Polygamy in Pieces: Part 5 - Resistance (Doctrine & Covenants 132)

Friday, November 12, 2021


Transcript for this episode by the phenomenal Heather B!

Works Cited for this episode:

Other relevant resources related to this episode:

Channing: Hi, friends! I’m Channing.

Elise: And I’m Elise.

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists podcast.

Elise: [00:00:12] But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. 

Channing: We’ve saved you a seat on the soft chairs, so join us today for a conversation about Doctrine and Covenants sections 129 through 132 for November 8th through the 14th. This week, it's going to be a little different.

[00:01:03] Because there is so much content and so many feelings and so many resources about this week’s sections, especially section 132, we've decided to do a miniseries titled “Polygamy in Pieces.” Each day we'll release a new episode covering a different aspect of early Mormon polygamy. We hope that this series is a deep dive but comes to you in manageable parts.

[00:01:31] Today, we'll be celebrating the many acts of resistance to polygamy by sharing women's stories. For me, I always learned, like, the instigation of polygamy happened with section 132. And when Emma received it, she was kind of like, “oh, okay. Well, like, if God said so, we should probably do it. And Joseph Smith was like, “I really don't want to, but I guess that I will.” Like, that's how I always understood polygamy happening. We like to pretend that Emma reluctantly consented to the idea of Joseph obeying this revelation regarding plural marriage, but historical records indicate that this is not the case. Remember just last week when we talked about the formation of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo? Hold onto your pearls sisters, because here we go! There is this amazing book titled "Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith," and it was written by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery. Another article (which quotes this book) by John Williams, shares some fascinating excerpts from that.

[00:02:36] Williams says, “A man named Orson F Botswick had circulated rumors about Hiram Smith's practice of polygamy. At Joseph Smith’s instruction, W W Phelps wrote a refutation of the rumors entitled “A Voice of Innocence From Nauvoo,” which Emma presented to the Relief Society on March 9th, 1844.

[00:02:59] The authors of Mormon Enigma write, “Emma explained that the women had met to lend their collective voice to this proclamation that countered the slander of Hyrum Smith. Emma read the “Voice of Innocence from Nauvoo” aloud to the group. Emma received a unanimous positive vote from the women who were “willing to receive the principles of virtue to keep the commandments of God and uphold the priesthood and putting down iniquity.”

[00:03:24] Additionally with a remark that may have seemed pointed toward Elizabeth Whitney and Violet Kimball, whose young daughters had married Joseph by this time, Emma told the women, “it is high time for mothers to watch over their daughters and exhort them to keep the path of virtue.” William's continues to narrate the story saying, “In a later session that afternoon, Emma emphasized that the church had publicly declared itself opposed to plural marriage in the Doctrine and Covenants and reiterated that the release society's original charge was to root out evil.”

[00:03:59] Emma then presented both “The Voice of Innocence” and the founding letter of the Relief Society stating that the two documents contained the principles the society had started upon, but she was very sorry to say that “not everyone had adhered to them.” Referring to Joseph's original charge to search out iniquity, Emma reminded the women that she was the president of the society by the authority of Joseph. The minutes record, “If there was any authority on earth to search out iniquity, she (meaning Emma) had it and had it yet.” Emma urged the women to follow the teachings of Joseph Smith “as he taught them from the stand” implying that his private teachings should be disregarded.”

First off, Elise, I want to know your thoughts about Emma after hearing the story 

Elise: [00:04:53] Emma is, I think she's always so underplayed. I feel like we don’t spend enough time, or any time really, acknowledging the role that she had in the early development of the church. And we just try and, or I'm saying “we,” like, the institution of the church, but it seems that we try and water her down and make her really compliant.

[00:05:15] So when I hear this story of her taking the revelation, bringing it to Relief Society and basically saying, “For all of those of you moms who have already, like, married off your daughters, how dare you? And my husband!” Right? So it's not just the call-out to the women, which I think is kind of a gentle reminder like, “Hey, remember that what the Relief Society is here to do. We're here to, like, uphold the values of virtue,” but it's also in direct contradiction to her husband. Like she's speaking out, not just against her husband, but against the prophet.

Channing: Yup. 

Elise: Yup.

Channing: [00:05:50] She’s honestly, like, she's so bad-A. Like, after reading this, I was like, she's my hero. Like, I really admire women who know exactly where and how to break the rules to get away with this and like, she did it and I am in awe of you, Emma Smith, wherever you are right now, my heart is just like bursting. Like, fiery-dragon Emma, I love you so so much. Yeah. And I think you picked up on something really powerful there.

[00:06:23] She used her authority as the president of the Relief Society to encourage these women to follow the teachings of her husband as they were taught from the pulpit and not what was taught in secret. And so according to other accounts, this one is coming from the book titled "Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society" by Jill Mulvey Derr, Janath Russel Cannon, Maureen Ursenback Beecher, they kind of narrate some of the consequences of what this opposition that Emma took against her husband, Joseph. They said, “Applying her own interpretation to the 1842 epistle against spiritual wifery, Emma opposed the practice her prophet-husband was promoting, thus bringing dissent into the inner circles of the church. With each successive meeting that March, she became more vehement in her demand for reformation, even requiring that the women “examine the conduct of their leaders of the society that you may sit in judgment on their heads.””

Elise: [00:07:23] The article continues, “Emma's actions like the highly publicized dissent of other prominent saints in Nauvoo threatened the essential order and unity without which the church could not survive. Following the prophet’s martyrdom in June, 1844 and the subsequent contention regarding the succession of church leaders leadership, Zina Jacobs would painstakingly transcribe into her journal the words of Brigham Young: “He spoke of union and said that it must be by this principle that we are saved by this. The Savior would come and reign by union. The authority of the priesthood stands and holds its dominion.” 

The article continues, “In pitting her authority against that of the prophet, through whom her authority had come and in planting disorder and disunity among the sisters, Emma Smith had erred egregiously.

[00:08:13] Joseph had warned that, “All must work in concert or nothing can be done.” Emma's actions were out of harmony. Though she closed the March 6th, 1844 meeting by announcing her intent to call another when a “suitable place had been obtained,” no further meetings of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo are recorded.”

Channing: [00:08:36] I just wanted to add here, you know, what really stuck out to me after hearing you read that, remember the big response to Black Lives Matter in late 2020 was this idea of, like, “unity and everyone just get along and can't we all just, like, sing along together in harmony” and, like, kind of, just implied this, like, “How dare you disrupt the peace? How dare you, like, make our lives difficult or how dare you cause such a ruckus?” When in truth, like, Black Lives Matter is about justice. It's about making black people safe and it's about making sure that they have access to human rights and freedom and liberty and all of the things that, you know, white people enjoy.

[00:09:24] And so I'm remembering that, hearing these words, like, “we must all work in concert or nothing can be done when...” I'm not totally sure that that's really ever the right stance to take. If someone's hurting then they need to be heard. 

Elise: [00:09:39] In 1880, John Taylor, remembering Emma Smith's attitudes and actions, concurred only that it was because of Emma's opposition to polygamy that the society had been discontinued.

[00:09:50] He writes, “Sister Emma got severely tried in her mind about the doctrine of plural marriage and she made use of the position she held to try to pervert the minds of the sisters in relation to that doctrine. The Relief Society as an organization for the time being ceased to be.”  

Channing: [00:10:07] Oh Emma, you naughty girl. 

Elise: [00:10:08] But this is the thing, like, “Go, Emma! use your position, use your privilege, use the access that you have to powerful people to try and bring them down!”

Channing: [00:10:17] Yep, yep. Yeah, exactly. That's one of the things that I love about this story.

Elise: [00:10:23] Another quote from John Taylor says, “the reason why the relief society did not continue from the first organization was that Emma Smith, the president, taught the sisters that the principle of celestial marriage as taught and practiced by Joseph Smith was not of God.”

Channing: [00:10:40] And we also get from another book written by Derr, Madsen, and Holbrook titled “The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women's History,” which was published by Deseret Book. They write, “Joseph Smith's immediate successor, Brigham Young, also believed that Emma Smith's opposition to plural marriage helped fuel anti-Mormon attacks. So Young disbanded the society and it did not reconvene until the mid 1850s in Utah and mostly as a local initiative.” 

And so for me, this story is totally wild. Like, you can just picture me in my bed at 1:30 in the morning, reading this tiny little print on my phone of all of these articles about this. And I'm just sitting there, like, “What? No way! Like, Emma, throw down! Like, my husband did not get any sleep that night, but like, I was enthralled by the story and I wanted to include it because, Emma, you are amazing. And also I feel like this is a good snapshot of, you know, we get this idea that like women just reluctantly accepted polygamy. That's the narrative that I was told my entire life. And now here is this historical evidence that says, “no, it wasn't. Like, there was a lot of pushback and it wasn't just easy peasy, women went along with it and everything was totally fine.” That's not the case. That's not what we see here. And I'm so proud. I'm so proud of Emma for the courageous stance that she took in living by her values, even when it came at an enormous cost to her, like, honestly, I was going to say like, “somebody write a book about her,” but lots of people already did.

[00:12:20] And I just like, I am just so in awe and so grateful for her example. 

In fact, it would be a disservice to women to even say, just like we said, in the example of Emma to say that they just said yes and never had any issues with it. And there are some really honestly amazing accounts of women who didn't do that.

Elise: [00:12:41] One researcher recounts that a man in Paragonah Utah told his wife, “He had had a revelation to marry a certain girl and that in the face of such divine instructions, she (the wife) must give her consent. The next morning, his wife announced that in the night, she too had received a revelation to “shoot any woman who became his plural wife.”

Channing: [00:13:05] This is my favorite story of the whole article. So good.

Elise: Another account! “Juanita Brooks' grandfather went wooing in vain when his first wife appeared at the home of the prospective wife and left a door slamming. The second woman refused the proposal. Another wife said I don't give my consent to plural marriage.

[00:13:28] She pleaded that they had a child with cerebral palsy to take care of, and that her husband was already too occupied to find time for another family. Unfortunately, this did not preclude Seymour's marriage to Abby Wells.” 

Channing: [00:13:41] Jeez. Yeah. And this, this story for me, that like, okay, she said, “No! No, we cannot do this because of our child that we have together that we have to take care of.” And they were like, “Nope, sorry, not good enough. Going to do anything.”

Elise: [00:13:59] I'd like to share another passage from Fannie Stenhouse because I think that throughout her entire book, we're hearing her voice of resistance, but you see this internal struggle between what she knows she wants and doesn't want to do and what she's feeling almost a manipulated to do.

[00:14:15] And I wanted to read a passage from hers about the time when she first is introduced to the revelation of polygamy, she writes, “A printed copy of the revelation was given for me to. I was just about to sit down to the breakfast table. There were present a Protestant minister who Mr. S (her husband) had baptized, and two Mormon elders. The minister knew nothing of the revelation, but my husband and the two elders looked at me to watch the effect produced upon my mind by its perusal, with an interest in solemnity as if it were breaking to me, cautiously, the news of my mother's death.

[00:14:51] I immediately left the room and sought the retirement of my own apartment, where after locking the door, I began to read the document, but before I had got through one half, I threw it aside feeling altogether rebellious against God. I now began to feel perfectly reckless and even willing to throw aside my religion and take my chance of salvation rather than submit to polygamy for I felt that the new doctrine was a degradation to womankind. I asked myself, why did the Lord wish to humiliate my sex in this manner though? At the same time, I believed, as I was told, that the revelation was indeed sent from God. Perhaps if I had kept calm and had I read through it very carefully and allowed my own judgment to be exercised upon it, I might've detected there and then that there was no divinity in it. As I afterwards discovered to my satisfaction when I read it a second time after the lapse of many years.” She continues on to write about her experience, how it kind of changes and progresses over time. She writes, “There were days when I was full of sorrow and regret for what I deemed my wicked thoughts about celestial marriage, but then I would fast and pray and seek forgiveness from the Lord and from my husband.

[00:16:05] But even in my best moments, I could never bear to hear him speak about polygamy. And whenever the elders came to our house, the painful topic was sure to be discussed. As soon as I heard it all my angry excitement returned, and I instantly felt a spirit of rebellion stirring within me. I could not help it. I felt that womankind was insulted whenever the subject was mentioned and I never got over the feeling. Oh, I thought, how shall I ever get salvation with such an offending heart of mine?”

And I just want to reach out to Fannie and say, “no, you're right. Like, keep holding onto that voice of rebellion and resistance because it's telling you the truth.”

[00:16:51] Friends, we hope that you're feeling fired up from this episode about all of the different ways and acts that women tried and did successfully resist efforts of polygamy. We hope that you're able to feel inspired and feel that fire start to burn in your soul in the same way that we felt that fire from these women's stories.

[00:17:08] We love you so much, and we can't wait to continue our series Polygamy in Pieces with you tomorrow. Bye.

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