Joseph Smith and polyandry
Important introductory material on plural marriage available here
Joseph Smith era:
This page is a summary or index. More detailed information on this topic is available on the sub-pages below.
I've heard that Joseph Smith was sealed to women who were married to men who were still living. Some of these men were even active members of the Church? What's going on here?
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Nauvoo Journals, December 1841–April 1843," The Joseph Smith Papers
Several later documents suggest that several women who were already married to other men were, like Marinda Hyde, married or sealed to Joseph Smith. Available evidence indicates that some of these apparent polygynous/polyandrous marriages took place during the years covered by this journal. At least three of the women reportedly involved in these marriages—Patty Bartlett Sessions, Ruth Vose Sayers, and Sylvia Porter Lyon—are mentioned in the journal, though in contexts very much removed from plural marriage.58 Even fewer sources are extant for these complex relationships than are available for Smith’s marriages to unmarried women, and Smith’s revelations are silent on them. Having surveyed the available sources, historian Richard L. Bushman concludes that these polyandrous marriages—and perhaps other plural marriages of Joseph Smith—were primarily a means of binding other families to his for the spiritual benefit and mutual salvation of all involved.(Click here for full article)
Among Joseph's plural marriages and/or sealings, between eight to eleven of them were to women who were already married. Of the eight well-documented cases, five of the husbands were Latter-day Saints, and the other three were either not active in or not associated with the Church. In all cases, these women continued to live with their husbands, most of them doing so until their husbands died. These eternal marriages appear to have had little effect upon the lives of the women involved, with the exception that they would be sealed to Joseph in the afterlife rather than to their earthly husbands. 
Of all the aspects of Joseph Smith's marital theology, this is the most difficult area to understand, because very little primary evidence exists. As one scholar noted:
- Perhaps nothing is less understood than Joseph Smith's sealings to women already married, because the evidence supports conflicting interpretations.
One of the most well-known of these "polyandrous" marriages was to Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs.
At the time that celestial marriage was introduced, it was possible to be married for time to one person and sealed for eternity to another. These marriages appear to have been performed for the purpose of forming dynastic bonds in the afterlife, as there is no evidence that Joseph ever cohabited or had intimate relations with any of these women. No children from these marriages have ever been identified. These were sealings which would only affect Joseph's association with these women in the afterlife.
Brian C. Hales, "Joseph Smith’s Sexual Polyandry and the Emperor’s New Clothes: On Closer Inspection, What Do We Find?," Proceedings of the 2012 FAIR Conference (August 2012)
My research supports that fourteen of Joseph Smith’s plural wives had legal husbands. It could be that in Joseph Smith’s history, polygamy is the most difficult thing to understand. Within polygamy, Joseph Smith’s sealings to legally married women, is the most difficult. So we’re talking about a pretty tough subject today. And I can tell you already, that if it were easy, someone would have already explained it decades ago. But I think we’ve got it figured out.(Click here for full article)
Now there are two questions: “Why did he do it”, and “Did the women really have two husbands?” Answering the question of why he did it requires us to introduce some new topics. Joseph taught that marriage can be eternal and that everyone must be sealed to be exalted. These are not new to us, we’ve all heard these. But outside of Mormondom, these are kind of new ideas. Emmanuel Swedenborg had talked about eternal marriage and he died in 1772. But really, nobody talked about eternal marriage. The idea that you had to be married to get the highest salvation, that’s still a really new and somewhat different teaching.
Overview: What is "Polyandry?"
The term "polyandry" is derived from the Greek roots "poly" ("many") and "andros" ("men") to describe marriages in which one woman is married to more than one man. The term does not account for the concept of marriage after this life. Therefore, describing some of Joseph Smith's marriages as "polyandrous" implies that he was married to these women in this life, with all that is involved in such a relationship. Evidence does not bear this out, however. In fact, the existing evidence indicates that these women continued to associate with their current husbands. Therefore, by stating that Joseph "married" other men's wives without making the distinction that these sealings applied only to the next life, critics can draw many lascivious conclusions from Joseph's actions. The faithful member may feel uneasy because he has no ready "alibi" for the polyandry material which the gleeful critic insists is a "smoking gun" for Joseph's base motives.
The following articles expand on various details related to Joseph's polyandrous marriages.==
- Joseph's polyandrous marriages (Pre-publication book chapter)—
Brief Summary: Nothing in plural marriage mystifies—or troubles—members of the Church more than Joseph's polyandrous sealings. Marriage to multiple wives may seem strange, but at least it intrudes on our historical awareness, while many remain unaware of polyandry's existence in LDS history. (Click here for full article)
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- Did Joseph have any children through polygamous marriages?—
Brief Summary: Is there evidence of any children through Joseph's polyandrous marriages? (Click here for full article)
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- Did women turn Joseph down when he proposed marriage?—
Brief Summary: 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? (Click here for full article)
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- Divine manifestations to plural wives and families—
Brief Summary: Did those who entered into plural marriage do so simply because Joseph Smith (or another Church leader) "told them to"? Is this an example of "blind obedience"? (Click here for full article)
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- Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs—
Brief Summary: A collection of articles about Zina. (Click here for full article)
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- Analysis of Zina and Henry Jacobs—Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young by Allen Wyatt (Link)
- Divine manifestation to Zina.—
Brief Summary: Zina's brother Dimick encouraged her to accept Joseph's proposal of plural marriage. However, she refused. What changed her mind? (Click here for full article)
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- Zina and polyandry—
Brief Summary: In 1839, at age 18, Zina arrived with her parents in Nauvoo after being driven out of Missouri. Faithful LDS missionary Henry Jacobs courted her during 1840–41. At the same time, Joseph Smith had taught Zina the doctrine of plural marriage, and thrice asked her to marry him. She declined each time, and she and Henry were wed 7 March 1841. (Click here for full article)
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- Child by Joseph ruled out by DNA testing—
Brief Summary: DNA research in 2005 confirmed Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs's son Zebulon was the son of Henry Bailey Jacobs. (Click here for full article)
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- Emma Smith remark to Zina—
Brief Summary: Zina Huntington remembered a conversation between Elizabeth [Davis] and Emma [Smith] in which Elizabeth asked the prophet’s wife if she felt that Joseph was a prophet. Yes, Emma answered, but I wish to God I did not know it. (Click here for full article)
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- [note] Samuel Katich, "A Tale of Two Marriage Systems: Perspectives on Polyandry and Joseph Smith," Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 2003.
- [note] Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 29. ISBN 0252026810.