Question: Did Wilford Woodruff criticize assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson's decision to publish the names of those who were married to Joseph Smith because he wanted to hide the fact that Joseph was married to other women?

Table of Contents

Question: Did Wilford Woodruff criticize assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson's decision to publish the names of those who were married to Joseph Smith because he wanted to hide the fact that Joseph was married to other women?

Jenson’s material, coming when it did, could have put members in danger

Note: This wiki section was based partly on a review of G.D. Smith's Nauvoo Polygamy. As such, it focuses on that author's presentation of the data. To read the full review, follow the link. Gregory L. Smith, A review of Nauvoo Polygamy:...but we called it celestial marriage by George D. Smith. FARMS Review, Vol. 20, Issue 2. (Detailed book review)

Jenson’s material, coming when it did, could have put members in danger. But G.D. Smith makes it appear that Woodruff was trying to hide the practice of plural marriage in 1887. [1]

What is not explained or acknowledged is that Woodruff’s paramount concern was not to hide history or deny plural marriage

George D. Smith writes that Jenson's article “appeared on the down-side slope of the historical peak in polygamy . . . [and] Woodruff complained to Jenson.” G. D. Smith quotes Woodruff to the effect that “we do not think it a wise step to give these names to the world at the present time in the manner in which you have done. . . . Advantage may be taken of their publication and in some instances, to the injury, perhaps, of families or relatives of those whose names are mentioned” (p. 447).[2]

What is not explained or acknowledged is that Woodruff’s paramount concern was not to hide history or deny plural marriage (the Manifesto was three years in the future: polygamy was hardly a secret).

Woodruff likely feared the very real risk of spies and government agents using the information to prosecute members of the church

Rather, Woodruff likely feared the very real risk of spies and government agents using the information to prosecute members of the church. At this period, women were jailed for refusing to testify against husbands; hundreds of men were in hiding or in prison. “Words are inadequate to convey the feelings of those times—the hurts to individuals and families, to the church. . . . Families were torn apart, left to provide as best they could.”[3]

Notes

  1. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 446. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  2. G. D. Smith cites Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 135, which includes a letter from Wilford Woodruff to Andrew Jenson, 6 August 1887.
  3. S. George Ellsworth, “Utah’s Struggle For Statehood,” Utah Historical Quarterly 31/1 (Winter 1963): 66.