Intro to “More Wives Than One” by Kathryn Daynes

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.

Mormon Temple Ceremonies performed here from 1855-1889

Mormon Temple Ceremonies performed here from 1855-1889

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.


13 comments on “Intro to “More Wives Than One” by Kathryn Daynes

  1. This seems, on the surface, to be a case of a jealous, corrupt bishop with too much power, but what do I know?

  2. Bishop Rick, as long as you admit that since you are a bishop (at least on the internet), you are also guilty of “case[s] of a jealous, corrupt bishop with too much power” on occasion as well. 🙂

    The whole marriage culture in the book is so drastically different that what we modern Mormons experience. It’s very hard for me not to project my modern perceptions onto this bishop–perhaps I have done so in this case. Temples were not easily accessible in 1857–only the Endowment House existed, and the 1st temple in Utah wouldn’t be completed for 20 more years (1877-St George). Perhaps it was more acceptable for Mormons to marry civilly back then. Salt Lake-Manti is probably a 3 hour drive by car today–it probably would have taken a few days to make the journey back then, and with the attacks by Indians, it was not a journey to be taken lightly.

    But even still, I don’t understand the rush. I think it takes an hour or so to get married in Las Vegas today, which is about as close to “on the spot” as one can get today. The church teaches that one should not enter into marriage lightly, and this “on the spot” marriage seems to be a rather light way to enter into marriage. I’m sure my modern perspective is getting in the way here, but it just strikes me as truly strange. 1857 would have been right after Jedidiah Grant (of the First Presidency) launched into the Mormon Reformation, where he advocated righteous living, praying daily, etc. Grant launched an almost inquisition-style interview program to eliminate apostates, and of course, he greatly emphasized marriage and polygamy. Perhaps in this culture, the bishop was just trying to follow the counsel of Pres Grant.

    I remember Pres Hinckley or Faust saying something to the effect of “when you get married, have your eyes wide-open. After marriage, keep them half-shut,” implying that we shouldn’t rush into marriage, and be tolerant of faults after marriage. I know some bishops today encourage long courtships, and short engagements. Others seem to tell singles (especially single men) to quit being so picky, and hurry and get married. I can think of several people I know who got married very quickly–some successful, some not (just as those who married slowly are successful and others not.)

    I even remember having a friend come up to me at work and telling me he was engaged. I said, “Dave, to whom?” He told me the person’s name, and I was planning on asking her out soon. I discovered they had gone on their first date on a Friday, and then he proposed in the Celestial Room of the temple the following Saturday–8 days later. (He told me he was engaged the Monday after she said ‘yes’.) They’re happily married with “a quiver full of kids.” As a nurse, she supported him through medical school. There are success stories, but I can’t wrap my mind around this. I knew my wife 4 years (dated 15 months), and my brother dated his wife for 4 years, so we definitely are the “go slow” approach, which of course, colors my perceptions on this issue. (My dad proposed after 3 months, so I definitely didn’t follow in his footsteps. My parents have been married close to 50 years.)

  3. “…we can seal women to men, but not men to men, without a Temple.”
    (Brigham Young, J.D. 16:186)

    “I was asked if certain ordinances could be performed in different
    places. I told them, yes, under certain circumstances. `Where,’ I was asked.
    `Anywhere besides in temples?’ Yes. Anywhere besides the Endowment House?’
    Yes. `Where, in some other house?’ In another house or out of doors, as the
    circumstances might be. Why did I say that?… It is the authority of the
    Priesthood, not the place that validates and sanctifies the ordinance. I was
    asked if people could be sealed outside. Yes! I could have told them I was
    sealed outside, and lots of others…. I will say that man was not made for
    temples, but temples were made for man…. The temples are places that are
    appropriated for a great many ordinances, and among these ordinances that of
    marriage; but, then, if we are interrupted by men who do not know about our
    principles, that is all right, it will not impede the work of God, or stop the
    performance of ordinances. Let them do their work, and we will try and do
    ours.” (John Taylor, J.D. 25:355-356)

    Some even hold to the opinion that marriage isn’t even necessary for a man and woman to live together. Here’s what George Q. Cannon, Lorenzo Snow, and Wilford Woodruff had to say on this:

    Father [George Q. Cannon] now spoke of the unfortunate condition of the people at present in regard to marriage…. I believe in concubinage, or some plan whereby men and women can live together under sacred ordinances and vows until they can be married…. such a condition would have to be kept secret, until the laws of our government change to permit the holy order of wedlock which God has revealed, …– –President Snow. ‘I have no doubt that concubinage will yet be practiced in this church,…– –Pres. Woodruff: ‘If men enter into some practice of this character to raise a righteous posterity, they will be justified in it…”‘ (Journal of Abraham H. Cannon, April 5, 1894, vol. 18, p. 70)

  4. I just found it interesting how marriage was obviously viewed quite differently by all parties in this story, than it is viewed today.

    These days, people tend to view it as the end of the world if you don’t end up with that one perfect someone. Everyone here seems to have been seeing things a bit differently.

  5. What an interesting story. It seems to me an example of how church leaders viewed their direction as “inspired from God” and therefore, more important than the free agency of the individuals. Especially about an issue so important as marriage and family, how it could be done so “cavalierly” is remarkable to me.

    Certainly this young man needed to speak up, though that would be hard under the circumstances, but to just go along with things and not speak up puts him at some fault also.

    Not only is marriage and temple marriage so different today, but church leadership is as well. Today, no bishop would get away with such behavior to marry someone on the spot and then refuse later to back down that it happened.

    Times change…I guess sometimes for the better.

  6. Brent…those are very interesting quotes.

    Those make me think anything can happen. There is not just one way (marriage in the temple)..but that God could allow for several circumstances to raise a righteous generation…it just has to be ratified by the one holding priesthood keys, but in speculation, anything could happen…even things that seem to us today as impossible. With God, all things are possible (that has power in that scripture…but also some confusion, eh?)

  7. Makes you long for the “good old days,” doesn’t it?

  8. MH, if only I had occasion to this “power” you speak of, I would surely lust for more and be jealous of he who had thusly attained.

  9. Brent, welcome back. I asked you a question on my Anti-polygamy raids post, and it seems you nearly answered it here. Thanks for the quotes–those were very interesting. I am curious if you feel the temples were worth fighting to the death over, but from the quotes above, it seems you think the temples are expendable. I don’t understand concubinage. Perhaps you could explain that better. From the Cannon and Snow quotes, those don’t seem in line with David and Solomon’s practices of concubinage.

    Seth, I’m currently reading chapters on divorce during this period, and it seems that marriages were just as easy to get into, as to get out of. To get a divorce in Utah required little justification. While the Mormons didn’t abuse the divorce laws, non-Mormons actually appealed to Utah’s lax divorce laws causing a change in the statute. That’s not to say divorce among Mormonsdidn’t happen, because it certainly did. In fact, it seems much more prevalent than I would have imagined. I plan a post on divorce during this period, as I found it interesting.

    Heber, I agree that inspiration of the leader played a bigger role than free-agency, I guess for both good and bad. If I were transported in time back to this time period, I would have probably joined the RLDS.

    Tom, you may long for the good old days, but I’m very happy in my current day.

    Bishop Rick–good answer–made me laugh!

  10. Mormon Heretic,

    Sorry I didn’t respond to your question. I live off-grid, so my internet access can be somewhat spotty.

    My view is that the laws and ordinances of the gospel are worth fighting to death over. In Doctrine and Covenants, section 98, the Lord says, “Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy.”

    From the first Brigham Young quote I provided above, you can see that some ordinances must be done in the temple, so temples are very important. However, they are not as important as doing those things that maintain priesthood authority. Temples are only made temples through the priesthood. In other words, lost buildings are easier to replace than lost priesthood.

  11. Brent, I don’t want to side-track the issue here about temples, but I would like to hear your take on my hypothetical example. Can you comment over here about this scenario?


  12. […] the book More Wives than One by Kathryn Daynes, an associate professor of history at BYU.   In my previous post on the book, I mentioned that marriage wasn’t as regulated as it is today.  There were no […]

  13. […] believe that gave them the power to seal anybody. So, you can hear, especially in LDS history, that a bishop would seal two people at a dance together, because he had the sealing power. Brigham Young wanted to really rein that in. So, he said, […]

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