My book club is reading More Wives than One, by Kathryn Daynes. I am loving this book!
You may remember my earlier post outlining my perspective on Polygamy, as well as Bushman’s perspective. I must say that I was very uncomfortable with many of these aspects (and I still am.) Daynes outlines the much more public practice of polygamy from the Utah period. Since the Mormons practiced it more openly, perhaps that is the reason for less discomfort while reading this book. Some of these stories still leave me shaking my head in amazement.
I love Daynes style. While considered a scholarly book, the first few chapters are much more lively and entertaining than some of the last few books I have been reading. I’ve actually stopped to tell my wife some of these stories that I have come across. My favorite has to do with Manti resident Frederick Cox, and I’ll share some of these stories in just a moment, but first I want to give a background on Kathryn Daynes.
In the Acknowledgement, Daynes lets the reader know that the book started as a graduate school project at Indiana University. Specifically she wanted to do an exhaustive study of polygamy practices in the small Utah town of Manti. She indicates that Manti seems to represent polygamy practices pretty well, and it appears that her in-depth study of Manti seems to be similar to other Utah towns in the period of 1847-1890.
The book has been reviewed by Richard Bushman and Jan Shipps, two scholars with impeccable records in the area of Mormon History. I found the book very engaging, and even though I’m not finished with it yet, I just had to tell a few stories that I found highly entertaining. While I know polygamy is a part of the church’s history, and I understand that marriage was highly valued, this particular episode is not only humorous, it almost sounds like a sitcom (like the Keystone Cops) for all the stange plot-twists–and it is a TRUE STORY! From pages 55-56,
Twenty-year-old Fred Cox made a momentous decision in the spring of 1857; he would ask Mary Ellen Tuttle to be his wife. He had no wealth to offer his prospective bride–on the 1860 census he listed no real or personal property-but at the height of the reformation in Manti, that was a small consideration. Women were being importuned to marry, especially to become plural wives. Fred was an eligible young man, and several young women had encouraged his attention. He chose young Mary Ellen.
His difficulty was how he should tell Lucy Allen, who had so openly shown her affection for him, that he planned to marry someone else. He concluded he would break the news to her at a church dance on April 20. That night he asked Lucy to walk outside with him. While he hesitated to apprise her of his choice, she told him she was going to Provo to work that summer, unless, she hinted, something happened to keep her in Manti. Before he could use this opening to introduce the subject, Bishop Warren S. Snow approached the couple and stopped to exchange pleasantries. From their association and their seeking to be alone, the couple appeared to the bishop to be lovers, and he offered to marry them on the spot. Lucy eagerly agreed. Not taking the bishop seriously, Fred submitted. The bishop played his part well and went through the entire ceremony. When he asked Fred if he took Lucy to be his wife, the young man hesitated, but when the question was repeated, he gave the usual answer.
The bishop had made Fred’s message to Lucy more difficult, but somehow he communicated enough so that she left for Provo as planned. By late summer, Marry Ellen had agreed to become Fred’s wife. As dedicated Latter-Day Saints, they wanted to be married for “time and eternity”, a rite generally performed only at the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. For them to be eligible to participate in this ceremony, the bishop had to certify their worthiness. So to the bishop they went.
Bishop Snow seemed perplexed at their request to be married. He had wanted Mary Ellen as his own plural wife but had been thwarted because her father did not want her to enter plural marriage. Fred was unaware of this when he and his prospective bride made their request. The bishop asked the girl if she had carefully weighed her decision to enter plural marriage and queried the young man whether he was financially able to support another wife. Now it was the young couple’s turn to be perplexed. Mary Ellen assured the bishop that such questions need not be asked, but he countered by affirming that Fred was already married to Lucy Allen and that he himself had performed the wedding. Fred protested, arguing that the ceremony had not been a real wedding and was neither legal nor binding. His protests were for naught. Fred and Mary Ellen enlisted the aid of their parents and even the aid of Lucy’s parents, but the bishop was adamant that Fred and Lucy were married. The couple and their parents appealed to a higher authority. While attending the church’s semi-annual conference in October, Fred, his father, and Lucy’s father sought an interview with Brigham Young. The president of the church listened attentively to their story. After carefully considering the case, he announced to Fred that he was a married man and advised him to go home and make the best of it. On the way home, Fred stopped in Provo to get Lucy and took her home with him to Manti.
Daynes goes on to say that Fred and Lucy had 12 children, and Fred took additional wives at some point in the future. Mary Ellen, married Walter Stringham in 1859 who was a monogamist. Mary Ellen bore 15 children, though only 4 survived. Daynes also said that this story is unusual.
This story is so foreign to me. In 1860, there were no temples completed in Utah–only the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. (More info can be found at this website.) There is such an emphasis today on getting sealed in the temple, that it seems strange to me that the bishop acted so cavalierly to marry Fred and Lucy on the spot at a church dance. Fred and Mary Ellen obviously wanted to be married “properly”, so I just don’t understand why the bishop would suggest marrying Fred and Lucy at a church dance “on the spot”, and I frankly can’t understand why Brigham Young upheld the marriage, when Fred and Lucy obviously believed it was a joke.
Daynes goes on to state how marriage in the US wasn’t regulated then as now. There were no requirements for marriage licenses, blood tests, witnesses, or even a ceremony. I plan a future post on the History of Marriage, as I found Daynes information fascinating as well. But let me stop here, and ask what you think of this unusual story.