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UtahJakey

Explaining polygamy to children

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My teenage daughter recently asked me a tough question. She said she found out that Lorenzo Snow took a 15 year old wife when he was 57 years old and they had 5 children. Being the same age she was mortified and said there is no way a 15 year old girl wants to enter into a romantic relationship with a 57 year old man and that the only way something like this happens is with a forced marriage like Warren Jeffs and his wives.

How would you explain these marriages?

UJ

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My first question would be to ask your daughter where she discovered this information and in what light they share this information. How a site twists truth or presents truth, even if it is true, can be deceiving.

The next thought is that she is deciphering history from her perspective and not from what this other 15 year old thought. We have women today in their twenties marrying men and dating men who are 60 years and older. Also, marrying younger was not uncommon in these days.

The other thought, I haven't discovered any person Lorenzo Snow married that was younger than 17. Thus, again, discover the site and whether or not it is an anti-Mormon site.

Last thought, introduce her to fairlds.org.

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"Life really, really, really stank in a lot of ways in frontier America. Not just for Mormons."

Then dig out history books and biographies and historically accurate accounts of life back then, and teach her as much as she'll let you. Look at marriage patterns across history. Celebrate that the US didn't really do child-marriages or female genital mutilation like so many places in the world did (and some still do). Do geneology, figure out what age your ancestors got married, and to whom, and how long the marriages lasted, and why some died early. Learn about infant mortality rates, and how kids these days are 'consumer goods', but used to be 'producer goods'.

She found one thing to get mortified about. Show her the whole picture. Then celebrate that we don't live in those times any more.

This isn't really a mormon issue, IMO.

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My first question would be to ask your daughter where she discovered this information and in what light they share this information. How a site twists truth or presents truth, even if it is true, can be deceiving.

The next thought is that she is deciphering history from her perspective and not from what this other 15 year old thought. We have women today in their twenties marrying men and dating men who are 60 years and older. Also, marrying younger was not uncommon in these days.

The other thought, I haven't discovered any person Lorenzo Snow married that was younger than 17. Thus, again, discover the site and whether or not it is an anti-Mormon site.

Last thought, introduce her to fairlds.org.

It's not a "site" but our family genealogy. We're related to Sarah Minnie Ephramina Jensen. She married him in 1871, when she was 15 years and 8 months old. They had 5 children together one of which is a relative of ours.

My daughter is a bright girl and I can't see her falling for the "maybe your great great great Grandmother was attracted to 57 year old men at 15" explanation. She sees it as a stolen childhood for this girl and is angry that she never got to have a "real" marriage of her own.

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Well I think good for her for trying to empathize, but the fact is it's history and unless you have her journal you'll never truly know the circumstances/feelings around the marriage.

FairLDS has helped me a lot as an investigator, as well at MormonThink.com. I think if she is having trouble with this, some additional commentary might help, too -- like Feminist Mormon Housewives or Joanna Brooks. The posts I've found dealing with polygamy tend towards Joseph Smith but I would think the principals are similar.

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It's not a "site" but our family genealogy. We're related to Sarah Minnie Ephramina Jensen. She married him in 1871, when she was 15 years and 8 months old. They had 5 children together one of which is a relative of ours.

My daughter is a bright girl and I can't see her falling for the "maybe your great great great Grandmother was attracted to 57 year old men at 15" explanation. She sees it as a stolen childhood for this girl and is angry that she never got to have a "real" marriage of her own.

Well, having all the information upfront would have been nice. :)

Is Sarah her grandma and President Snow her grandpa?

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Well, having all the information upfront would have been nice. :)

Is Sarah her grandma and President Snow her grandpa?

Yes if you add a bunch of great great greats in there. She knew she was related to one of the Presidents of the church through one of his plural wives and wanted to make it the basis of a historical figure essay. The hard part is all of the official biographies of President Snow on LDS.org don't list background on any of his plural wives so she had to go to secondary sources. As you can imagine this marriage in particular has been one of the examples of negativity around polygamy.

UJ

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Unless she can find a direct quote from the wife (a journal or some such), then all she knows about the circumstances about their marriage is speculation, which can make it seem either good (there was genuine affection between them), or bad (the "stolen childhood").

Early marriage (either with both spouses being young or just the wife being young) used to be FAR more common than they are now. One of Laura Ingalls Wilder's cousins married at 13. (she's mentioned in On the Shores of Silver Lake I believe). And her own husband began courting her when she was 15 and he was 25 (not as huge an age gap, but still something that would be frowned upon by today's standards).

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Guest

Yes, teaching World History is your key. Especially when you delve into European noble houses from whence America came from...

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I think others who have posted after me have given excellent thoughts and would recommend their thoughts for your consideration. :)

Also, in a light joking manner, express to her one day she will be able to speak with grandma Sarah about her relationship with grandpa Snow. :)

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It might also help to point out that "romance", as popularly understood, is very much a modern construct. Up until the early 20th century, you didn't necessarily marry someone because they made your heart go pitter-patter--you married them because of their personal virtues, situation in life, and demonstrated ability to perform the traditional roles that pertained to a husband/father or wife/mother. Romantic love came later, if at all.

It's no accident that the glorification of, and attempts to prolong, childhood, have come as life expectancies have dramatically lengthened. Sarah Jensen's parents, at least, could probably remember a time when it took at least a little bit of luck to make it into your teens.

Edited by Just_A_Guy

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This is what I understand based on my research, none of it my original.

In most states at the time the age of consent was 10 years old.

It was not uncommon for there to be large gaps in age between the wife (wife almost always younger) and husband during the time that plural marriage was practiced.

Although not common, teen girls marrying older men was not unusual or thought to be problamatic.

Times, mentalities, expectations, and social norms were different back then. The notion of a lost childhood is subjective and relative. A 15 year old in modern day Western society has the luxury of still being called a child. This isn't so in many societies even today. A 15 year old is expected to contribute like an adult.

From FAIR.org

It is significant that none of Joseph's contemporaries complained about the age differences between polygamous or monogamous marriage partners. This was simply part of their environment and culture; it is unfair to judge nineteenth century members by twenty-first century social standards. As one non-LDS scholar of teenage life in American history noted:

"Until the twentieth century, adult expectations of young people were determined not by age but by size. If a fourteen-year-old looked big and strong enough to do a man's work on a farm or in a factory or mine, most people viewed him as a man. And if a sixteen-year-old was slower to develop and couldn't perform as a man, he wasn't one. For, young women, the issue was much the same. To be marriageable was the same as being ready for motherhood, which was determined by physical development, not age.... The important thing, though, was that the maturity of each young person was judged individually.[15]"

In past centuries, women would often die in childbirth, and men often remarried younger women afterwards. Women often married older men, because these were more financially established and able to support them than men their own age.

Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Marriages to young women - FAIRMormon

Regards,

Finrock

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I decided to take the advice from posters here and prepare some good statistics to backup the idea that big age gaps and teenage brides were a common type of marriage in the 19th century. What I found actually said the opposite.

The US census bureau published their statistics of the average age of of first marriage from 1790 until the present. In the 1800's the average age of first marriage was 21-22 years old. (U.S. Census Bureau, Table MS-2, “Estimated Age at First Marriage, by sex")

Another example of the prevailing acceptance of such marriages would be in contemporary writings of the times. I found a article titled "Graphic Narrative of Mormon Outrages", The New York Times, May 19, 1857. One of the outrages about Mormon Polygamy in the article was the age of the marriages

It was only a few days ago that two little girls, between 10 and 11 years of age, were "sealed" to old men. It is a very common occurrence for girls of 14 to be taken as wives. One object seems to be to get these children into the horrible system of polygamy before they are old enough to think for themselves, or the natural delicacy of their sex shall be aroused and rebel against it.

I've found plenty of people express the idea that this type of marriage was commonplace but nothing with actual sources backing the idea.

I'm going to try to find some family resources and see if their is a journal entry or letters showing Sarah's thoughts on the marriage.

UJ

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UJ,

Finrock provided you a link with information regarding people who married women in their teens. Thus I am unsure about your statement regarding, "nothing with actual sources backing the idea."

We know it was "more common" than previously that women married earlier. The link provided by Finrock, in 1850 shows the age of women higher between 15-20.

I am beginning to wonder if this is a real concern? Your last statement appears to ignore Finrock's and others statements.

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UJ,

Finrock provided you a link with information regarding people who married women in their teens. Thus I am unsure about your statement regarding, "nothing with actual sources backing the idea."

We know it was "more common" than previously that women married earlier. The link provided by Finrock, in 1850 shows the age of women higher between 15-20.

I am beginning to wonder if this is a real concern? Your last statement appears to ignore Finrock's and others statements.

Finrock just provided a link to FAIR, which uses that same US Census information data that I quoted above. You'll notice that is shows a mean age of marriage for women of 22.5 years of age and that "For young women, marriage in the early to mid teens was rare". Specifically less than 2%.

I'm beginning to think you just post links without reading them and offering off the cuff criticism. If you read the FAIR without examining the data you'll see that they are implying it's not big deal and a common occurrence for such marriages but the actual data they cite doesn't show that.

I wish people would stop using FAIR to defend the church. It's embarrassingly bad.

UJ

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Notice UJ, I didn't post the link. ;)

Also from the same paragraph, "Of note is that 41.7% of women married as teenagers compared to only 4.1% of men."

Also, note, I didn't mention it as common place, I said it was "more common."

Edited by Anddenex

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I decided to take the advice from posters here and prepare some good statistics to backup the idea that big age gaps and teenage brides were a common type of marriage in the 19th century. What I found actually said the opposite.

The US census bureau published their statistics of the average age of of first marriage from 1790 until the present. In the 1800's the average age of first marriage was 21-22 years old. (U.S. Census Bureau, Table MS-2, “Estimated Age at First Marriage, by sex")

First, a point of order: the table you point to only seems to go back to 1890, not 1790. (Though I grant, given that you're talking about an ancestor living during the 1890s, it is certainly germane to the discussion.)

Now: I would agree with you that large age gaps/young marriages weren't common, or even necessarily seen as ideal. On the other hand: they did happen, as the FAIR website Finrock cites attests--something like 8-10% of first-time brides in 1850 were seventeen years of age, and about one out of every fifteen first-time brides for that year was sixteen or younger (I'm extrapolating, based on my attempts to read a line graph; so please allow some room for error. :) ). My understanding is that as a general principle, frontier life and a shortage of women tended to push those numbers even more on a regional basis, regardless of religious demographics.

As for your NY Times story: It contains a number of histrionic claims (some of which culminated in Buchanan's Utah Expedition the next year), and academics could write a book about the latent racism and sexism in that single article alone. ("They're polluting our women!" was a common accusation, whether applied to Mormons, Irish immigrants in the Northeast, blacks in the South . . . ad nauseum). With regard to the specific claim about ten-year-old Mormon brides (or even the routine marriage at ages fourteen or fifteen), I say: Name 'em, or it didn't happen. Prior to the early twentieth century, the Times didn't have the respect it commands today--it was just another member of the yellow press, with an unidentified journalist two thousand miles away from the scene working to juice up a story submitted by an anonymous correspondent who knew darned well he could never be fact-checked.

And really, even if the Times could name 'em--why focus on that, rather than posting statistical evidence for Utah Territory, so that it can be compared with the extant data for the country as a whole for the same period? Wouldn't comparing lurid anecdotes from the Times with statistical evidence for the nation as a whole, amount to sort of an apples-and-oranges comparison?

I'm going to try to find some family resources and see if their is a journal entry or letters showing Sarah's thoughts on the marriage.

By all means, let us know what you find--I'm interested! I'd also encourage you not to pigeonhole her by her marriage. Find out everything you can about her--her hobbies, her interests, her activities in the community, what kind of mother she was . . . see if, after all that, she really comes off as just a gullible, helpless victim of some dirty old codger.

Edited by Just_A_Guy

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As someone in this thread suggested maybe something in her own words would be helpful. I found this quote from her.

"Had I traveled the world over or devoted a lifetime in the search of an ideal [suitor], I could not have found a more congenial companion-a better husband and father. In twenty years of our married life I have proven him to be a man of superior intellect, taste and culture, of a highly appreciative nature, pure and chaste in all his habits, in a word, a thorough gentleman, and an unkind word has never passed between us."2

It's from Latter Leaves in the Life Of Lorenzo Snow. I don't have access to the footnote but I suspect it is a interview or some sort of direct quote from his wife.

This continues to get more interesting.

UJ

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From some of my own family genealogy/history, both of my 3rd and 2nd great grandmothers were 2nd or 3rd wives from polygamous marriages. My mother when talking with her grandmother, who was a 2nd wife, asked her "what it was like to be a 2nd wife". My great grandmother, who was a beautiful woman, didn't mind being a second wife. She actually enjoyed her "alone" time, where she didn't have to worry about a husband. I wouldn't be here today, if polygamy wasn't practiced. It is what it is. I love reading the histories of my ancestors.

As for marrying young, whether it was the norm or not, has happened all throughout the ages. I'm in my late 50's. I had a Young Women's teacher who married at the age of 14. I remember as a class, all of us asking in amazement, "why"? We ourselves were about 14 at the time. And I don't think any of us thought we were ready to get married. This Young Woman leader did not "have to" get married. She wasn't pregnant. I don't remember how old her husband was. She was mature for her age, and wanted to marry him. And, her parents gave their permission. Personally, in this day and age, I would not have given permission for my daughter to marry at the age of 14. I had a hard enough time when my 18 year old daughter chose to marry one week after she turned 18.

Throughout history, some women have chosen to marry young. Many women, no matter what age, have often chosen to marry much older men. Look at Anna Nicole Smith, and her 90 year old husband. Financial security has a lot to do with it. Most women want/need financial security. I don't see anything out of the norm in your family history. It's happened all throughout history--much younger women marrying an older man.

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The US census bureau published their statistics of the average age of of first marriage from 1790 until the present. In the 1800's the average age of first marriage was 21-22 years old. (U.S. Census Bureau, Table MS-2, “Estimated Age at First Marriage, by sex")

My brief google-fu expands on that statistic - there were many multiple marriages, due to high mortality rates in both genders. So the relevant question here: If half were younger than 21-22 and half were over, what does the bell curve look like? If it's low and wide and symetrical, then lots of 14-15 yr olds were getting married and lots of 28-29 yr olds were also.

Some google-fu from Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State:

Social occasions found young people engaged in the age-old quest for a mate. Although the girls frequently sang a little ditty that announced,

I am too young, I am not fit,

I cannot leave my mamma yit,

they often said yes at the age of fourteen or fifteen if the right young man popped the question.

There are plenty more examples.

Tell me UJ, are you of the impression that we cultish Marminz married 'em younger than everyone else in the USA? If so, could you give us your source?

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As for your NY Times story: It contains a number of histrionic claims (some of which culminated in Buchanan's Utah Expedition the next year), and academics could write a book about the latent racism and sexism in that single article alone. ("They're polluting our women!" was a common accusation, whether applied to Mormons, Irish immigrants in the Northeast, blacks in the South . . . ad nauseum). With regard to the specific claim about ten-year-old Mormon brides (or even the routine marriage at ages fourteen or fifteen), I say: Name 'em, or it didn't happen. Prior to the early twentieth century, the Times didn't have the respect it commands today--it was just another member of the yellow press, with an unidentified journalist two thousand miles away from the scene working to juice up a story submitted by an anonymous correspondent who knew darned well he could never be fact-checked.

The historical context for the condemnations of polygamy and the buildup to the Utah war is interesting. This is right after the 1856 election where the Republican platform was "to prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism: polygamy and slavery."

Now your characterization of the NY Times that it "didn't have the respect it commands today--it was just another member of the yellow press" is surprising to me and contrary to the history I've read. From the point when Raymond founded the paper the history I've read was that the Times enjoyed a solid reputation and was not considered in the same company as the actual "yellow" papers the New York World and the New York Journal.

UJ

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There are plenty more examples.

Tell me UJ, are you of the impression that we cultish Marminz married 'em younger than everyone else in the USA? If so, could you give us your source?

I think you're confused. The US Census was reporting first marriages and the statistics I reported and the one others have linked to in the FAIR article all show the same thing.

And what's up with the "cultish Marminz" thing. Are you reading along? Do you realize my daughter and I are LDS and are descendants of the very people we're talking about?

UJ

(unless this loudmouth_mormon person is just playing a character and I shouldn't take their responses seriously?)

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Interesting, UJ! From what I've read, the NYT really turned the corner in the early 20th century with its reporting of, among other things, the Titanic disaster (Ironically, by publishing a guess--the Titanic's radio signals were being listened to in New York, then abruptly stopped. Other papers conservatively noted that the ship had gone silent; the Times went out on a limb and reported it sunk. When the ship's sinking was confirmed a few hours later by the rescue ship, the Times came out looking pretty smart.)

The article you provided earlier, IMHO, surely wasn't of a piece with Raymond's expressed values.

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Interesting, UJ! From what I've read, the NYT really turned the corner in the early 20th century with its reporting of, among other things, the Titanic disaster (Ironically, by publishing a guess--the Titanic's radio signals were being listened to in New York, then abruptly stopped. Other papers conservatively noted that the ship had gone silent; the Times went out on a limb and reported it sunk.)

The article you provided earlier, IMHO, surely wasn't of a piece with Raymond's expressed values.

I haven't gone searching but I would imagine that we would see similar one sided reporting from the newspapers in Chicago, Boston, or DC. I suspect the standard for objectivity for reporting on the polygamist dealings of the Mormons was pretty low. If you comparted the Times to Hearst's and Pulitizer's papers of the day even articles like the one I listed seem controlled.

UJ

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