Source:Bitton:Great-Grandfather’s Family:Ensign:Feb 1977:plural marriage...Starting during Joseph Smith’s own lifetime but limited to a few dozen families until its official announcement in 1852

Table of Contents

Ensign (1977): "plural marriage...Starting during Joseph Smith’s own lifetime but limited to a few dozen families until its official announcement in 1852"

Davis Bitton, Ensign (1977):

Then, along with economic privation and an absent father, was for some the institution of plural marriage. Starting during Joseph Smith’s own lifetime but limited to a few dozen families until its official announcement in 1852, plural marriage brought a powerful new challenge to the equanimity of Latter-day Saint family life. Never could it be said that a majority of Latter-day Saint families were polygamous families. If each mother and her children are considered as a single family unit, the percentage reaches something like 10 or 15 percent. These families, by and large, tended to include the most prominent families within Latter-day Saint society.

While there were many examples of success, of harmony, of love, of delightful “aunty” relationships with the plural wives of one’s father, it should also be said that for some the plurality of wives created tensions and unhappiness. “My wives have not spoken to each other for many months,” wrote one husband in 1856. We do not have a thorough study of divorces in Mormon families, polygamous and monogamous, but we do know that permanent separation ended some nineteenth-century marriages. Obviously plural marriage for most meant even more fatherly absence than had existed before. In the words of Professor Eugene Campbell of Brigham Young University, “Many of the normal problems of marriage, such as finance, personality adjustment, sexual relationships, jealousies, child-rearing and discipline were all magnified in plural marriages.”

These factors—those presenting special challenges to Mormon families—are not the whole picture. But they are part of the picture. In the actual recorded experiences of family life we discover, not surprisingly, that behind our surface impression of harmonious, loving families—the families of the family portraits existed most of the challenges which threaten family life today. The point is that in the past century neither the family life of Americans and Europeans generally, nor that of the Latter-day Saints, was as free of problems as we have tended to believe. We now find ourselves in a period of looking on our past. There is a tendency among many of us to overstate the positive, understate the negative. We need not hesitate to see the whole picture as we seek to discover our forefathers. The more we see their fiber and strengths, the more we will appreciate their efforts in building the Church and in raising their children. [1]

Notes

  1. Davis Bitton, "Great-Grandfather’s Family," Ensign (February 1977). (emphasis added)