84: Did Members Really Know About Joseph Smith’s Polygamy?

Nick, Kate Kelly, and Alison discuss the LDS church’s recent press release claiming that the details of Joseph Smith’s polygamy are widely known and the membership’s backlash against people who are shocked by recent lds.org essays on the topic. They explore whether or not this information has been widely available and end up discussing the essays themselves.



Links & Resources
LDS Church’s Press Release – Church Provides Context for Recent Media Coverage on Gospel Topics Pages
New York Times – It’s Official: Mormon Founder Had Up to 40 Wives by Laurie Goodstein
SL Trib Op-ed – LDS Church should make clear Smith was wrong to take 14-year-old wife by Kristy Money
Feministing – The Mormon church admits its founder had 40 wives by Katie Halper
Feminist Mormon Housewives Podcast – Year of Polygamy


  1. Dawn West

    Thank you, thank you and thank you! This podcast is exactly what I have been saying since I found out that JS was marrying young girls; polyandry and polygamy in 2012. When I told my husband, he didn’t believe me – “anti-Mormon” material. When the essay was released in October, he seemed shaken and upset and realized what I told him two years ago wasn’t “anti-Mormon”. When the newsroom statement came out stating “polygamy has been published in diverse sources and known among long-term and well-read members, historians and Church leaders for many years”, he was offended and pissed! Thanks LDS Newsroom, you have pushed my believing spouse to buy and read “In Sacred Loneliness” from Compton, doing extensive research and realizing that the church is not all that honest as stated in the 13th Article of Faith.

    As for me, I was devastated, hurt, pissed, angry when I came upon this information. I am educated (hold a MS in IT), years of seminary, institute, endless hours of hours in meetings, married in the temple to a RM, faithful member since I was 16 years old and have a large book collection from Deseret Book. The church isn’t going to make me feel bad about not knowing this information because the church is the one at fault here. Because of all of this whitewashing of history, I can and will not believe anything coming from the church body – the church has broke the trust and shame on them.

    You’re right, marrying 14 year old girls to 37 year old men was NOT common in the 1840’s. My family has been in central Illinois since 1828. I have data to state otherwise from what the church is claiming to be common with 14 year old girls marrying – again another lie. As for polyandry, really church? You think JS received this directive from God? If the early body of the church kept to the narrative with polygamy helping those poor widows, that I could buy into, but marrying teenage girls and other men’s wives was nothing but a ploy for power and possibly sex.

    Can you tell this is a hot button for me? I have stewed and spent hours studying this part of church history for over two years and what happened was not right!! So Allison, Kate and Nick, thank you for this wonderful podcast. Instead of my ranting on and on about this whole mess, I am going to point them to your podcast!

    Reply Nov 21, 2014 @ 08:23:17
    • jeanikins

      Dawn, your story is so similar to mine in so many ways. When I discovered ‘issues’ my dear husband said the same to me. He also said, “I have been through all of this stuff before and it is anti-Mormon, taken out of context. You are being misled.” I was determined to prove that I was not being misled so I have studied a great deal about Mormon History in the past 8 years. When the church published the essays, despite their disingenuous nature, I still felt so happy. I hoped it would help me sort out the gulf between my sister and I, since I’m the one who sent the missionaries to her and she has been a faithful member ever since. It was a shock to her, some of my family members and friends when I left the church and I felt so alone.

      Reading your story was like making a connection with you. Good luck to you and me and our husbands as we work through these things.

      Reply Nov 23, 2014 @ 13:45:02
  2. Alison

    This was great to do…thanks for asking me. I just finished listening to it…I’m giggling about my intro…I was born in the temple! Wow…that makes me kinda unique doesn’t it. That’s what happens when you get up at 4 am. Does those give me extra street cred….I mean how many people are born in the TEMPLE?

    Reply Nov 21, 2014 @ 12:04:06
  3. Abby

    I think it’s pretty cool that you were born in the temple again actually, Alison. That would finally be a non boring endowment session, of someone had a baby in the middle. :)

    Reply Nov 21, 2014 @ 12:10:17
    • Alison


      Reply Nov 24, 2014 @ 12:23:15
  4. Krystal

    I was surprised to hear that Kate was previously unaware of the polyandry and ages of the young wives. For some reason, I had the impression she was well versed in the challenges facing the church’s truth and foundational claims and had found a way to sustain her faith in the eternal doctrine of a flawed institution. I hope it has created more questions and need to investigate further.

    Thanks for the great podcast!

    Reply Nov 21, 2014 @ 13:10:57
    • Nick

      I may be wrong, but I think that Kate was saying that she didn’t know about polyandry and underage wives as an organic matter – that is, when she started searching later she first discovered them. (Kate, please correct me if I am wrong). Either way, there are many people now who are just learning that for the first time.

      Reply Nov 21, 2014 @ 13:39:12
  5. S C

    Great work, folks! For additional information on two topics covered:

    MormonThink provides a response to those who say members should have known more about Joseph Smith’s polygamy. http://mormonthink.com/responses/joseph-smith-polygamy-church-sources.htm

    MormonThink’s response to the Newsroom: The official publication for news media, opinion leaders and the public article, Church Provides Context for Recent Media Coverage on Gospel Topics Pages, November 11, 2014. http://mormonthink.com/responses/newsroom-church-provides-context-polygamy-11-11-2014.htm

    Reply Nov 21, 2014 @ 16:17:59
  6. JT

    Thanks for the discussion – good insights all around – and for the links to the the articles.

    I found this quote in the NYTimes article by Richard Bushman quite … well, I guess I’m not sure what to make of it.

    “It’s a recognition of maturity,” said Dr. Bushman, who is a Mormon. “There are lots of church leaders who say: ‘We can take anything, just let us know how it really happened. We’re a church that is secure.’ ”

    Maybe the leaders can “take anything,” but they sure took there time giving anything, and then I’m not sure whose “maturity” Bushman thinks is being “recognized” or who is doing the recognizing.

    I need another church spokesmen to contextualize this for me.

    Thanks again.

    Reply Nov 21, 2014 @ 19:00:00
    • Nick

      From what I have heard – and this is all anecdotal, so take it with a grain or salt – there is not agreement among the top levels of the church on the essays themselves. I think there are people who want to hear it all and not be afraid (and don’t ignore the power of confirmation bias here). I think there are others who are content to hide it all, not because they are part of a long con (I don’t believe there is intent here), but because they fear the negative information and the impact on membership.

      Reply Nov 24, 2014 @ 21:39:03
  7. nicofor

    Yes indeed. They can take anything…and try to defuse it and use loaded words and skip over facts. They have always been good at that, and this effort is simply propaganda ramped up to a new level altogether.

    Reply Nov 22, 2014 @ 08:54:25
  8. Bill

    Great discussion. The best of the recent polygamy podcasts. When the church says that well-read members knew about all of this they are telling the truth. What that implies however, is that 99 1/2% of church members are NOT well-read. Not the fault of the members, just the way it is.

    Reply Nov 22, 2014 @ 11:12:06
  9. jeanikins

    Alison, Kate and Nick, well done. I even said aloud “YES” when you brought up my pet peeve; the insularity with which church leaders and members bias their own thinking..

    Kate is now in Kenya and we were missionaries in South Africa with my husband serving as Branch President in a township. Those members; a huge majority of them anyhow, had no access to the internet and no money to spare to buy time at an internet cafe. If they have money they are certainly not going to go online to search out ‘anti-Mormon’ material.
    They do not subscribe to the Ensign magazine, they receive a free copy of the Liahona but the articles are simplified in many cases.

    Teachers in Primary and RS often did not speak English and yet the manuals they received were in English, not Xhosa.
    Missionaries convert people who do not speak English well and who have very little idea of what this is all about.

    If you were raised in a liberal Mormon family in Utah, or you lived in the USA, you might have had actual Church History Books put out by ‘real’ historians lining the shelves in your home.
    African people can’t pop down to the local Deseret bookstore to buy Rough Stone Rolling and I didn’t see a Signature Books anywhere either.

    We actually had black missionaries from S. Africa and other African nations including Kenya, Kate, who had no idea of the former priesthood ban. They might only have been members of the church for a couple of years and since the ban has been lifted, “it’s all in the past”.

    This was a wonderful discussion, I feel so validated.

    Reply Nov 23, 2014 @ 13:37:18
    • Alison

      Unfortunately that insulation continues today for many since these essays are only in English, no real church announcement and you have to know they’ve been added and find them! The church is claiming openness and transparency….I’m waiting for that to extend past the Western part of the US.

      Reply Nov 24, 2014 @ 12:26:40
  10. jeanikins

    I’m waiting for it to be included in General Conference and the lesson manuals.

    Reply Nov 24, 2014 @ 13:35:54
  11. Paul

    Loved this podcast.

    OK, as a man who is just a few months before my 60th birthday (snicker!) let me say that this really is something that is not/has not been commonly taught or really alluded to in the church. I grew up in the corridor and am well read and well educated, and it wasn’t until the last few years where I stepped out and started reading outside material that I actually got a glimpse into our real history.

    On my mission in 1975, I was spouting the same BS about only a few people really practiced it, took care of the many widows, wife had to approve…etc. Like Allison, I had never heard the word polyandry until I started reading outside the “normal” church channels.

    I am deeply troubled by the propensity of the leaders to whitewash the history to cover Joseph Smith and the church. It is to me, a huge breach of trust, which has caused me to totally lose my faith in the corporation. In fact, with all the intense reading and thinking about this and so many other things over the past couple of years, I am a complete and total atheist at this point. I hope that there might be something about my essence/cognition that moves forward after I die, but to me, all I can strive for is that I do good to others and leave something of worth when I die. I don’t believe that there is any man/woman/being that is controlling/overseeing this planet and people, let alone the vast universe.

    Great podcast! The church is lying again when they say that members should have been aware and known.

    Reply Nov 26, 2014 @ 14:49:12

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