Page 1 of 3

A House Full of Females

Posted: 27 Nov 2017, 09:06
by Roadrunner
I finished the book A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. I don’t necessarily want to start a thread about polygamy itself – there are many of those already – but rather I wanted to share some things I learned while reading this book.

My main take-away was that Plural Marriage and Women’s rights in Utah was… “complicated.” Of course I realized that any time a man married several women that those relationships would be varied and messy and sometimes ugly. The book seemed to paint a picture that many LDS men and most LDS women didn’t like plural marriage but to my surprise many women seemed to believe – or eventually convince themselves – that polygamy was a divine commandment. I was also surprised that in some ways women’s rights in Utah were further along that other parts of the United States. Leaders of the suffrage moment visited Utah and found strong supporters of women’s rights, in seeming contradiction to what you might expect from supporters of polygamy. I can’t fully wrap my brain around how you could support polygamy and advocate for women’s rights.

Other things I learned or was reminded of.
• There definitely seemed to be some men who used plural marriage as a way to get younger, prettier wives whom they sexually desired. William Clayton might be an example of this. There was a description of a woman he thought was very attractive and he asked Joseph for permission to marry her and Joseph was happy to give permission. William seemed overjoyed to have a new wife and the book’s author even seems to take him to task for being so open about it.
• In some cases men seemed impacted as negatively as women. They were now responsible for supporting many families instead of one.
• Some sister wives got along really well. Apparently Parley P Pratt’s wives got along famously.
• Mission calls were brutal for everyone. Thank God we don’t do it like this today.
• Missionaries were expected to open preach about polygamy. Missions seemed designed to convert men to the idea of polygamy.
• First wives usually held considerable power over subsequent wives. They controlled much of the distribution of resources and tasks. They were also sometimes treated poorly after they could no longer bear children.
• There is no question that early LDS women thought they have the rights and the power to bless others and exercise the priesthood. In the book there are probably 100+ examples of women exercising the priesthood in some form or other, and often with the full knowledge of an apostle. These stories alone make the book worth reading. Early LDS women definitely did not sit demurely for a priesthood holder to come to their home to bless a sick child or animal.

I am no historian, but at times I wished the author would have drawn more conclusions about the merits and faults of polygamy. She usually paints the picture and lets the reader draw conclusions. I guess I expected more of a pronouncement that polygamy was awful with no redeeming qualities but the author mostly just tells the history. The book is extremely well documented. I highly recommend it.

Re: A House Full of Females

Posted: 27 Nov 2017, 09:30
by LookingHard
Thanks for the review.

Re: A House Full of Females

Posted: 27 Nov 2017, 10:24
by Roy
Yes, thank you.

I am currently reading "In Sacred Loneliness" and I find the worldview of the early Utah saints fascinating and scary fanatical at the same time.

It appears to have been a hard life, polygamy or no.

Re: A House Full of Females

Posted: 27 Nov 2017, 11:04
by Roadrunner
Roy wrote:
27 Nov 2017, 10:24
...I find the worldview of the early Utah saints fascinating and scary fanatical at the same time.

It appears to have been a hard life, polygamy or no.
Definitely. There was one story I think about Hosea Stout - but I may be mistaken - that made my cry for that poor family. He left on a mission to Asia and hadn't heard from his family for months. When he arrived at San Francisco on the way home he found out from an LDS family that his wife had died. He went home, found the home he built for his family but someone else was living there and couldn't find his children. He later found them living with another family member.

Scary fanatical is a good way to put it. As a read the book I realized there are echoes of this still today.

Re: A House Full of Females

Posted: 27 Nov 2017, 12:08
by LookingHard
I have read The Polygamous Wives Writing Club: From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women By Paula Kelly Harline. It was a good read. It was focusing on "average" polygamists (no famous folks or higher leaders) in Utah. It was mainly just letters from the polygamous women.

I came away with just how much it was HARD for everyone (the vast majority on the women, but also the men). But they felt it was what they had to endure in order to get to the celestial kingdom. I don't recall any of the writings saying the women actually liked it.

Re: A House Full of Females

Posted: 27 Nov 2017, 15:49
by Heber13
I hate our religion's past with polygamy. I don't think I'm ready to read books about it yet. Maybe someday.

So...I guess I'm glad you reviewed the book so I know what it is about, since I will likely never read it.

It does seem complicated when you read these accounts. I always wonder how people made the most of situations they may not have wanted, but felt pressured or given reasons to see it some way that makes it endurable.

I dunno.

Just glad it's in the past. I hate that part of our past.

Re: A House Full of Females

Posted: 27 Nov 2017, 17:28
by hawkgrrrl
I can’t fully wrap my brain around how you could support polygamy and advocate for women’s rights.
This is not a defense of polygamy, but one thing that has become apparent as I look back at the beginnings of women's suffrage is that women were not considered people. There's nothing prohibiting women from voting. They just weren't allowed--like it never crossed the men's minds that women would vote. There's nothing allowing for discrimination on sex, it just happened. It was just an assumed right that men could do what they wanted.

One of the biggest things that held women back was that a wife was considered under the husband's control. What polygamy did was blow that notion away because without the 1:1 ratio, women had more individual autonomy. A man might be able to "control" one wife, but he couldn't control 3 or 10 the same way. Nobody assumed that all 10 wives would do exactly what the husband said in the way that they assumed allowing women to vote meant that married men got two votes.

Another way that polygamy led to more women's rights was that the women could divide the "women's work," and there honestly wasn't enough of it for everyone to do. Plus, these large families needed additional income to run, so women had opportunities to contribute in ways that a monogamous marriage didn't require or allow.

Re: A House Full of Females

Posted: 28 Nov 2017, 08:44
by Beefster
I can't be too angry about it since I descend through one polygamist line... The idea of polygamy has never really bothered me. Sure it's culturally frowned upon and it's weird to us, but it's not something I've ever really been held up on, on its own. There are plenty of practical benefits to it, especially in cultures where having more children is considered prestigious.

The problem comes from when it was abused and it is not helpful when one of those people who seemingly abused polygamy was Joseph Smith. That, and, in church history, it seemed as if polygamy was a requirement to make it to the higest tier of the CK. That doesn't quite add up.

Sister wives who get along tend to work together quite well. With my polygamist ancestor, the 2 wives were widowed and one took over as the breadwinner. I'd imagine similar things happened during missions.

And I'd imagine with a lot of the house work freed up, women had more freedom to follow their passions and develop non-domestic talents. So I can see why they would have been in favor of women's rights.

Polygyny is not inherently misogynistic. It just gets abused very easily.

Re: A House Full of Females

Posted: 28 Nov 2017, 11:07
by Roy
Beefster wrote:
28 Nov 2017, 08:44
Polygyny is not inherently misogynistic.
I find the definition of misogyny to be "dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women." I believe that many of the church leaders of that time did not dislike women. Is it contempt for a person if you believe that a person should always act in a deferential matter because of their gender? Contempt in that their views, thoughts, and opinions are not given equal weight in the public sphere? The perspective of church leaders of this period certainly appears to be what we would now define as "ingrained prejudice" and discrimination. I suppose it would be at least partially accurate to say that polygyny is inherently misogynistic.

Re: A House Full of Females

Posted: 28 Nov 2017, 14:12
by Curt Sunshine
Polygamy is inherently misogynistic, to some degree, if it is limited to one man having multiple wives and does not allow one woman to have multiple husbands.

Please think about that carefully and slowly. If it required a particular sex to be the one that gets to dictate the terms and reap the benefits (as seen from the eyes of the ones setting the terms), then it is misogynistic to some degree - even if the majority of the men involved are good, sincere, gentle, caring, loving people. THEY might not be misogynistic, but the system itself is.

That is an important distinction.