pardonable if I did not murmur.

I imagined that my happiness was all over and brooded over the sad memories of sweet departed joys and all manner of future woes, which (by the by) were of short duration, my bump of hope being too large to admit of my remaining long under the clouds. Besides my father was very kind and indulgent in other ways, and always took me with him when mother could not go, and it was not a very long time before I became satisfied that I was blessed in being under the control of so good and wise a parent who had taken counsel and thus saved me from evils, which some others in their youth and inexperience were exposed to though they thought no evil. Yet the busy tongue of scandal did not spare them. A moral may be drawn from this truthful story. "Children obey thy parents," etc. And also, "Have regard to thy name, for that shall continue with you above a thousand great treasures of gold." "A good life hath but few days; but a good name endureth forever.[8]

So, despite her youthful reaction, Helen uses this as an illustration of how she was being a bit immature and upset, and how she ought to have trusted her parents, and that she was actually protected from problems that arose from the parties she missed.

Question: Did Helen Mar Kimball "confess" to having marital relations with Joseph?

Helen allegedly said "I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony"

Critics of the Church provide a supposed "confession" from Helen, in which she reportedly said:

I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it.[9]

The source of the statement is "suspect"

Author Todd Compton properly characterizes this source, noting that it is an anti-Mormon work, and calls its extreme language "suspect."[10]

Author George D. Smith tells his readers only that this is Helen "confiding," while doing nothing to reveal the statement's provenance from a hostile source.[11] Newell and Avery tell us nothing of the nature of this source and call it only a “statement” in the Stanley Ivins Collection;[12] Van Wagoner mirrors G. D. Smith by disingenuously writing that “Helen confided [this information] to a close Nauvoo friend,” without revealing its anti-Mormon origins.[13]

In order for this story to be true, Helen would be telling a story at variance with all other things that she wrote

To credit this story at face value, one must also admit that Helen told others in Nauvoo about the marriage (something she repeatedly emphasized she was not to do) and that she told a story at variance with all the others from her pen during a lifetime of staunch defense of plural marriage.[14]

Question: What were Helen Mar Kimball's views on plural marriage?

Helen disliked plural marriage because of the difficulties it placed on her mother

Helen made clear what she disliked about plural marriage, and it was not physical relations with an older man:

I had, in hours of temptation, when seeing the trials of my mother, felt to rebel. I hated polygamy in my heart, I had loved my baby more than my God, and mourned for it unreasonably….[15]

Helen is describing a period during the westward migration when (married monogamously) her first child died. Helen was upset by polygamy only because she saw the difficulties it placed on her mother. She is not complaining about her own experience with it.

Helen Mar Kimball: "I have encouraged and sustained my husband in the celestial order of marriage because I knew it was right"

Helen Mar Kimball:

All my sins and shortcomings were magnified before my eyes till I believed I had sinned beyond redemption. Some may call it the fruits of a diseased brain. There is nothing without a cause, be that as it may, it was a keen reality to me. During that season I lost my speech, forgot the names of everybody and everything, and was living in another sphere, learning lessons that would serve me in future times to keep me in the narrow way. I was left a poor wreck of what I had been, but the Devil with all his cunning, little thought that he was fitting and preparing my heart to fulfill its destiny….

[A]fter spending one of the happiest days of my life I was moved upon to talk to my mother. I knew her heart was weighed down in sorrow and I was full of the holy Ghost. I talked as I never did before, I was too weak to talk with such a voice (of my own strength), beside, I never before spoke with such eloquence, and she knew that it was not myself. She was so affected that she sobbed till I ceased. I assured her that father loved her, but he had a work to do, she must rise above her feelings and seek for the Holy Comforter, and though it rent her heart she must uphold him, for he in taking other wives had done it only in obedience to a holy principle. Much more I said, and when I ceased, she wiped her eyes and told me to rest. I had not felt tired till she said this, but commenced then to feel myself sinking away. I silently prayed to be renewed, when my strength returned that instant…

I have encouraged and sustained my husband in the celestial order of marriage because I knew it was right. At various times I have been healed by the washing and annointing, administered by the mothers in Israel. I am still spared to testify to the truth and Godliness of this work; and though my happiness once consisted in laboring for those I love, the Lord has seen fit to deprive me of bodily strength, and taught me to 'cast my bread upon the waters' and after many days my longing spirit was cheered with the knowledge that He had a work for me to do, and with Him, I know that all things are possible…[16]

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here


  1. GDS, p. 201-202; citing Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 500.
  2. Helen Mar Kimball, Why We Practice Plural Marriage, 23-24 cited in Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom.
  3. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy
  4. Todd M. Compton, “Response to Tanners,” post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list (no date), (accessed 2 December 2008). Compare with Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 198–202, 302, 362 and Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 14.)
  5. Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 98. See also Stanley B. Kimball, "Heber C. Kimball and Family, the Nauvoo Years," Brigham Young University Studies 15/4 (Summer 1975): 465.
  6. "Helen Mar Kimball Whitney 1881 Autobiography," Appendix I in Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, Utah / Salt Lake City, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, distributed by Bookcraft, 1997), 486.
  7. Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, Utah / Salt Lake City, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, distributed by Bookcraft, 1997), 486–487.
  8. Helen Mar Whitney, Scenes and Incidents, 90. (italics added)
  9. Catherine Lewis, Narrative of Some of the Proceedings of the Mormons (Lynn, MA: n.p., 1848), 19.
  10. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 195. ( Index of claims )
  11. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 202. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  12. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 147.
  13. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 2005), 293. (Reviews)
  14. On Helen’s authentic statements, see Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1997), ix–xliii.
  15. 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).
  16. 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).