The expression, “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics,” made popular by Mark Twain was given a twist by a judge who postulated there are three kinds of witnesses: “Liars, damned liars, and experts.” Given the recent admission—or shall I say confession—by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that its founder Joseph Smith took teenage brides as young as 14, as well as married other’s men’s wives, one has to wonder what else the organization and its expert apologists have been less than forthright about.
For decades (or longer) BYU’s paid-apologists have excoriated and cast aspersions on those who vocalized concerns about or publicized accounts of Joseph Smith’s polygamous marriages, especially if the information came from non- or ex-Mormons. LDS historians who published scholarly work detailing discrepancies in the Church’s doctrines or added true color to its white-washed history have been excommunicated or disfellowshipped for their candor (example, the “September Six”). Even though crow-pie should be on the menu at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship cafeteria, the Church’s new essay entitled Plural Marriage in Nauvoo will have to do.
Up until now, the majority of devout Mormons (and more so the younger generations) were unaware that by 1844, the year Joseph Smith was killed by a mob, he had accumulated roughly 33 wives; 11 between the ages of 14 and 20, and another 11 concurrently married to other men. The leader was 38 years old when he took 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball to wife. This was after he tried getting Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball, to surrender his wife Vilate to him. Kimball refused, until Smith commanded him “in the name of the Lord” to do so. When Kimball presented his wife to the Mormon prophet, Smith declared it was only an “Abrahamic test.” Perhaps Smith had his eye on Helen all along and figured Kimball would gladly give his daughter’s hand in marriage after nearly losing his own wife. To make the marriage proposal more attractive, the prophet promised eternal life for the Kimball family if they would accept. In Helen’s own words, Smith came to her house,
[and explained] the principle of Celestial marrage [sic]…After which he said to me, ‘If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household & all of your kindred.’
Although uncommon, it wasn’t unheard of for a 14-year old girl to marry in the 19th century; however, a 14-year-old girl marrying a 38-year-old man would certainly have raised eyebrows. As others online have observed, I, too, find it interesting that whenever LDS prophets, apostles, and apologists describe Joseph Smith at the time of his First Vision experience, it’s as:
- A 14-year-old boy
- Being very tender of years
- Only 14 years old
- Young boy
- So young
- Youth of 14
- Young lad
- A boy, a mere lad
Incongruously, Kimball is described more like an adult, marrying Smith “several months before her 15th birthday” and that “some women married in their mid-teens” (emphasis mine). At least the Church is (finally) being more honest than its founder, who vehemently denied having plural wives all the while being a practicing polygamist;
What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.
Additionally, Smith lied repeatedly to his first wife, Emma, about his other marriages, urging his plural wives to keep secret or to participate in cover-ups. The Church speculates in its essay that not all of Smith’s marriages were consummated, somewhat akin–in my opinion–to former president Bill Clinton insisting he didn’t inhale while smoking weed.
Two sets of sisters had been “adopted” into the Smith family as foster children when their parents died (Emily and Eliza Partridge, ages 16 and 20 respectively; and Sarah and Maria Lawrence, ages 16 and 18). Smith soon married them, unbeknownst to Emma. His first plural wife was 16-year-old Fanny Alger, who was a hired servant in the Smith home. Smith’s counselor, friend, and confidante Oliver Cowdery referred to Smith’s relationship with Alger as a “dirty, filthy, nasty affair.”
There are many good, reliable sources that go in-depth on the polygamous marriages of Joseph Smith. One such source is the well-documented book In Sacred Loneliness by LDS researcher Todd Compton, a practicing Latter-day Saint. Information can also be researched through the Church’s genealogy library.
My article isn’t so much to inform as it is to point out that ex-Mormons, so-called anti-Mormons and apostates have finally been vindicated. The issue of Smith’s polyandry was a deal-breaker for me when I was in the process of finding out that Mormonism wasn’t what it claimed to be. There were many troubling issues that I just couldn’t reconcile, but the fact that the revered Prophet Joseph Smith took young teenage brides and women already married to other men as his own wives was the final nail in Mormonism’s coffin. I could no longer believe he was a true prophet of God.
For the last 14 years whenever I’ve brought up Smith’s polyandry to my LDS family and friends, I’ve been told I was mistaken or misled. When I wrote about it in articles, Mormons who don’t know me have sent emails calling me not only a liar, but a damned liar at that. That hurts. It’s awful to be pitied by loved ones and scorned by strangers too scared, stubborn, or unwilling to look at the evidence. I’m not holding my breath for any apologies. Sometimes it just feels good to say “I told you so.”
 Retrieved from http://www.twainquotes.com/Statistics.html
 Attributed to Lord Young, as quoted from A Time to Keep (1934) by Dr. Halliday Sutherland.
 Haglund, David. The Case of the Mormon Historian. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2012/11/d_michael_quinn_and_mormon_excommunication_the_complicated_life_of_a_mormon.html
 Life of Heber C. Kimball. Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/lifeofheberckimb00whitrich#page/335/mode/1up
 Retrieved from http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/26-HelenMarKimball.htm
 Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng
 History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 411.
 Compton, Todd. In Sacred Loneliness. Pp. 26-28, 34-35, 38-39