Surrogate Parenthood/Types of Polygamist Marriages (Daynes Part 3)

Kathryn Daynes tells a really interesting story about an infertile couple in her book More Wives than One.  The Church Handbook of Instruction was leaked onto the internet a few years ago, and the church sued to stop it’s publication.  The only reference I could find indicates that the Church strongly discourages members from participating in surrogate motherhood.  I know someone who was considering becoming a surrogate mother prior to her marriage.  While part of me respects such a decision, I always thought that participating in surrogate parenting was a strange idea.  I remember a NJ woman refused to give up the baby she had carried for another couple about 10-20 years ago, so there can be some real challenges for people who choose to participate in parenting via this route.  You hear about weird mixups like this one, and you understand the church’s decision on why it is a bad idea.    As I read the following story, it seems Brigham Young probably didn’t have a problem with surrogate parenting.

Before I get into the story, I want to address the different types of marriages during the pre-Manifesto Utah period.  The “convenience” marriage is the strangest type.  Here is a list marriage types outlined by Daynes:

  1. Civil Marriages – This would include all non-Mormon marriages, as well as non-Temple Mormon marriages.
  2. Time and Eternity marriages – This would be a typical Mormon Temple Marriage, and would extend after death.
  3. Proxy Marriages – Daynes says on page 82, “Such marriages could be performed for two living persons, for one living and one deceased person, or for two people who were both dead.”  She gives an interesting story on page 79,

    “Because celestial marriages transcend this world, it was possible for a person to be married to one spouse for this world and sealed to a different spouse for eternity.67 The spouse to whom a person was sealed might not even be living.  Isaac Morley’s daughter Cordelia, for example, was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity in Nauvoo eighteen months after he was killed at Carthage.  Frederick W. Cox stood as proxy for the sealing to Joseph Smith in the temple ceremony while marrying Cordelia for time, or for the duration of mortal life.68

    Such marriages for time only–proxy marriages–entailed the same responsibilities and conferred the same rights that civil marriages did.  In these marriages, the children bore their biological fathers’ names but in the hereafter would belong to the family of their mother and the husband to whom she was sealed for eternity.”

    Daynes said these are sometimes referred to as a levirate marriage, named after the Biblical practice. For those not familiar with a levirate marriage, the Law of Moses specified that if a man died without seed, his brother was supposed to marry the widow and raise seed to the deceased.  The Sadducees propose a scenario in Luke 20:27-40 in which 7 brothers marry a widow, and all die without children.  They ask Jesus in verse 33, “Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife. “

  4. Eternity Only Marriages – From page 82, Daynes said these marriages, “conferred no earthly rights or responsibilities.”  They were sealed only in the next life, the couple didn’t live together, didn’t have any sexual relations, the wife didn’t take the husband’s surname, and the husband did not provide for the wife.  It seems the purpose of these marriages was merely to confer salvation to the participants who participated in the “new and everlasting covenant.”  Often the women were past child-bearing age.  Fifteen women in Daynes’ Manti data set had this kind of a marriage.
  5. Nominal Marriages -From page 82, these marriages “conferred only limited rights on the couple for this life and sealed them for eternity.”  Wives used husband’s surnames, and may have received economic help.  Four wives fit this criteria in the Manti data set, and Daynes cites a biographical note of James Davenport on page 77, “Second wife was Anna Davenport, to whom he was sealed but did not live with.60 Daynes indicates on page 78, “Such marriages did not include the right to sexual access.”
  6. Marriage with delayed Rights – Daynes indicates that 12-year old Mary Dunn and 11-yr old Mosiah were sealed to each other just prior to leaving Nauvoo because leaders knew it would be a long time before they had access to a temple. Daynes quotes Mosiah’s autobiography on page 78, ‘that it was done “with the understanding that we were not to live together as husband and wife until we were 16 years of age.”‘  Daynes further indicates on page 79 that “Mosiah and Mary were never united after they arrived in Salt Lake City; at age eighteen, Mary married Martin Luther Ensign.66“This logic reminds me as similar to the logic applied by Catholics when they baptize infants.
  7. Convenience Marriage – from page 82, these marriages “conferred rights of sexual access but gave the man no rights to the children and limited responsibility to the woman.”  Daynes says on page 81, “This form of marriage was not an isolated instance, although it was undoubtedly a rare one.”  She describes the story of Mary Ann and Edmund Richardson who joined the church in Salt Lake City in 1853-4.  Page 80 describes the story:

    With the importance the Saints place on having children, however, Mary Ann Richardson worried about her husband’s inability to father more children because of his “having become an eunuch”.75 She was also concerned about her exaltation, especially when several had told her she was wrong to stay with her husband and should be sealed to another.

    Ok, I have a real problem here. While I plan to talk in the future on divorce during this time, it seems to me that for a church which currently stresses the dangers of divorce, marriages back then were very disposable. It boggles my mind that people were recommending she be sealed to another person. Continuing on,

    Writing to Brigham Young for advice, she expressed her desire to remain with her husband if that course would not hinder her eternal reward.  In a letter dated March 5, 1857, Young proposed a novel solution, one of the few possible in that age before the advent of modern reproductive medicine: “If I was imperfect and had a good wife I would call on some good bror. to help me that we might have increase, that a man [her husband] of this character will have a place in the Temple, receive his endowments and in eternity will be as tho nothing had happened to him in time.”76 According to Young, her husband’s sterility would not bar him from  the most important temple ordinances, and his eternal reward would not be adversely affected.  As for having additional children, Mary Ann could be married in a civil ceremony to another man who would father her children.  By being sealed for eternity to Edmund, Mary Ann as well as all her children, would belong to him.

    The couple eventually accepted the plan, but only reluctantly. Edmund and Mary Ann were sealed for eternity on April 20, 1857, but only after the “each had seen a vision” did they accept President Young’s unusual suggestion. After they accepted the plan, he gave them a paper listing three polygamous men he considered worthy to participate. They chose Frederick Cox. He, too, at first refused to participate in the plan but also became convinced that “the plan was divinely inspired.” One of the sons of this union later wrote of his birth: “It took three visions and a religion to reconcile others to my coming.”77 On January 9, 1858, Brigham Young celebrated the marriage of Mary Ann Darrow Richardson and Frederick Cox in a religious ceremony that did not seal the couple. From this union, two sons were born: Charles on October 13, 1858, and Sullivan on January 26, 1861.

    Family legend indicates that Brigham Young granted the Richardsons a temporary separation or a civil divorce and that Edmund lived some distance from Manti during his wife’s second marriage. He may have spent some time away, but one year after the first son was born, he returned and took his wife to be sealed again for eternity in the Endowment House. Moreover, as indicated on the 1860 Manti census, he was again reunited with his wife about eight months before the second son was born.79

    Not long thereafter the Richardsons moved to another town. For about twenty years Cox did not see his sons. When he did, he shook their hands heartily, looked at them and listened to them unceasingly during their visit, but never mentioned the relationship between them.80

    The second marriage did not bestow the rights and responsibilities that marriage usually confers. Mary Ann retained the Richardson name, lived in the Richardson home, and received her support from Edmund. Cox received no rights in the children: they were not called by his name, nor did they inherit from him. Because the Cox-Richardson children were cautioned to say nothing about the circumstances of their birth to protect the good name of their mother, it is highly unlikely any public acknowledgment was made of Mary Ann’s second marriage.81 In short, other than the right of sexual access, the marriage ceremony conferred no rights or responsibilities.

    This form of marriage was not an isolated instance, although it was undoubtedly a rare one. When Richardson’s descendants sought answers about the marriage, the executive assistant of the Genealogical Society about the marriage assured them that there were other such marriages and that these were known as “convenience marriages.”82

Daynes next paragraph goes into the question of whether this was a polyandrous marriage.  Pages 81-82 answer this question:

As Lawrence Foster argues, calling such a marriage polyandrous is misleading because polyandry is incompatible with the patriarchal nature of nineteenth-century Mormon marriages.  While Mary Ann’s two marriages overlapped, the form of marriage to each man was different and did not entail the same rights and responsibilities.  Marriages for time were perceived as temporary because life on this earth was viewed as ephemeral in the expanse of eternity.  Sealings for eternity were thus more important and took precedence over marriages for time, although they did not necessarily invalidate them.83

So, it seems to me that Brigham Young would have been very liberal in modern reproductive techniques like artificial insemination, cloning, stem cell research, surrogate motherhood, and many of the current technologies we have available today. Even after I read this story of the Richardsons, I shake my head in amazement at some of the Saints early practices. Comments?

16 comments on “Surrogate Parenthood/Types of Polygamist Marriages (Daynes Part 3)

  1. I’m inclined to believe that you are right and Brigham would be quite a bit more liberal than current leaders are. But, I don’t see how his unconventional effort to allow someone to have a posterity would translate into a support of stem cell research. All of the other procedures you have listed are specifically related to creating progeny. As far as I know, stem cell research is not usually concerned with this.

  2. Interesting. Thanks for this post. I guess it must be because of my Utah-mormonness and pioneer ancestry that I don’t find this suprising and it doesn’t bother me. A lot of the ideas about 19th century polygamy that people seem to have generally in the bloggernacle seem “off” to me. I love the practicality and, um, creativity displayed by Brigham Young and the early Saints.

    One of my gggrandmothers was a serial plural wife who left her first husband and married her sister’s husband, and later married someone else, possibly due to some conflict with her sister. She seems to have remained sealed to her first husband and there is a photograph of her and her 7 children, five of whom had been fathered by her first husband, posing with him in what simply looks like a family portrait later in their lives. He had two other wives.

  3. Daniel, it’s hard to know how Brigham would react to stem-cell research. The church has a neutral position. The church seems to be much more conservative in its’ approach to issues that Brigham Young or Joseph would have been. They were radicals, and I believe much less conservative than leaders today.

    E, I don’t know if you’re male or female, but would you have a problem introducing a 3rd person into your marriage in order to conceive a child? Your indifference is shocking to me, especially in light of the fact that with artificial insemination, it is an artificial act, rather than natural sexual relations to conceive. I can’t imagine a good Latter-Day Saint having no qualms about having a spouse have sex with a person outside of the marriage.

    I’m a Utah Mormon too, but I think most of us are pretty prudish when it comes to that kind of thing. Are you saying you’d be open to the idea in your marriage if that was the only option to conceive, and you don’t think your spouse would object either? The Richardsons and Frederick Cox had more qualms than your comment indicates.

  4. Fascinating stuff, MH. I had a thought when reading this:

    “Eternity Only Marriages – From page 82, Daynes said these marriages, “conferred no earthly rights or responsibilities.” They were sealed only in the next life, the couple didn’t live together, didn’t have any sexual relations, the wife didn’t take the husband’s surname, and the husband did not provide for the wife. It seems the purpose of these marriages was merely to confer salvation to the participants who participated in the “new and everlasting covenant.” Often the women were past child-bearing age. Fifteen women in Daynes’ Manti data set had this kind of a marriage.”

    I’m not saying that I’d be interested in doing this if I had the opportunity (because I wouldn’t), but why can’t this be practiced today? Since there is no civil marriage, there’s no conflict with the law. And we have a lot of singles in the Church that never find an earthly mate, as well as many like myself who are married to non-Mormons. What’s stopping the modern Church from offering temple-worthy singles or those with only civil marriages from being sealed to one another? Theoretically speaking, I could be sealed to a brother at church and have my exaltation secured that way, since my husband is very unlikely to ever join the Church. And if we had kids, they would follow with me. Who knows, maybe there are some members out there, such as those who were already married when they joined the Church and whose spouses have never joined, who would be relieved to have the opportunity to be sealed to a righteous Mormon. To us it seems weird, of course, but it seems like it was common sense back then.

    How things have changed from the urgency that these early Mormons obviously felt to have to be sealed in this life to someone that they would only live with in the next life, to the current teaching that as long as they’re righteous, there’s no need to worry about it and the perfect mate will be provided for them by the Lord. It’s not like we abandoned polygamy altogether, since men are still sealed to multiple wives. But many of these old practices appear to have been mostly abandoned. What changed?

  5. FD, assuming this was a real option for you, don’t you think it would cause issues in your current marriage? For example, if you chose a living person (such as me, or someone in your stake), don’t you think there would be some doubts in your husband’s mind? Wouldn’t he suspect there was some funny business going on between you and your eternal mate? I just don’t think this is a wise thing to do for a living couple to seal the wife to another person for eternity.

    And if you chose to be a polygamist wife of Joseph, do you really think you’d be happy in the next life as a polygamist wife? The book says that there were a significant number of Mormon women who married non-members or “bad” mormons specifically because they didn’t want any part of polygamy. I just don’t think you would be happy to be wife #36 to Joseph, or wife #4 of your stake president.

    I think these issues are sticky, which is why the church doesn’t encourage eternity only marriages any more. I don’t think these ever should have been encouraged.

  6. I don’t think my husband would suspect any funny business, but I’m sure he would be repulsed by it even though he probably doesn’t believe in it. I think he would be extremely troubled by the Church even suggesting such a practice. So I agree, I think it would be a problem for most couples, especially if the person you’re being sealed to is living and someone closeby. But I was thinking about how some biological parents give permission for their children to be sealed to the new spouse of their ex. A bit different than being sealed as a spouse, but similar in the sense that someone is basically signing over his/her own loved one for eternity. But maybe they only agree to it because they think it’s all nonsense.

    I definitely wouldn’t want to be anyone’s polygamous wife, especially not my stake president. 🙂 I agree with you that eternity-only marriages should never have been encouraged, but I think that there would be some today who would gladly be sealed to Joseph Smith if they had the chance.

  7. I think the issues became inherently “sticky” once Joseph tried to give too much concrete structure on earth to what he had seen about eternity. I think if the revelations were given today for the first time that were given in the 19th Century, the prophet would understand them differently, and a different church structure would arise as a result.

    The yearning to be eternally with our loved ones can be realized without ceremonies in a Temple — or so practically everyone else in Christianity (and other major human religions believes.)

  8. FD, I think you’re right that a parent who allows a son/daughter to be sealed to adopted parents probably believes it’s all nonsense. I also agree that many today would jump at the chance to be sealed to any prophet–from Joseph to Pres Monson (heck even most apostles or 70’s)–if they had the chance.

    FireTag, I don’t know that all of Christianity believes that husbands will be with wives (or other loved ones) in the eternities. I can think of a few people I spoke with on my mission who quoted the same scripture I used above in Matthew 22:30 “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” I remember that they said there will be no family relationships. I can remember saying, “so you think we’ll just hang out on a cloud and play harps?” They replied basically that they didn’t know exactly what would happen, but that the righteous would constantly praise God. I don’t know about you, but I think there’s going to be more to do than praise God and play harps day after day.

    I do think some Christians are coming around to the idea of eternal families, and some believe they can be “eternally with our loved ones … without ceremonies in a Temple”, but I really believe that they have borrowed this idea from the Mormons and simply reject temple worship. I can remember saying to them, “but doesn’t the marriage ceremony say ’till death do us part’?” I never got a very good answer to that question… (OK, I was probably a little too aggressive–blame that on 19-year old immaturity.) So, I think this concept of sealing is quite a revolutionary concept that was revealed to Joseph.

    I remember watching “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, and noticing the cords they used at the wedding to signify a binding together in marriage. That’s the closest thing I’ve seen in another church which is similar to this sealing (or binding) concept. I don’t know if you saw my posts on Eastern Orthodoxy, but I think there are some interesting similarities between their church and the Mormons.

  9. I think those whom you cited probably didn’t regard the marital relationship as being central to their experience in heaven but certainly expected that their heavenly experience would be with their loved ones. (As with your discussion with FD, we can only guess what was in their minds.) I know my Mom wanted nothing more than to be with her husband again as well as her parents — and we certainly didn’t borrow that belief from the Mormonism that developed in the main LDS stream.

    I fully look forward to visiting with my dog Fella again (can not be heaven without puppies and kittens — right, FD?)

    But, remember, I’m the guy who thinks that there is a real physical correspondence revealed by modern cosmology to the “worlds without number” in the Book of Moses. I think that “spirit is to person as mind is to neuron”, that Spiritual life is as rich and complex as is physical life, and that the human part of heaven is as relatively small as it is in the physical realm.

  10. I fully expect to be greeted by a chorus of “woofs” and “meows” on the other side, Fire Tag. Anything less will be a huge disappointment. 🙂

    I tend to hope/believe that sealing ordinances performed here on earth won’t be set in stone in the next and are not as rigid as they seem to be here. In the case of non-member parents signing over their kids to another for eternity, it would seem unfair to me that that decision (which is most likely based on the fact that they don’t believe in it, which is perhaps a result of never having heard the Gospel, or not receiving a spiritual confirmation of its truth) would make it too late for that individual to ever be with his/her kids in the next life. Also, in cases like Zina Jacobs Smith Young, whose husband basically lost his wife and children to BY for eternity. It just seems way too rigid and unfair to be true to me.

    I was reading recently in another forum about an LDS couple who was fostering the children of a dysfunctional non-member woman and they were looking into trying to get the mother’s permission to allow her kids to be sealed to them for eternity, which apparently is possible. That just seems to go against the whole spirit world doctrine to me. If this mother has been born into certain circumstances and therefore made poor choices, or simply hasn’t felt any spiritual prompting or confirmation to go get baptized and go to the temple in this life, then why would we rob her of the chance to be sealed to her own kids when, according to what the LDS Church teaches, she may have that opportunity in the next life? It would seem absurd to one day do the temple work for such a person and then let her kids continue to be sealed to their foster parents. I just have to believe that God will be much more flexible and understanding than that. This life seems way too complicated to have everything in the eternities so cut and dry.

    I remember my Baptist friend quoting me that scripture Matt. 22:30. I think perhaps they imagine that the next life will be like this one in the sense that we’ll be with our families and loved ones, even though we may not necessarily be married to them in the earthly sense. At first I thought that sounded depressing, but now that I think about it, in my case of being married to a non-member, it probably sounds much more appealing to be together with my husband in the eternities, married or not, than to not be reunited with him in the next life because we weren’t married in the temple (Elder Nelson’s conference talk from last year that I ranted about comes to mind).

    I guess I look at sealings like this: I think it’s a beautiful doctrine and I don’t doubt that it will have some power in the next life. Perhaps it will be more of a symbolic thing, perhaps it will strengthen eternal love. Much like the marriage covenant is to us here on earth, I don’t think it will be worthless. However, if God is fair and just, he will make it possible for everyone to be sealed to their rightful spouse and their rightful children. I just find it hard to believe he will deny any good, loving human being the opportunity to be with his/her most beloved just because for whatever reason, they couldn’t live up to expectations on earth. Love has to mean something.

    Incidentally, Zina had something to say about love, according to Wikipedia:

    In later life, Zina commented that women in polygamous relationships “expect too much attention from the husband and . . . become sullen and morose. . . .” She explained that “a successful polygamous wife must regard her husband with indifference, and with no other feeling than that of reverence, for love we regard as a false sentiment; a feeling which should have no existence in polygamy.”

    It seems that to Zina (and presumably Brigham and others who entered into these loveless eternal “marriages”), that love wasn’t an important ingredient and even a detriment to the relationship. Sure, reverence is important, but I feel reverence for any human being. Doesn’t mean I want to be married to them for eternity. 🙂

    I guess I just don’t believe that piety is worth more in the eyes of God than love.

  11. FD,

    I think the whole sealing children to parents is overblown. Section 132 doesn’t mention it–it only talks about sealing husband to wives. Frankly, if a child is sealed to a parent, but never gets baptized, never participates in the endowment, and never gets sealed to an eternal mate, the child-parent sealing seems relatively useless to me.

    I think sealing children to parents is a little like the Catholic practice of infant baptism. If the child dies before age 8, our religion teaches they can’t sin anyway and go to heaven, whether they’ve been sealed to a parent or not. If they die between 8 and marriage age, then our religion says if they’re worthy, they’ll be able to find a mate in heaven and I assume get sealed to each other then anyway. Perhaps that sealing to parent will help them get into heaven some but I think it is overblown.

    I really don’t see the purpose of sealing children to parents, so I don’t get that worked up about it. It seems like Bushman made the case that Joseph was trying to bind families together in a super-family, and i guess I support that, but I think there is too much hubbub about sealing children to parents. It’s not really a saving ordinance. I know we say “Families are Forever”, but really it is the marriage sealing ordinance that is the new and everlasting ordinance. I don’t see parent-child sealings as very significant.

    As for Zina, that whole story bothers me. I’m sure she’ll get to choose who she wants to be sealed to, and I doubt it will be Brigham.

    Daynes has some interesting quotes about marriage, and many leaders said that we shouldn’t love our spouses more than God. Marriage (and especially polygamy) isn’t about love, it’s about a saving ordinance. I find these quotes odd, but they definitely had a different mind-set back then. However, after reading these quotes, I think a pretty strong case can be made that since these were “loveless” marriages, then it wasn’t the men who just wanted to have sex willy nilly. Polygamy was highly regulated, and courting when one was married was highly forbidden. If a man wasn’t deemed worthy of multiple wives because of lasciviousness, he wasn’t allowed to participate. Daynes also outlines several cases where the women initiated the marriage. She also indicates that if a women wanted out of a marriage, she got out. Men couldn’t get out of a polygamist marriage nearly as easily as a woman could. So, the stereotype of harems of women is really inaccurate when viewing polygamy in the church.

  12. […] Many women entered into polygamy for economic reasons.  Daynes states that it was a way to redistribute wealth, and take care of the poor.  In fact, it seems some polygamist marriages were for purely economic reasons.  These were called “nominal marriages”, and I talked about them in my previous post. […]

  13. […] I asked him about a really odd story about surrogate parenthood in the days of Brigham Young. Click here for full details. In brief, a convert couple could not conceive children due to a medical condition […]

  14. […] argued as polyandrous during the time that Brigham Young was prophet.  The quote below comes from another of my posts from 2009 concerning Kathryn Daynes book More Wives than One.  She described the concept of she she calls a […]

  15. […] argued as polyandrous during the time that Brigham Young was prophet.  The quote below comes from another of my posts from 2009 concerning Kathryn Daynes book More Wives than One.  She described the concept of she she calls a […]

  16. […] argued as polyandrous during the time that Brigham Young was prophet.  The quote below comes from another of my posts from 2009 concerning Kathryn Daynes book More Wives than One.  She described the concept of she she calls a […]

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