The Antipolygamy Controversy in U.S. Women’s Movements, 1880–1925

Book Notice

The Antipolygamy Controversy in U.S. Women’s Movements, 1880–1925: A Debate on the American Home, by Joan Smyth Iversen (Garland, 1997)

The Antipolygamy Controversy in U.S. Movements, 1880–1925, situates antipolygamy controversies within the larger contexts of U.S. political and women’s history. The second volume in Garland’s Development of American Feminism series, this work, written by a non-LDS author, argues that antipolygamy discourse arose in the context of the nineteenth-century view of the moral superiority of women and then faded when that viewpoint became largely irrelevant to the new feminism of the 1920s.

This text explores antipolygamy controversy in three U.S. women’s movements: First, the campaign against patriarchal power in the 1880s as part of the ongoing struggle to define the post–Civil War family; second, the struggle to maintain traditional values against the collapse of Victorian mores at the end of the nineteenth century; and third, the 1910–11 national media barrage against the Church for its alleged duplicity on the practice of plural marriage. The text recounts the national fervor against plural marriage but does not itself participate in that vitriol. Indeed, the author acknowledges that Latter-day Saint plural marriage “can only be understood as a religious principle” (57).

The author cites liberally from secondary-source articles written by competent LDS historians, insuring accuracy on basic history. Some minor errors nevertheless dot the work. For example, the University of Deseret was not “founded” (55) in 1869; the school was first opened in 1850, closed in 1852, and reopened in 1867. Apostle Matthias F. Cowley was not “excommunicated” (242) but disfellowshipped in 1911. And Edward W. Tullidge had already left the Godbeite movement by the time he proclaimed, “This is woman’s age” (56).

Quibbles aside, this volume makes a significant contribution to a number of different fields. Particularly compelling is Iversen’s discussion of how both suffragists and their opponents used antipolygamy rhetoric to further their own aims until women were given the vote in 1920.


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