Mitt Romeny and marriage Dave Granlund, politicalcartoons.com
"...marriage should be between a man and a woman and a woman and a woman.” Oh, Mitt, he jests.
I remember the sepia-toned photograph in an ornate frame hanging on my grandmother's wall of a stern-looking bearded man flanked by two equally stern-looking women sitting stock straight in their corseted brocade dresses. I didn't pay much attention to the trio until one day I was old enough to care enough to realize that I had never inquired about the names or relationship of these ancestors. Turns out they were sisters, married to the same man.
Knowing what I know about Utah's brand of polygamy, I really hope the sisters gave him hell. From their expressions in the photograph, it appears all three of them meted out the devil's biscuits for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of their lives.
Utah was the epicenter of polygamy from the 1850's to 1890 when the last nail in polygamy's coffin was hammered when President/Prophet Wilford Woodruff issued a document (now known as the Woodruff Manifesto) in 1890, thereby ending the practice of plural marriage, (you should know, after, Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887).
If I had been born one-hundred years earlier, polygamy would have been my reality. All I can say to that is there would have been some serious woe, treble woe, in Zion, the Land of Deseret. (And I would call b.s. on corsets).
Any one who tries to convince you that polygamy was a beloved institution, liberating for women in any way other than sharing household and child rearing duties, that it was about salvation and not sex, sex, sex, is a revisionist and a liar.
If you have any inclination toward looking at polygamy through a rose-colored filter, chances are you have never lived on the inside of polygamy, don't know anyone who has, and haven't read pioneer diaries or historical nonfiction on the subject.
I've read my illustrious ancestor's history, his mercurial rise in Zion, his position of prestige in Brigham Young's inner circle. It's important to note that his acquisition of wives was recorded with the same sterile emotion as his acquisition of livestock,and wagons. And yes, he ended his days with a very young wife.
I've also read the history of another illustrious ancestor, noted as much for her midwifery skills as for being the wife of the first prophet, Joseph Smith, albeit of the "spiritual" nature of wife. She was fifty-three when she married Smith.
My ancestor's daughter also married Joseph, and gave birth to Josephina. Is it really necessary to say that the relationship was not purely spiritual?
Mother and daughter married to the same man. Hmmm.
Emma Smith, first wife of Joseph, was virulently opposed to her husband taking wives. Nevertheless, he took thirty-three according to historian Fawn Brodie, and countless additional sources.
There are still some believers, some holdouts, still living the principle, hiding in plain sight in the suburbs, as portrayed in HBO's fabulous series Big Love, or fundamentalists huddled in nearby walled compounds, dressed in prairie dresses, hair in long braids.
Polygamy may have it's origins in gender disparity in the Mormon population, there may have indeed more more women than men Saints, but come on, it was also most certainly about toady old men with a few or a dozen wives, that suddenly got the 'prompting' to marry a fourteen year old girl.
Can you imagine that little girl's life with him?
Can you imagine her life as number thirteen, and the passive aggressive or outright aggressive hell the first wife would plague her with?
Can you imagine the first wife all the way down to wife number twelve's quotidian jealousies, subterfuge, humiliation and betrayals, the requisite sublimations?
Lucky me, I don't have to. And lucky you.
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich on Daughters in the Kingdom
Institute for Religious Research - Mormons in Transition
Newsroom LDS.org - Do Mormons Practice Polygamy
Salt Lake Tribune - Polygamy: Its Utah origins and survival as a fundamentalist religious practice
Red Water - Judith Freeman
Saints without Halos: The Human Side of Mormon History - Leonard J. Arrington
Women's Diaries, Journals and Letters - Cheryl Cline
No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith - Fawn Brodie
Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage - B. Carmon Hardy