Joseph Smith, Polygamy and 14 year old


Recommended Posts

This is a question that I posed to the missionaries yesterday, during a dinner thing at one of the members' houses. (I've actually been going to dinner with the missionaries quite a lot this week, it's been pretty good in helping me feel the spirit more).

Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and he got married to a 14 year old, Helen Mar Kimball. Why is this allowed? It's not something we'd want to associate with the leader of our church.

 

They said that polygamy was allowed, at that time, because God wanted them to produce more kids, so that the church would grow. If this is the case, why did he only have kids with his first wife, Emma Hale, and not with any of the other women he married?

They also said that there's a difference between getting married and being sealed, and that he was "sealed" to Helen but it wasn't an actual marriage. When explaining the difference between marriage and sealing, they said that even friends can be sealed to one another (the example they gave was if the two missionaries were to be sealed together, in a brotherly way - can two unrelated guys actually be sealed like this?) but that it isn't a marriage, and that Joseph Smith didn't have sex with Helen. I Googled this when I got home, and there is no evidence of them having sex. But, if that's the case, then why do so many people use his "marriage" to a fourteen year old as a reason why the church is allegedly corrupt?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, TilKingdomCome said:

Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and he got married to a 14 year old, Helen Mar Kimball. Why is this allowed? It's not something we'd want to associate with the leader of our church.

He and Helen Marr Kimball were not husband and wife, were not "married". She was sealed to him more as a daughter than anything else. She went to dances in Nauvoo where other men were interested in her as a potential wife. Joseph did not object in the least because she was not and he did not see her, as a wife.

The issue of Joseph's sealings to women other than Emma is rather complicated because we have two separate and, to us in the more mature Church, distinct types of sealings. For them, in the mid XIX, a sealing was a sealing. We see sealings as being to a spouse or to a child. They used the sealing power to create "dynastic" ties between families, especially to men like Joseph or Brother Brigham.

Not all sealings were "spousal". This is one of the reasons that I see sealings as being a way to connect the entire family of Adam back to him. Each of us, sealed to our fathers and mothers, is also sealed to our brothers and sisters, and to our spouses and our children and to our cousins and uncles and great-great grandmothers, and to our third and fifth cousins, and to our spouse's fifth cousins and their children's children.

3 hours ago, TilKingdomCome said:

why do so many people use his "marriage" to a fourteen year old as a reason why the church is allegedly corrupt?

People will take any chance to malign the prophets and other servants of God. Satan hates us.

Lehi

Edited by LeSellers
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The official church essay on this topic is great, https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-the-church-of-jesus-christ-of-latter-day-saints?lang=eng

Brian and Laura Hales have also recently put out some great books on this. Their summary volume is https://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Smiths-Polygamy-Toward-Understanding/dp/1589587235/

Edited by tesuji
Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is the topic of one of the church's essays on lds.org.

"Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo": https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng

(underlining mine)

Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage

During the era in which plural marriage was practiced, Latter-day Saints distinguished between sealings for time and eternity and sealings for eternity only. Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone.

Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings. The exact number of women to whom he was sealed in his lifetime is unknown because the evidence is fragmentary. Some of the women who were sealed to Joseph Smith later testified that their marriages were for time and eternity, while others indicated that their relationships were for eternity alone.

Most of those sealed to Joseph Smith were between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of their sealing to him. The oldest, Fanny Young, was 56 years old. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph’s close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday. Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens. Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being “for eternity alone,” suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations. After Joseph’s death, Helen remarried and became an articulate defender of him and of plural marriage.

Following his marriage to Louisa Beaman and before he married other single women, Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married. Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone. Other women left no records, making it unknown whether their sealings were for time and eternity or were for eternity alone.

There are several possible explanations for this practice. These sealings may have provided a way to create an eternal bond or link between Joseph’s family and other families within the Church. These ties extended both vertically, from parent to child, and horizontally, from one family to another. Today such eternal bonds are achieved through the temple marriages of individuals who are also sealed to their own birth families, in this way linking families together. Joseph Smith’s sealings to women already married may have been an early version of linking one family to another. In Nauvoo, most if not all of the first husbands seem to have continued living in the same household with their wives during Joseph’s lifetime, and complaints about these sealings with Joseph Smith are virtually absent from the documentary record.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

@LeSellers, could you point me to a source re your claims about Helen Mar Kimball?  I agree that the marriage was probably never consummated; but as I recall Helen speaks in her memoirs about the difficulty of being unable to participate in dances, etc. without being able to explain the reason--she considered herself a married woman.  Also, one of her sons (conceived long after Smith's death) was the future apostle Orson F. Whitney; and as I recall he considered himself to be the sealed son of Joseph Smith.  

I'm not aware of there being good contemporary evidence for any woman being sealed as a daughter to Joseph Smith during his lifetime.

@TilKingdomCome, FWIW Helen recalled that the marriage was initiated at the suggestion of her own father, who was a close friend of Smith's; and she agreed to the match (insofar as informed consent was possible at the time, which--legally speaking--it was).  Smith did not go out looking for a fourteen-year-old to marry, and does not seem to have been in any hurry to consummate the marriage.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, Just_A_Guy said:

Helen recalled that the marriage was initiated at the suggestion of her own father, who was a close friend of Smith's; and she agreed to the match (insofar as informed consent was possible at the time, which--legally speaking--it was).  Smith did not go out looking for a fourteen-year-old to marry, and does not seem to have been in any hurry to consummate the marriage.

Actually, I remember it differently.  Can you get the actual quote from her memoir describing these events?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

15 minutes ago, The Folk Prophet said:

Maybe someone should go beyond just "remembering" and actually look the matter up. 

:)

Well, here it is.

A Widows Tale- 1884-1896 Diary of Helen Mar Kimball Whitney.pdf

 I can't find any mention of her saying that she couldn't dance with anyone.  So, I asked JAG to help me find it.  I did find a mention that her father would not let her go to dances in Nauvoo.  She herself was quite annoyed.  But I didn't find the reasoning behind it was because of the sealing to Joseph.  What kind of sense would it make for her not to go to dances, but for her to later be married to Horace?

I also find no mention of her father being the one who initiated the idea.  That really wouldn't make much sense either.  But if anyone can find it here, then please show me.

Edited by Guest
Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 minutes ago, Carborendum said:

What kind of sense would it make for her not to go to dances, but for her to later be married to Horace?

Because she was married to a living person when she wasn't going to dances, and when she married Horace she was not married to a living person.

I'm not sure how that isn't perfectly sensible. My wife doesn't go out dancing without me. If and when I die I expect she might.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

10 minutes ago, Carborendum said:

I also find no mention of her father being the one who initiated the idea.  

My father was the first to introduce it to me, which had a similar effect to a sudden shock of a small earthquake. When he found (after the first outburst of displeasure for supposed injury) that I received it meekly, he took the first opportunity to introduce Sarah Ann [Whitney] to me as Joseph's wife.
—Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, 1828-1896, Autobiography (c. 1839-1846), "Life Incidents," Woman's Exponent 9-10 (1880-1882) and "Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo," Woman's Exponent 11 (1882-83))

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 minutes ago, The Folk Prophet said:

Because she was married to a living person when she wasn't going to dances, and when she married Horace she was not married to a living person.

I'm not sure how that isn't perfectly sensible. My wife doesn't go out dancing without me. If and when I die I expect she might.

Ok.  Point taken.  But there still isn't any mention in the diary of the reason why.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 minutes ago, The Folk Prophet said:

My father was the first to introduce it to me, which had a similar effect to a sudden shock of a small earthquake. When he found (after the first outburst of displeasure for supposed injury) that I received it meekly, he took the first opportunity to introduce Sarah Ann [Whitney] to me as Joseph's wife.
—Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, 1828-1896, Autobiography (c. 1839-1846), "Life Incidents," Woman's Exponent 9-10 (1880-1882) and "Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo," Woman's Exponent 11 (1882-83))

Ah.  So, I was looking at the wrong book.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From Laura and Brian Hales' Joseph Smith's Polygamy:  Toward a Better Understandign, at 132-133:

Quote

As Helen declared, her father facilitated the union, apparently motivated by a desire to be related to the Prophet through the plural marriage.  In another narrative, Helen explained:  "He [her father, Heber C. Kimball] taught me the principle of Celestial marriage and having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet's own mouth.  My father had but one ewe lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter [sic--JAG]".  Richard Anderson observed:  "Helen says several times that her father took the initiative to arrange the marriage and very possibly he did so with a view to committing her to the Prophet before her budding social life produced a choice or a proposal" from someone else".

The Haleses also cite an account from Helen from about 1882, relating that in the winter of 1843 (after her marriage to Joseph) her father required her to stay home from numerous social events.  In this particular account Helen says the rationale given was the character of some of the young men who would be at the events (even though her brothers were allowed to attend the same events); but in a poem written in 1881 Helen talks of taking a step that she initially thought would be "for eternity alone" but which resulted in her "youthful friends grow[ing] shy and cold" and being "bar'd out from social scenes by this thy destiny".  The poem culminates with the realization that "Pure and exalted was thy father's aim, he saw/A glory in obeying this high celestial law".

Edited by Just_A_Guy
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On June 23, 2016 at 8:36 AM, TilKingdomCome said:

This is a question that I posed to the missionaries yesterday, during a dinner thing at one of the members' houses. (I've actually been going to dinner with the missionaries quite a lot this week, it's been pretty good in helping me feel the spirit more).

Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and he got married to a 14 year old, Helen Mar Kimball. Why is this allowed? It's not something we'd want to associate with the leader of our church.

 

They said that polygamy was allowed, at that time, because God wanted them to produce more kids, so that the church would grow. If this is the case, why did he only have kids with his first wife, Emma Hale, and not with any of the other women he married?

They also said that there's a difference between getting married and being sealed, and that he was "sealed" to Helen but it wasn't an actual marriage. When explaining the difference between marriage and sealing, they said that even friends can be sealed to one another (the example they gave was if the two missionaries were to be sealed together, in a brotherly way - can two unrelated guys actually be sealed like this?) but that it isn't a marriage, and that Joseph Smith didn't have sex with Helen. I Googled this when I got home, and there is no evidence of them having sex. But, if that's the case, then why do so many people use his "marriage" to a fourteen year old as a reason why the church is allegedly corrupt?

Because dritics will try to use anything they can to shock you away from the church. What was normal and permissable back rhen isnt now, and vice versa.

the sealing power is the power to bind in heaven and on earth, while it is necessary for a husband and wife to be sealed, it is also important in binding all of us to our families, to each other, and most importantly, to god- so we can recieve all the blessings of being partbof his family.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it's interesting that when the concept of sealings was introduced, people were being sealed to Joseph Smith a lot, men and women, and in the case of Helen Kimball, the child of an apostle.  The concept of sealing yourself to the prophet continued even after his death, as people were sealed to him even in Utah.  I think it took enough time for Joseph's passing, and eventually church mandate, that people stop requesting to be sealed to church leaders.  I suppose I could request that I be sealed to Gordon B. Hinkley as a son, but I don't think it would fly.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest MormonGator

Remember that you can't apply modern values to people who don't live in modern times. IE-Some of Shakespeare's plays seem offensive in 2016, (in particular The Taming of the Shrew). Fussy babies complain about reading him but they are wrong too. 

I accept that Smith was a prophet but I also accept that he was a man, like you or I. That means he was weak and sinful. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it's also worth pointing out that Helen Mar Kimball never--never--suggested that Smith had acted improperly.  She considered her connection to Smith a blessing until the end of her life; and she became a vocal and articulate defender of polygamy.  

And, she raised an apostle, for goodness' sake.  This is no doormat, dupe, or shrinking violet we're talking about.  

Edited by Just_A_Guy
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I found out at my Grandma's recent funeral that she got engaged to my 20+ year old, in-the-army grandpa when she was still 15 and married at 16. This wasn't the case of some leering pedophile taking advantage. Things were just different then. Parents approved, etc. And this was just my grandparents.

We really can't apply our mores to past ones. It's actually astoundingly arrogant and moderately naive (if not downright dumb) to do so.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

It is possible that JS had children with other wives, but it is not well documented.  There is enough evidence to support his having been sealed to about 30 women.  He didn't necessarily consummate all of these, but there is evidence that some of them were.  However, since he was married to these women, there wasn't fornication or adultery.

As others have already said, 14 was old enough to marry in those days.  By that age, you were already considered an adult. So there really shouldn't be a problem there, either.

When sealings are performed in our day, they are for binding families, husband to wife, father to son, etc.

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Smith-Rough-Stone-Rolling/dp/1400077532/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468465602&sr=1-1&keywords=rough+stone+rolling

People tend to forget the historical context when they find something in history that would be shocking by today's standards.  Critics love to exploit this tendency and get really hung up on this type of thing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

15 hours ago, Southern_Bell said:

People tend to forget the historical context when they find something in history that would be shocking by today's standards.  Critics love to exploit this tendency and get really hung up on this type of thing.

This tendency is called chronocentrism or presentism (which is a subset of the former term).

So many people assume that what we "know" in the XXI is normal, and that everyone from all time past, and for all time future will see (or should have) things the same was we do, jess 'cuz we're so blasted smart. Communists knew that communism was the best economic system, in spite of centuries of its failure. It's what they were taught, it's what they believed and it was wrong.

Lehi

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest MormonGator
15 hours ago, Southern_Bell said:

It is possible that JS had children with other wives, but it is not well documented.  There is enough evidence to support his having been sealed to about 30 women.  He didn't necessarily consummate all of these, but there is evidence that some of them were.  However, since he was married to these women, there wasn't fornication or adultery.

As others have already said, 14 was old enough to marry in those days.  By that age, you were already considered an adult. So there really shouldn't be a problem there, either.

When sealings are performed in our day, they are for binding families, husband to wife, father to son, etc.

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Smith-Rough-Stone-Rolling/dp/1400077532/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468465602&sr=1-1&keywords=rough+stone+rolling

People tend to forget the historical context when they find something in history that would be shocking by today's standards.  Critics love to exploit this tendency and get really hung up on this type of thing.

I've read RSR several times. Great book, for sure!!!! 

Edited by MormonGator
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Can someone please explain why the "14 yo = marriage age back then" statement keeps popping up?

http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005061.html

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/02/teen-girls-stop-commonly-getting-married/

http://classroom.synonym.com/age-marriage-us-1800s-23174.html

These all state that the median or average (first) marriage age for women has largely remained the same from the early 1800s Through the middle of the 20th century.  It has slowly been creeping up since 1980.  My guess is that people stopped getting married and just started living together about that time.

Edited by Guest
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Were it true that everyone married at the same age, even though that age might shift as time progressed, your concern might be valid.

However, people marry at different ages during any one period, so that's not an issue. The issue is when it was "acceptable" to marry, and, especially, when a woman could marry. The fact that today, people shudder at the thought of a 14-year-old's marrying while 150 years ago, they may or may not have chosen to marry at that age, it was not considered "wrong" if she did.

This is a point when the argument of life expectancy might arise. While an 18-year-old had roughly the same life expectancy in 1830 as a similarly aged person today, they knew back then that their own children could possibly die before age five. So, women (and men, too) knew that they (feminine "they") would have to bear many more children than we consider "normal" in order to have an acceptable number survive. To assure this desirable result, they married younger.

Finally, if there is any logic behind the notion that laws are passed to limit unacceptable behavior, we must ask why the "age of consent" laws have changed over the past century. In most states, it's now at least 16. But this age is a dramatic increase over the age imposed by law a century ago. Most states had their age of consent at 14, some younger, in 1850, if they had such a law at all.

If there were not a significant number of women marrying at age 13 or even 12, why have a law restricting marriage until 14? And why raise it to 16, or 17, or 18 if no large numbers of women were marrying at age 15, or 16, or 17?

Lehi

Edited by LeSellers
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think sometimes as apologists we go too far and imply that because wide age disparities between married couples were legal and precedented, they must have been common.  They were not.  Even aside from its polygamous nature, Smith's marriage to someone like--say--Helen Mar Kimball would certainly have raised a lot of eyebrows in 19th century America; even if it didn't reach the nature of an outright scandal.

I am kicking myself for not having saved the link; but some time ago I came across a demographic study of 19th century Mormon marriages.  It basically concluded that 1) polygamy does create a "scarcity" of women that tends to drive down marriage ages; and 2) while women significantly outnumbered men amongst church members in territorial Utah (the territory itself was pretty near equal; but lots of the men were non-LDS miners); this disparity in numbers was quickly evening out by the end of the century.  The survey went on to suggest that had we not abandoned polygamy when we did, we would have very shortly been confronted with a substantial number of LDS men who simply couldn't find wives.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share