Part I: Of Joseph Smith’s 34 plural wives, 13 had legal husbands at the time they were sealed to him. Since Fawn Brodie’s 1945 No Man Knows My History, virtually every author who has written about Nauvoo plural marriages has concluded that the prophet practiced sexual polyandry (or at least may have) with some or all of these women. However, since the beginning of the Church, polyandrous sexuality has been consistently condemned by Church leaders—after all, women today cannot be sealed to more than one man at a time. So what was going on? Did Joseph Smith practice sexual polyandry? If so, was it in accordance with his teachings or contradictory to them? This session will examine the evidence. Part II: That a number of Mormon plural wives were imprisoned during the late nineteenth century and became the focus of intense public controversy has been relegated to little more than a footnote in Latter-day Saint histories. Their cases merit attention because they occupy an often precedent- setting place in the history of the antipolygamy legislative and judicial crusades and have significant revelatory value as barometers of public sentiment. Further, they invite us to consider the problem of plural wives as agents within a patriarchal religious tradition and the competing narratives that often portray them as either heroic and autonomous or abused and victimized.
Brian C. Hales, Lorie Winder, Todd Compton