Question: What were the circumstances surrounding the sealing of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith?

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Question: What were the circumstances surrounding the sealing of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith?

Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball, had the most active part in bringing Helen and Joseph together

Some points regarding the circumstances surrounding the sealing of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith[1]:

  • Helen never describes in her journal or later writings being alone with the Prophet even once without a chaperone. [2] References to intimate relations would not be expected. Yet, if the two spent time together as husband and wife, Helen might have made a passing reference to the interactions, but none are found.
  • Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball, had the most active part in bringing Helen and Joseph together. Helen wrote: “He [her father—Heber C. Kimball] taught me the principle of Celestial marriage and having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he offered me to him.” [3] Richard Anderson explained: “Helen says several times that her father took the initiative to arrange the marriage and very possibly he did so with a view to committing her to the Prophet before her budding social life produced a choice or a proposal” from someone else. [4]
  • Joseph’s role was not completely passive because he was willing to teach Helen Mar and marry her after Heber introduced the idea. So this is a point where Joseph may be criticized. But it seems to be about the only one.

Brigham Young instructed polygamous men to wait to consummate their sealings to younger brides until they were at least eighteen

  • Helen’s sealing was presumably for both time and eternity, so this would eventually have become an actual marriage that included sexual relations. In Utah, Brigham Young instructed polygamous men to wait to consummate their sealings to younger brides until they were at least eighteen.[5] While it is impossible to document, it appears this policy began in Nauvoo with Joseph Smith.
  • Michael Marquardt surmised: “Helen Kimball’s sealing to Joseph Smith was a spiritual one unlike other wives who had sexual relations with the prophet.”[6]
  • After her sealing, Helen wrote:

During the winter of 1843, there were plenty of parties and balls. … Some of the young gentlemen got up a series of dancing parties, to be held at the Mansion once a week. … I had to stay home, as my father had been warned by the Prophet to keep his daughter away from there, because of the blacklegs and certain ones of questionable character who attended there. … I felt quite sore over it, and thought it a very unkind act in father to allow [my brother] to go and enjoy the dance unrestrained with others of my companions, and fetter me down, for no girl loved dancing better than I did, and I really felt that it was too much to bear. It made the dull school still more dull, and like a wild bird I longer for the freedom that was denied me; and thought myself a much abused child, and that it was pardonable if I did murmur.[7]

Helen was not called to testify in the Temple Lot case, in which the Church was attempting to prove that Joseph had normal marital relations with some of his plural wives, even though she was available

  • Helen’s feelings in the months after her sealing don’t seem to reflect those of one who considered herself married. Fourteen is young, but certainly old enough to understand the expectations of a married woman. It seems that if Helen were sexually involved with the Prophet as a plural wife, her anticipation of pregnancy and other wifely responsibilities might have made it clear to her that she was no longer single.
  • After leaving the church, dissenter Catherine Lewis reported Helen saying: “I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than a ceremony.”[8] Assuming this statement was accurate, which is not certain, the question arises regarding her meaning of “more than a ceremony”? [9] While sexuality is a possibility, a more likely interpretation is that the ceremony prevented her from associating with her friends as an unmarried teenager, causing her dramatic distress after the sealing.
  • During the proceedings of the Temple Lot lawsuit in 1892-1893, three plural wives of Joseph Smith (Lucy Walker, Emily Partridge, and Malissa Lott) were deposed. [10] Why was Helen Kimball Whitney not also called to testify in the Temple Lot trial regarding her marriage relations with Joseph Smith? She lived in Salt Lake City, geographically much closer than two of the three witnesses: Malissa Lott live thirty miles south in Lehi, and Lucy Walker lived eighty-two miles north in Logan. A likely reason is that Helen could not provide the needed testimony. All three of Joseph Smith’s wives who did testify affirmed that sexual relations were part of their plural marriages to the Prophet. Testifying of either an unconsummated time-and-eternity sealing or an eternity-only marriage would have hurt the Temple Lot case. Such marriages would have been easily dismissed as unimportant.
  • In February 1846, following the Prophet’s death, Helen was sealed for time to Horace Whitney in the Nauvoo temple.[11] After the death of her second child in as many years, Helen fell into a deep depression, lamenting she “hated polygamy.” [12]Her reason was not because of her personal polygamy-related struggles, if she had by then actually experienced a polygamous relationship. She related she hated polygamy because of the trials she had seen her mother go through.

Helen became an advocate of plural marriage and vigorously defended it

  • Helen wrote more about plural marriage than any other female author in the nineteenth century, defending it and Joseph Smith. Included were two books, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith, Editor of the Lamoni Iowa “Herald”(Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882) and her second, Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1840).
  • People may claim Helen was a victim of Joseph Smith and/or polygamy, but it is a claim she never made for herself. In 1881 Helen penned her feelings toward her sealing to the Prophet:

I am thankful that He [Heavenly Father] has brought me through the furnace of affliction and that He has condescended to show me that the promises made to me the morning that I was sealed to the Prophet of God will not fail and I would not have the chain broken for I have had a view of the principle of eternal salvation and the perfect union which this sealing power will bring to the human family and with the help of our Heavenly Father I am determined to so live that I can claim those promises.[13]


Notes

  1. This material was provided courtesy of Brian and Laura Hales.
  2. See Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith, Editor of the Lamoni Iowa “Herald” (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882) and Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1840). Helen also kept a detailed journal throughout much of her life. See Charles M.Hatch and Todd M. Compton, eds. A Widow’s Tale: The 1884-1896 Diary of Helen Mar Kimball Whitney. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2003.
  3. Typescript and copy of holograph reproduced in Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 482–87.
  4. Richard L. Anderson to Dawn Comfort, May 9–15, 1998, copy of letter in Scott H. Faulring Papers, box 93, fds 1–3, (accn 2316), Marriott Library.
  5. See discussion in Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West 1847-1869 (SLC: Signature Books, 1988), p. 198 note 5.
  6. Michael Marquardt, The Rise of Mormonism: 1816–1844 (Longwood, Florida: Xulon Press, 2005), 609.
  7. Woman’s Exponent 11, no. 12, November 15, 1882, 90; see Holzapfel and Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View, 224.
  8. Catherine Lewis, Narrative of Some of the Proceedings of the Mormons; Giving an Account of their Iniquities(Lynn, Mass: by the author, 1848), 19.
  9. Concerning Catherine Lewi’s book, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote: “The exposé she composed on returning to Massachusetts has the ring of authenticity, even though its polished prose surely owes more to the Protestant minister who was her editor than to her own fluent but poorly spelled writing.” Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s rights in Early Mormonism 1835–1870, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017, 132.
  10. Malissa Lott, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, Part 3, page 105, question 227; Lucy Walker, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, Part 3, pp. 450–51, 468, 473, questions 29–30, 463–74, 586. See also Lucy Walker, “Lucy Walker Statement,” n.d., quoted in Rodney W. Walker and Noel W. Stevenson, Ancestry and Descendants of John Walker [1794–1869] of Vermont and Utah, Descendants of Robert Walker, an Emigrant of 1632 from England to Boston, Mass., 35.
  11. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 327.
  12. Augusta Joyce Crocheron, Representative Women of Deseret (Salt Lake City: J.C. Graham & Co., 1884), 112; italics added.
  13. Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, “Autobiography, 30 March 1881,” MS 744, CHL. Typescript and copy of holograph reproduced in Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1997), 482–87.