THE PRACTICE OF POLYGAMY was instituted by Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The young prophet testified he had received a visit from God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ, who warned him he would be damned if he didn’t take additional wives.
Beginning in 1852, plural marriage was publicly promoted and openly practiced in the Utah Territory. Thousands of women and girls, some as young as fourteen years old, were persuaded to enter polygamous marriages. Plural wives struggled with jealousy, bitterness, loneliness, and often, poverty, and their accounts are heartbreaking.
In spite of their hardships, Mormon women who practiced plural marriage were a spirited lot, becoming early revolutionaries in the fight for women’s suffrage. In 1870, Utah became the second territory, after Wyoming, to give the vote to women. At the time, no states allowed women to vote. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has written a fascinating book, A House Full of Females, that details their struggles and triumphs.
Under pressure from the federal government, the Mormon Church renounced the practice in 1890. It now excommunicates members who practice polygamy.