Mormon Polygamy: A History

Although the occasion of many of the sermons I have given in Church gatherings has faded into oblivion, the evening I reported my mission in the Ogden Twenty-ninth Ward is indelibly impressed on my mind. Immediately after I had finished my report, the bishop arose to announce that a ward member whom I had known for years and who had been serving in the French Mission while I was in Germany, had been excommunicated for entering polygamy. Memories flooded through my mind as I read Van Wagoner’s mention of her name.

That personal memory aside, probably no topic in Mormon studies has held the fascination of the public—both Mormon and non-Mormon—as has the practice of plural marriage. Revulsion at the practice induced many in the United States during the nineteenth century, and not a few today, to identify the Latter-day Saints with gross immorality and deviant fanaticism. Public outrage promoted an anti-Mormon crusade that led eventually to the suppression of the practice and to the accommodation of the Latter-day Saints with their fellow citizens.

A number of studies of Latter-day Saint polygamy preceded the publication of Van Wagoner’s first edition in 1986. Among the most noted are Kimball Young, Isn’t One Wife Enough? The Story of Mormon Polygamy, which in spite of its racy title was based on solid sociological research; Stanley S. Ivins, “Notes on Mormon Polygamy”; Phillip R. Kunz, “One Wife or Several? A Comparative Study of Late Nineteenth-Century Marriage in Utah”; Eugene E. Campbell and Bruce L. Campbell, “Divorce among Mormon Polygamists: Extent and Explanations”; Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality: Three American Communal Experiments of the Nineteenth Century; Danel W. Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Plural Marriage before the Death of Joseph Smith”; Lowell Bennion, “The Incidence of Mormon Polygamy in 1880: Dixie versus Davis Stake”; Ben Bradlee, Jr., and Dale Van Atta, Prophet of Blood: The Untold Story of Ervil LeBaron and the Lambs of God; Vicky Burgess-Olson, “Family Structure and Dynamics in Early Utah Mormon Families—1847–1885”; Kenneth L. Cannon III, “Beyond the Manifesto: Polygamous Cohabitation among LDS General Authorities after 1890”; Jessie Embry, “Effects of Polygamy on Mormon Women”; James Edward Hulett, Jr., “The Sociological and Social Psychological Aspects of the Mormon Polygamous Family”; Victor W. Jorgensen and B. Cartoon Hardy, “The Taylor-Cowley Affair and the Watershed of Mormon History”; Orma Linford, “The Mormons and the Law: The Polygamy Cases”; Edward Leo Lyman, “The Mormon Quest for Utah Statehood”; and D. Michael Quinn, “LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890–1904.”

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 32:1-2
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