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Polygamy Preferred

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Polygamy Preferred

"Polygamy was a good thing for early Mormon women." This begins an interview with Sarah Brockman (This writer's Grandmother), the ninety-seven year old daughter of a polygamist. " At least 'twas for Aunt Eveline . . . [Papa and Eveline] were married fifty-three years! . . . [Papa] couldn't resist her from the start. Eveline was in the highest grade in the one room school we both [attended]. Papa was our teacher. . .Eveline was almost seventeen when she started earnin' her A's the 'old-fashioned' way. . . . After a few weeks of 'A-earnin,' [Eveline] went away to 'finishing school.' ( . . . [We] would later laugh, in secret, at what she went away to finish.) . . . Seven months later, she came home. The very next day, Mamma found a basket on the front porch with [a baby] Harry inside . . . Mamma had always loved babies, (she had just birth'd her tenth), so she took little Harry in as her own. [she nursed] Harry on one side and my brother, George, on the other . . . It only took Eveline four days . . . to visit Mamma, (and Harry) . . . When Harry got hungry, he started to bawl, and Eveline's breasts began to leak. Mamma, no fool to the side-effects of childbirth, then knew the where-'bouts of Harry's beginnings. Eveline confessed, snifflin' and a-wailin'. Mamma didn't blame Eveline . . . She believed no child should be without it's Mamma. So, with a threat to Papa of public humiliation, Mamma demanded he take Eveline as his second wife in polygamy . . . With Mamma's hand atop bride and groom's, my classmate became 'Aunt' Eveline. (Sort of a twist in shotgun weddings, don't you think?) . . . Aunt Eveline and Papa legally adopted Harry, since no one, (admittedly), knew who his 'real' parents were . . . Mamma died only a few months after that and Aunt Eveline instantly became Mamma to all eleven of us children. (She also, later, had birth'd six of her own.) I think polygamy was a sort of poetic justice for Mamma, in that sense, but for Aunt Eveline, it was heaven sent..." (Interview). Today's Puritan Society frowns on any type of marriage except the "normal" monogamous union. However, the practice of polygamy was beneficial to women who lived in the late 1800's. Polygamy was encouraged and accepted by the early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon people. It was sanctioned as Mormon doctrine and was practiced to benefit women in a society where their rights were limited - especially the rights of unmarried women.

Polygamy was an unexpected new doctrine to the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (L.D.S or Saints). On July 12, 1843, Joseph Smith, the founder and first president, (the Mormon people call him "Prophet"), of the L.D.S. church, claimed to have received direct revelation from God. This revelation included a "perfect order" that the Mormon church members were asked to follow (Burton 415). One requisite of the "perfect order" was the restoration of the ancient Christian and Judeo practice of polygamy. This was also called "The Lord's Plan" by the Mormon people (Readers 946).

Individuals accepted these radical changes. Those who were brought up on the sacredness of monogamy, soon found polygamy to be "a most desirable form of marriage and family life." (Basinger 11) Many women, as well as their husbands, experienced extreme personal triumph in bringing themselves to live in polygamy (Burton 124). Once, when asked how he could possibly expect the Saints to accept such a doctrine, a church leader replied, "The Latter Day Saints have the most implicit confidence in all the revelations given through [Smith] the prophet; and they would much sooner lay down their lives in martyrdom than to deny the least revelation given them." (425) This was soon proven to be true. Many L.D.S. people were killed defending their beliefs and their religious practices. Eventually, the only recourse the Saints had was to leave their eastern settlements and move west to the Salt Lake Valley.

The L.D.S. woman was taught that the Mormon priesthood, a privilege that could only be practiced by the male Latter Day Saints, was the greatest thing a household could have (Baily 76). Brigham Young, the second Mormon "Prophet," constantly encouraged women, sometimes as young as fourteen years of age, to marry as soon as they could find a husband (Jelgurd 228). It was believed that a woman could only gain her full salvation by securing a Mormon husband under the church's holy rites of matrimony. The "Prophet" constantly stated that the husband is the head of his wife and her "temporal and eternal salvation depended on him." (B.Young qtd. Young 123)

Women in the Mormon establishment were forbidden to use guns (Stegier 295). A woman could own land only if it were deeded to her by her husband or father. She was not permitted to purchase it herself (Enc. of Relig. 539). A woman was not allowed to purchase anything that was normally associated with men, i.e.; horses, tools, and livestock. These and other, so-called "masculine," items were inaccessible for purchase by a woman without a note of permission from her husband or father (Stratton 312). Women were considered the subordinate sex and were reared to accept this position. "[A women was] nothing without a husband to support her." (Chirstensen 121) Women who remained unmarried after the age of twenty-five were considered "old-maids" and subsequently, were made outcasts of society (Stegier 144). By 1858, five to fifteen percent of Mormon households were joined in polygamous unions. Before anyone could enter into this state of matrimony, the permission of the original

wife and of the church authorities had to first be secured (Readers 946). Men commonly preferred to marry sisters because sisters usually loved, accepted and were tolerent of each other. Permission from the first wife was easy to obtain if a man chose his wife's sister as a second wife. Familiar backgrounds caused sisters to prefer this arrangement (Stratton 123): "We began to dream of [marring the same man] as children. When we played house, there was always one husband and we were his wives. We would cook and clean do for him together." (Smyth Journal)

When single women were offered the position of second wife, they anxiously entered into this practice. The first wife's

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