Do you know someone who is struggling with questions and doubts regarding Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage? We have a new book just for you!
Answers for “tough” questions: The true story of Helen Mar Kimball, the controversial “14-year-old.”
Volume 1 details the life of Helen Mar Kimball, the daughter of Heber C. and Vilate Kimball. The book opens with Helen’s introduction to plural marriage in Nauvoo. Helen did not immediately accept or understand this teaching, following her own journey over many years to gain a testimony. In her own words, Helen shared her struggles, her doubts, her fears, and her frustration—a journey many women will be able to empathize with! Helen would later become an outspoken and bold defender of the Prophet Joseph Smith and plural marriage. She wrote pamphlets, letters, and newspaper articles detailing the beliefs of Latter-day Saints and explaining her perspective on the more sensitive issues of the Gospel.
But Helen’s story is not only about plural marriage—it is about the real life of a woman, who struggled with health challenges, the death of four minor children, bodily dependence on coffee, a son who committed suicide, financial hardship, and years of widowhood. Through all of this, Helen endured with faith and in this book, we get to know Helen through her own journals, letters, and histories.
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To many Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith’s sealing to fourteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball in 1843 is one of the most “troublesome” aspects of early LDS Church history. Discovering this fact has shocked many Latter-day Saints, leading to confusion and inner conflict.
Who was Helen Mar Kimball?
Helen Mar Kimball was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph’s steadfast and loyal friend, Heber C. Kimball. According to the Prophet Joseph Smith:
Of the Twelve Apostles chosen in Kirtland, and ordained under the hands of Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and myself, there have been but two but what have lifted their heel against me-namely Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. (May 28, 1843)1
Helen Mar Kimball’s sealing to the Prophet Joseph Smith was first proposed by her father. Helen recorded:
. . . he [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; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet’s own mouth. My father had but one lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter . . .2
Many struggle to reconcile Joseph Smith being a man of integrity and virtue with the fact that Helen Mar Kimball was fourteen at the time of her marriage. The Prophet Joseph was 37 years old at the time. Is this a “stain” upon the Prophet’s character? Should we be embarrassed or even apologetic for this action?
One of the most difficult, and often forgotten, aspects of correctly interpreting history is endeavoring to remember the culture and context surrounding an event. Can we truly understand Joseph Smith while 21st century political correctness and modern tradition distort our interpretation? Have we paused to ask: “Is it truth or only cultural paradigm that causes repulsion with Helen’s ‘underage marriage’?”
It is a documented fact that in the past so-called “under age marriages” were often the norm. Several historians and authors have documented the prevalence of teen and even pre-teen brides in the last millennia. Historian Margaret Wade Labarge noted:
It needs to be remembered that many Medieval widows were not old, Important heiresses were often married between the ages of 5 and 10 and might find themselves widowed while still in their teens.3
Researchers Richard Wortley and Stephen Smallbone also commented on the Medieval age.
In Medieval and early modern European societies, the age of marriage remained low, with documented cases of brides as young as seven years, although marriages were typically not consummated until the girl reached puberty (Bullough 2004).4
An example of teen brides during the Renaissance can be seen in the female protagonist of the famous Shakespearean tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is only thirteen years old when she secretly marries Romeo. Wortley and Smallbone comment:
Shakespeare’s Juliet was just 13, and there is no hint in the play that this was considered to be exceptional.5
I’ve heard many criticize Joseph Smith for his marriage to Helen Mar Kimball, but I’ve never heard a public outcry demanding a cancellation of theatrical performances of Romeo and Juliet. Numerous film adaptations, musical compositions, ballet productions and educational study courses are consumed without a second thought. Do we have a double standard?
Wortley and Smallbone traced the history of teen marriages across the Atlantic, from the Old World to the New.
The situation was similar on the other side of the Atlantic; Bullough reports the case in 1689 of a nine-year-old bride in Virginia. At the start of the nineteenth century in England, it was legal to have sex with a 10 year-old girl.6
For hundreds and thousands of years, teen marriage was not shocking. However, this historical record proves nothing more than the fact that our cultural ideology regarding the proper age for marriage is an anomaly when compared to the past. The real question is, “Regardless of what has or has not been culturally acceptable, is this right?” To answer this question, I turn to two of the greatest heroines in recorded history: Mary, the mother of the Son of God and Rebekah, the mother of Jacob or Israel.
Mary, mother of the Son of God
Many do not realize that according to some ancient texts, Mary may have been betrothed to Joseph when she was about the same age as Helen Mar Kimball when Helen was married to Joseph Smith. The Gospel of James (also referred to as the Infancy Gospel of James or the Protoevangelium of James), recounts the story of Mary’s upbringing. While this text is considered “apologetic” material and it’s authorship likely occurred no earlier than the 2nd century, this apocryphal text reveals insights into Jewish culture and the “acceptable” age for marriage. This account claims Mary was consecrated to the Lord and served in the Temple. When she reached the age of twelve years old, she was betrothed to Joseph.
And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of the priests, saying: Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord? . . . And the priest said to Joseph, You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the virgin of the Lord. But Joseph refused, saying: I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel. And the priest said to Joseph: Fear the Lord your God, and remember what the Lord did to Dathan, and Abiram, and Korah; how the earth opened, and they were swallowed up on account of their contradiction. And now fear, O Joseph, lest the same things happen in your house. And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping.
According to this “Gnostic gospel”, Mary was two years younger than Helen Mar Kimball at the time of her sealing and Joseph, her betrothed, was an “old man”. Whether or not the account is accurate, the story reveals the customary age for marriage in the ancient past.The apocryphal text History of Joseph the Carpenter (likely dating to the late 7th or early 7th centuries) is believed to have been based on material from the Gospel of James. It similarly recounts:
Now when righteous Joseph became a widower, my mother Mary, blessed, holy, and pure, was already twelve years old. For her parents offered her in the temple when she was three years of age, and she remained in the temple of the Lord nine years. Then when the priests saw that the virgin, holy and God-fearing, was growing up, they spoke to each other, saying: Let us search out a man, righteous and pious, to whom Mary may be entrusted until the time of her marriage; lest, if she remain in the temple, it happen to her as is wont to happen to women, and lest on that account we sin, and God be angry with us.
Therefore they immediately sent out, and assembled twelve old men of the tribe of Judah. And they wrote down the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. And the lot fell upon the pious old man, righteous Joseph. Then the priests answered, and said to my blessed mother: Go with Joseph, and be with him till the time of your marriage. Righteous Joseph therefore received my mother, and led her away to his own house. And Mary found James the Less in his father’s house, broken-hearted and sad on account of the loss of his mother, and she brought him up. Hence Mary was called the mother of James. Luke 24:10 Thereafter Joseph left her at home, and went away to the shop where he wrought at his trade of a carpenter. And after the holy virgin had spent two years in his house her age was exactly fourteen years, including the time at which he received her.
Jewish culture allowed women to embrace the opportunities that came with adulthood and motherhood at a far earlier age. One author sources the Talmud stating:
B. Sanh while arguing that a young girl should not be married to an old man or to an infant son, urges that daughters should be married when they reach puberty, and the same position is taken with respect to sons.7
The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (“pseudo” because scholars do not believe it was written by Matthew, the early apostle) places Mary’s age at fourteen years old.
Now it came to pass, when she was fourteen years old, . . . Abiathar the high priest rose, and mounted on a higher step, that he might be seen and heard by all the people; and when great silence had been obtained, he said: Hear me, O sons of Israel, and receive my words into your ears. Ever since this temple was built by Solomon, there have been in it virgins, the daughters of kings and the daughters of prophets, and of high priests and priests; and they were great, and worthy of admiration. But when they came to the proper age they were given in marriage, and followed the course of their mothers before them, and were pleasing to God. . . .
. . . all the people congratulated the old man [Joseph], saying: You have been made blessed in your old age, O father Joseph, seeing that God has shown you to be fit to receive Mary. And the priests having said to him, Take her, because of all the tribe of Judah you alone hast been chosen by God; Joseph began bashfully to address them, saying: I am an old man, and have children; why do you hand over to me this infant, who is younger than my grandsons? Then Abiathar the high priest said to him: Remember, Joseph, how Dathan and Abiron and Core perished, because they despised the will of God. So will it happen to you, if you despise this which is commanded you by God.
In this text, Mary’s age is referred to as the “proper age” and it is noted that she must follow “the course of their mothers before them”. The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, a recast of the Pseudo-Matthew, also speaks of Mary’s “advancing age”.
Now the virgin of the Lord, with advancing age, also made progress in virtue . . . She came, therefore, to her fourteenth year, and not only could they devise against her no evil, nor anything worthy of blame, but all good men who knew her judged her life and conversation worthy of admiration. Then the chief priest publicly announced that the virgins who were publicly placed in the temple, and had arrived at this time of life, should return home and seek to be married, according to the custom of the nation, and the maturity of their age.8
Notice that Mary’s age is referred to as “advancing age” and that it was time for her to be married “according to the custom of the nation, and the maturity of [her] age.” Could the repulsion felt by many modernists when hearing of Helen Mar Whitney’s sealing at fourteen be merely a matter of cultural tradition and convention?
Rebekah, mother of the House of Israel
According to another apocryphal work, the Book of Jasher, Rebekah, the mother of Jacob or Israel (the revered father of the Twelve Tribes or House of Israel) was only ten years of age when she forsook her homeland to become the wife of the birthright son, Isaac.
And Eliezer related to them all his concerns, and that he was Abraham’s servant . . .
And they all blessed the Lord who brought this thing about, and they gave him Rebecca, the daughter of Bethuel, for a wife for Isaac.
And the young woman was of very comely appearance, she was a virgin, and Rebecca was ten years old in those days. (Book of Jasher, 24:38-40.)
If we are going to question the legitimacy of Joseph Smith’s young wives, we would also need to question the purity of these Biblical marriages. While I agree that such convention or practice would not be wise today, we should not condemn the Prophet Joseph Smith or consider this event in Church History damaging to faith when it merely parallels the mother of the House of Israel and the mother of the Son of God.
Helen Mar Kimball was sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in May 1843. The historical record is not clear whether the marriage was consummated at that time or at any time prior to the Prophet Joseph’s death. Marriages were performed for eternity, not merely for time. Consider the following pioneer account of the sealing of Mosiah Hancock at eleven years of age and a young woman named Mary.
Although I was very young, I was on guard many a night, and gladly did I hail with many of the Saints, the completion of the temple. On about January 10, 1846, I was privileged to go in the temple and receive my washings and anointings. I was sealed to a lovely young girl named Mary, who was about my age, but it was with the understanding that we were not to live together as man and wife until we were 16 years of age. The reason that some were sealed so young was because we knew that we would have to go West and wait many a long time for another temple.9
This account shows that it was not unheard of for marriages to be performed that would not be consummated or fully recognized until the participants reached an appropriate age.
Helen’s feelings regarding plural marriage
It should be acknowledged that Helen Mar Kimball initially held reservations to the practice of plural marriage. However, later in her life she became a staunch defender. Learn more of her story by reading the book, Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives, Volume 1: Helen Mar Kimball.
“Helen Mar Kimball is my new heroine, and I now have a renewed reverence for the early Saints and their sacrifices. This book was a tearjerker as I melted into the story and had my testimony heightened by gaining a new understanding of doctrine. The tears weren’t because of sadness, although there was much in Helen’s life. They were tears at the realization of spiritual truths and ah-ha moments as my mind and heart expanded. I wasn’t expecting new understandings of temple covenants, the word of wisdom, the second coming tribulations, and the ages of marriages of other elite women. This book should SLAM any people who are experiencing a faith crisis because of the false beliefs the rest of the world are trying to impose upon us. When you are reading along, make sure you read the footnotes! Thank you so much for this beautiful gift!” Ann Postak
Helen Mar Kimball Whitney (InspiraWiki)
Why We Practice Plural Marriage (by Helen Mar Whitney)
- “History, 1838–1856, volume D-1 [1 August 1842–1 July 1843],” p. 1563, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed January 21, 2019, https://josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-d-1-1-august-1842-1-july-1843/206
- Typescript and copy of holograph reproduced in Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds. “Religious Studies Center.” A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History | Religious Studies Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2017. 482–87.
- Labarge, Margaret Wade. A Medieval Miscellany. Ottawa: Carleton UP, 1997. Print. 52.
- ABC-CLIO. “Internet Child Pornography.” Internet Child Pornography by Richard Wortley and Stephen Smallbone – Praeger. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2017. 10.
- McArthur, Harvey. Celibacy in Judaism at the Time of Christian Beginnings. Andrews University Seminary Studies, Summer 1987, Vol. 25, No. 2. 167.
- Cowper, B. Harris. The Apocryphal Gospels and Other Documents Relating to the History of Christ. London: F. Norgate, 1881. Print. 91-92
- “Autobiography of Mosiah Hancock (1834-1907).” Autobiography of Mosiah Hancock (1834-1907). N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.
This was very well written, and I appreciate the sources and the hard work you have put into this article that we may continue to see Joseph in the light we should. It is so funny how our culture cannot accept this when it’s this close to us, and also being a prophet, but if we read the stories of our own ancestors we can accept it easier. It’s like if the action took place 200-400 years ago it makes sense, but if it’s recent, it doesn’t. What makes this story so hard for many to grasp, is our definition of love, relationships, marriage and intimacy. As a Sigmund Freud culture which we live in and have grown up with, we are far from the truth that was restored. We live in a counterfeit society to what God revealed, and because it is now our traditions, we think it’s normal, but as my girls and I study this topic, you can see how Satan has come and just twisted everything right from the definitions, to our emotions. Alvin Dyer; Counselor in the First Presidency in 1969, in his talk The Precepts of Men, states to be careful of the “New Morality” which denies distinctions between right and wrong, good or evil, substituting a code that decides the right or wrong of behavior according to human need, regardless of what the need is distorted to be. God’s ways are pure, and just, and I can’t wait for a society that will repent, be clean in thought, actions and definitions again to live with the Savior. Boy we have a lot of work to do in the meantime!
Thank you for this. I’ve often thought some of the same things. What’s even more ironic about Mary is something alluded to by Brigham Young (and recorded in the Journal of Discourses 11:268): “The man Joseph, the husband of Mary, did not, that we know of, have more than one wife, but Mary the wife of Joseph had another husband.” This would have meant God the Father practiced polyandry – a word that disgusts the pious of today. Joseph Smith also practiced polyandry, which I find makes so much sense because the wives in question would have had caretaker husbands just like Joseph was to Mary.
Very interesting and valid points brought up in this article. Amanda, you also brought up an interesting point about Mary having two husbands (do we know whether she was sealed to Joseph?). You may also remember (or not) that the Church, in the late 1980s, made it permissible for a woman to be sealed to more than one husband after she is deceased. Among whatever other plausible reasons exist for that change in policy, I can see a benefit in cases where a woman’s husband to whom she was sealed died and she married another man for time only. Allowing her to be sealed to more than one husband after her death provides a way for the children she had with the husband to whom she was not sealed to have a sealing link with their biological father.
Melanie, that brings up the subject of Levirate marriages – wherein the woman who was sealed to her first husband would have the children had by the second husband also raised up and sealed to the first husband as outlined in Hebrew law and explained by Joseph Smith. But I am cheered by the fact that women can be sealed (after her death) to all husbands because it reinforces the fact that women will get to choose. If she can only have one husband, at least it should be the one she wants, right?
I just thinks it’s so sad, really, that folks will rile against JS for both taking a young bride and having polyandrous relationships, when…so did the Father when He had His firstborn son by Mary, and then she went on to marry Joseph the carpenter when, technically, she had a Husband yet living.
“I would not go across this bowery for polygamy, if it only pertained to this world. It is for the resurrection; and the Spirit of the Lord has come upon the people, and upon the ladies especially, to prepare the way for the fulfillment of his word.” (Brigham Young) It makes me hopeful that women are beginning to take a more faithful look at our eternal ties to polygamy even if it’s not for the here and now. This kind of discussion was almost unheard of even 10 years ago.
All need to be careful with conflating a “sealing” with what we understand as “civil marriage”. The language we should use when dealing with “Joseph’s plural wives” is “sealing” which is a bond of sorts for this life and the next. Sealing, a relatively new and not always understood concept in the Nauvoo period, was not necessarily equated with civil marriage. Much confusion took place and those of evil intent used this confusion to practice “spiritual wifery” and lured women into sexual relationships. The accurate way to explain Joseph’s sealings is to use that term only, because there is no evidence that he sexually consummated any of those so-called marriages, which should properly be referred to as sealings. We also need to remember that Joseph had many children with Emma but none with any of the women to whom he was sealed. Joseph was a very healthy man who died in his prime.
Wow! Thank you to LDS Answers for doing this research! This does a great job of answering the question: Is marrying that early wrong? As has been well illustrated, marrying that early was very normal, and even expected, historically. In early US western history, marriage as early as 12 was normal. These early marriages did not even begin to be questioned until the early 20th century.
This just adds more evidence to the truth that as we look at the Prophet Joseph’s actions, we must be careful to “doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith” and also to “give Brother Joseph a break”, as counseled by modern prophets and apostles. I suspect that when we finally meet the Prophet Joseph and can clearly see his life and decisions, we will be astounded by the greatness of his character.
Thank you for your comment! I completely agree with you in almost every aspect. One thing I might add to your comment, though–we ought to doubt our doubts. The motto of Eliza R. Snow, one of the most amazing women of the restoration (and also a scripture, 1 Thessalonians 5:21) is “Prove all things; hold fast [to] that which is good..” More scriptures and statements by the prophets equally confirm this. The truth will always be able to stand scrutiny.
No where in this article did you address the fact that while it was not unheard of for 14 year old women to marry, the fact that Joseph Smith was in his late 30s was extremely abnormal. US census /marriage records show that while girls married in their teens, their grooms were also young and generally in their teens as well.
True unbiased research is what those who struggle with church history need.
I believe she did address that. Hannah looked at the history and different cultures through time, and cited at least two examples of very young women marrying much older men. As further instances, there was a huge age gap between Abraham and Hagar, Sarai’s handmaiden whom Abraham married, and between King David and Abishag (1 Kings 1).
Again, the question is what is right, and not merely currently and culturally acceptable.
Looking at different cultures over time is not the same as keeping in context of what was normal and acceptable in the 1800s in America. If you’re going to use other times and cultures to justify wrongs, then you’ll have an excuse for anything. Congratulations.
Can you give me examples/proof of how it was unacceptable? You simply make this generalized statement without any evidence. Also, might I ask: If the Lord has approved of marriages with a very young woman and older man (as shown in the examples of Mary, Rebekah, Hagar, and Abishag), then what are we doing opposing him? I’m pretty sure he has more knowledge of right/wrong than our twisted society (as the article has said).
No, She didn’t address the fact that it was NOT the cultural norm of the time. Marrying at 14 was NOT normal at all. And the few who did married other people roughly their own age, not 38 year old men, who just happened to have many other wives who were all being kept from his first wife… You know, sticky info that the author liked to leave out.
Marrying at 14 was not the average, but it was accepted and not that uncommon. As I have said in MULTIPLE other comments, those who did marry that young usually married men much older than them. See the article here showing marriages in Kirtland during that time.
I do not understand how you claim that his “other wives… were being kept from his first wife.” Emma was fully aware of the law of polygamy, and after having her own struggle, reconciled herself to God’s will. We do not know if she was fully aware of all of Joseph’s marriages, but we do know she understood.
Caleb, you couldn’t be more mistaken. Joseph Smith was already sealed to two sisters living in his house without his wife’s knowledge. This is factual information that Brian Hales and other Church historians can provide irrefutable proof for. He had to have himself “sealed” again to the sisters in front of Emma after she agreed to go along with this. Those are facts. If this website is designed to get to real truth and ALL sides of truth, then dispelling misinformation that you may have unknowingly repeated is of top priority. Right? There are more women he sealed himself to without Emma’s knowledge. This is stated in LDs.org essay on Nauvoo polygamy. Don’t take my word for it.
Randall, I feel that commenting on Emma doesn’t really apply to the subject of the article or strengthen Becky’s argument.
Hannah does a great job of clearly showing that as far as God is concerned, getting married young is certainly OK. Once we have God’s stamp of approval, what else really matters? Trying to say we can decide ‘rightness’ better than God probably isn’t the wisest course of action.
Bradley….that’s a slippery slope there:
“Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a sin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to. The volition of the creature is free; this is a law of their existence, and the Lord cannot violate his own law; were he to do that, he would cease to be God. He has placed life and death before his children, and it is for them to choose. If they choose life, they receive the blessings of life; if they chose death, they must abide the penalty. This is a law which has always existed from all eternity, and will continue to exist throughout all the eternities to come.”
Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 11, p. 272
When I was researching an ancestor of mine who was in California, in the 1870s, I found that he married at about 30 to a woman of 14. They had a long and apparently satisfactory marriage till the time he passed away. I also found when I was in my 20s that there are some states in which it was perfectly legal for a woman of 14 to marry, as I met a woman from the South who had done so, with the approval of her parents. She had five children by the time she was 21 and was a grandmother at 30. Also, in many native cultures, puberty was the time to recognize a young person as an adult – which often meant 12.
None of the people I am referencing in my other comment were in any way linked to the LDS faith.
Nobody said it was the NORM. But it was not illegal. The contemporary critics of Joseph Smith complained about his multiple wives but they did not seem to care much about their ages. Not much accusations against Gov Ford of Illinois for marrying a 15 year old. I would suspect that many of Joseph Smith critics either had married young women or had friends who had done so. I understand there is that “ick” factor in 2106 but not so much in the 19th century.
Actually, here’s some research done by others regarding the matter.
Marriage at 14 was not only common in the early 1800’s but maybe a little on the old side (as the norm was around the age of 12).
Here’s a view from the UK
In contrast, David Hey “Oxford Companion to Local and Family History” states “The medieval evidence is inconclusive, but from the beginnings of Parish Registers in 1538 the pattern is clear. The detailed demographic studies that have been made indicate that in the early modern period the average bride was in her mid-twenties and her bridegroom was slightly older. The restrictions of service and apprenticeship, and the necessity of saving enough money, prevented earlier marriages even if the wish was there.”
My own genealogical experiences have found that when a girl marries in her mid-teens it is generally because she is pregnant.
Good to note.
Here is some more data from above link. I think one thing is clear: Today places a much higher age for “creepiness” which is simply the result of age of consent laws.
4. Richard A. Posner is chief judge of the U.S court of appeals, Seventh Circuit Chicago. Katherine B. Silbaugh is associate Professor at Boston University School of Law, they say that before the 1900s age of consent was ten years old,
“The law governing the age of consent has changed dramatically in the United States during this century. Most states codified a statutory age of consent during the nineteenth century, and the usual age was ten years.” 
5. The Scottish Law prior to 1900s by Sir John Comyns and Stewart Kyd,
“By the law of Scotland, a woman cannot contrabere sponsalia before her age of seven years. 1 Rol. 343. I. 20.
But by common law, persons may marry at any age. Co. Lit. 33. A.
And upon such marriage the wife shall be endowed, if the attain the age of nine years, of what whatsoever age her husband be; but not before the age of nine years. Co. L. 33. A.” 
6. Professor of Sociology Anthony Joseph Paul Cortese says that a 50 year old man being with a girl under 10 (being intimate) Under United States law was legal until the mid 1960s,
“In 1962, the American Law Institute recommended that the legal age of consent to sex- that is, the age below which sex is defined as statutory rape- be dropped in every state to age 10 (Katchadourian and Lund 1972: 439). In fact, until the mid 1960s, the legal age of consent in Delaware was 7 (Kling, 1965: 216). So a 50 year old man could legally have sexual intercourse with a 7 year old boy or girl.” 
7. Maureen Dabbagh is a writer and author. Born in Michigan, she serves as a Virginia Supreme Court Family Mediator, she echoes the same statements as previous authors,
“…the nineteenth century, the minimum age of consent for sexual intercourse in most American states was 10 years. In Delaware it was only 7 years.” 
My grandmothers were married at 14 & 15, so yes it was.
It is so true, how culture can impact our views without us realizing it. My daughters have always been so surprised at literature showing young women marrying very older men: Jane Austin’s “Emma”marrying a much older Knightly, and “Sense and Sensibility” has Marianne marrying a much older Col. Brandon. Also Dickens has many characters in his novels with young women marrying much older men, such as “Our Mutual Friend”, “David Copperfield”, “Little Dorritt” etc. (there are numerous examples). As you read these novels you can see that the authors think nothing of this practice because it is so very common place. Often in modern movie depictions they use older actresses and younger actors to minimize the discrepancies, but the books are very clear.
In our time and culture we see things so differently that when my 20 year old daughter got married people were so shocked at her getting married at such a young age– my how could she have made such a foolish decision. Interestingly enough she had many associates her age that were living with boyfriends at the time but that was socially acceptable because they hadn’t committed themselves to marriage.
It is interesting to me, the moral lens by which we judge other times and eras!
Agreed. I don’t know anyone who thinks 19th century frontier marriages of 14-year old girl is necessarily wrong or immoral. But I think you would find many people who hold the opinion that a legally married 38-year-old religious leader, who secretly marries a 14-year-old after telling her that her family’s salvation may depend on it might be considered, immoral, creepy, and illegal.
Yes there might be some that feel its immoral, creepy, and illegal but just because they feel that way does not mean it was. The bottom line really is not how people today feel about it but how did Helen feel about it. If she was ok with how things turned out, what business it really of anyone today to judge their relationship. I envision the time when those who have problems with this standing before Joseph, Helen, and the Lord and all of them asking questions to these people like what right do they have to judge a relationship they knew very little about.
“Yes there might be some that feel its immoral, creepy, and illegal but just because they feel that way does not mean it was. ”
If it wasn’t considered “immoral, creepy, and illegal” why was it kept so very secret? With blood oaths sworn to protect the polygamy secret?
Because it would culminate in his death.
Hi, Randall! I have a B.A. in English Literature and another B.A. in German Literature. In many of those older works, I have read about very young girls being betrothed and even married to much older men…a practice which continues today in parts of the African continent. A famous model “escaped” her marriage to an older man and finally became a nanny in England, where she was “discovered” and became a model. I also believe, but haven’t researched, that in some Muslim areas this same practice exists. No, it is definitely not unheard of. Marriage laws changed dramatically when it was decided that girls in puberty and teen years could actually attend school and get a more advanced education. The laws changed to accomodate the new social norms. This was post 1830 in rural America. Europe began the movement and it gradually spread towards America, starting in New England and moving south and west. In an Andy Griffith show, a hillbilly family comes to town and tries to betroth Andy’s son, Opie (Ron Howard as a child) to a BABY belonging to a young mother in the hillbilly family. It was viewed as a humorous and old-fashioned custom still existing in the Appalachian mountains. If you don’t believe me, type it into Google.
It was NOT common for 14 year old girls to marry in 1834. It was even less common for 14 year old girls to marry 38 year old men. It was even less common – even unthinkable and creepy – for 14 year old girls to marry 38 year old MARRIED men. I can’t do the mental gymnastics to accept this. It is just wrong, no matter what year it was.
You make a very generalized, sweeping comment, assuming that society was the same then as it is now. Can you back this with some evidence? The following article contains several graphs on marriages in Nauvoo, showing that multiple marriages took place for girls under the age of 15, and that they married men much older than themselves. Even today, a man marrying a woman much younger than himself is not abnormal. My grandparents were 10 years apart.
This reminds me of the story of Tevye in the Fiddler on the Roof. He almost marries one of his daughters to a rich butcher, much older than her in age, but still very culturally acceptable – even more so because his rich status would allow him to care well for Tevye’s daughter.
As shown in Tevye’s example, arranged marriages are much more likely to be with an older man because the father wants his daughter to have financial security, something younger men are much less able to achieve so early in life.
I think the most important thing to recognize is that the God apparently approves of these early marriages with much older men as he has done it historically more than once (as mentioned in the article and other comments). Once the Lord has given his stamp of approval, what are we doing condemning it – societal norms or not?
My wife and i are 24 years apart. And get this, she pursued me!!!
Audrey, we have two worldviews colliding here: the modernist worldview and the Biblical worldview.
Biblically speaking, an “age gape” or being “underage” is not an issue. If you have issues with Joseph Smith, then you also have issues with Abraham, Isaac, David and likely Mary and Joseph.
Biblically speaking, plural marriage is not an issue. If you have issues with Joseph Smith, then you also have issues with Samuel, David, Moses, Elkanah (husband of Hannah, father of the prophet Samuel) and many other Biblical prophets. Plural marriage was also codified in the law Jesus Christ revealed to Moses.
Anne, so where do you draw the line… Biblically speaking of course. Slavery was in the bible, just like polygamy. Should we start that back up as well? And where in the bible does God command it? I’ll save you from spending all day trying to look it up. He doesn’t. Not once.
First with Mary and Joseph, yes, it was culturally the norm in those days AND she wasn’t being manipulated into marriage by the threat of losing her families eternal salvation… That’s a pretty big thing to put on a 14 year old. Also, Mary wasn’t being married to Joseph, when he already had a wife, and doing it behind her back. Nice try with the justification though.
Becky, I think the issue here is not so much how culturally acceptable it was for young women to marry older men in past generations (and apparently it was acceptable), as it is whether you accept Joseph Smith as a prophet.
On a side note, during Christ’s time polygamy was common, and a man could not be a leader of high rank in the Jewish community unless he engaged in polygamy. Also, in many other cultures around the world polygamy has been common and acceptable. Many Native American tribes also practiced polygamy.
I think the conundrum with polygamy comes in having been taught otherwise culturally. Because of that, many people have a difficult time even entertaining the prospect of polygamy, as it’s often very hard to accept anything other than what we’ve been taught.
You are completely incorrect in the assumption that a man couldn’t be a high ranking jewish leader without being a polygamist. Do you have sources you can site?
It may have been ok for 14 year olds girls to marry in the 1830’s but it WAS NOT acceptable for 14 year old girls to marry 38 year old men who were all ready married to other women! Teenage girls would have married teenaged boys their own age range and boys that they had been ‘courting’ not friends of their fathers who already had 20 plus wives hidden around town. And comparing to Romeo and Juliet is a joke. A fictional story of two teens in a forbidden romance is not the same as a 38 year old married man asking his best buddy if he can marry is 14 year old daughter after he already tried to marry her mother! The author of this article discounts the doubters by accusing us of applying 21st century thinking and logic which results in our disgust and disdain for josephs abuse of women and young girls and yet she applies century old stories of abuse and misuse of women and their virginity and logic to support it??? So basically because women and their virginity have been abused and used by men for centuries it’s totally ok once again for a prophet of God to take advantage of a teenage girl for his exaltation. The story of Mary doesn’t build my faith, if anything I lose trust in a god that treats women like property and if she was only 12 being betrothed to a man with grandsons older than her I am just as disgusted with god as I am with Joseph. It is a known fact that most 12 year old female bodies are not mature enough to handle the shock of sex and child birth. If god wanted women birthing children that young he sure did flaw in the creation of our bodies. Women and young girls have been abused for centuries throughout the world and religion encourages it with this kind of justification and excuse making. We have created a god that is patriachal and in the image of men. A god that delights in the virginity of women and a god who rewards his most faithful men with the gift of women (virgins)
Rather than try to justify this type of abuse we should put a stop to it. Stop making excuses for men and claiming that god is ok with this kind of behavior. From bible times to current times men have treated women like property for their pleasure and to bring forth their seed. I believe that one of gods greatest sorrows is the way in which his sons treat women.
It was wrong then, wrong now, always will be. Stop making excuses, own it. We know better now and as the “prophet of the restoration” I expect more from Joseph.
I would appreciate some scriptural, doctrinal, or logical evidence to support your generalized comment above. You call yourself a “doubter” and your comment leaves me thinking that you have lost faith – for instead of accepting the word of God and his sanction of these early marriages, you assume that God and Joseph are wrong and you are right.
“O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.” 2 Nephi 9:28
sxriptural references or doctrine for what? My opinion that the scriptures and the history of man is full of abuse towards women? I don’t believe God sanctioned polygamy in any era or that he is ok with the treatment of women throughout history. Those men were products of their time and culture and just because their stories happens to be in scriptural books doesn’t mean that god was ok with it. Yes I am a doubter. I’ve come to realize that when reading the scriptures and doctrines of religion god very much favors men above women and as a result I have lost faith in men-not god. I don’t assume god is wrong-Joseph was, yes. Throughout the history of the world humans have been trying to connect to a god of some sort and I believe all religions are man made, a way for men to try and figure things out. The Mormon church is no different. I believe god is a lot less involved in our lives than we think and there are way too many men who have given themselves authority to speak and act in his name to justify their own agendas. It’s funny how if I pray and get the answers the LDS church tell me to get it’s the spirit telling me it’s true and yet if I get any other answer I’m wrong and I need to keep praying until my answer aligns with what the church wants me to think. So if the spirit has testified to me that polygamy was wrong and that this church is not true it seems as if the spirit likes to play mind games. You being a man I would never expect you to understand how some women feel about polygamy or about how the world around us is so thick with patriarchy. You won’t see it because you are a man and these things have never had an effect on you. If you really study out polygamy and the abuse of women in all cultures and religions throughout time you will realize that it is not a good thing. If it was SO important to the restoration then why are we still not doing it? Of all the things going on in the USA in the 1830’s (slavery, destruction of natives, poverty, disease etc) god saw fit to establish polygamy??? It was so important to the restoration why??? It wasn’t-that’s the point-it wasn’t necessary then or now. it was a mistake. The Mormons weren’t the only ones doing it either. There were hundreds of other religious groups just like the Mormons who had a new prophet seeing visions, new scriptures, polygamy, Mormons were not the only ones.
“I don’t assume god is wrong-Joseph was, yes.” Either Joseph was a prophet of God or he wasn’t. He could not be wrong on this and still be a prophet. I believe him to be a prophet of God and if God thought he was righteous enough to be a prophet then I’m not about to disagree with God. If God commanded Joseph to institute plural marriage, I will look for what I don’t see rather than assuming flaws in the Lord’s servants.
“I’ve come to realize that when reading the scriptures and doctrines of religion god very much favors men above women and as a result I have lost faith in men-not god.” Katie, I find no such conditions in the scriptures. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has emphasized over and over that women are in no way inferior or less important than men. Every good man first has a good mother. Men and women are equal – each has special missions and purposes, to be sure – but all are equal in the sight of God.
“I believe all religions are man made, a way for men to try and figure things out.” Katie, I have a testimony of God. I know He is real. He has a plan for us – a way back to Him. He restored His church through Joseph Smith. If you are struggling to find answers, don’t give up or assume He won’t speak to you. He will. Pray to know if there is a God. Pray to know where and what He wants you to be.
I am also troubled by all of this. The fact that Joseph seemed to make a deal with Heber that he and his family would have exaltation in the Celestial kingdom if Joseph could have his daughter. This does not sound right to me.
If Joseph Smith was a prophet and received instruction from the Lord, then what he told them was nothing but the truth – the Lord’s instruction for the Kimball family. This sounds like an issue of personal testimony to me.
Caleb, do you believe that God takes away agency?
Because threatening someone with an angel and flaming sword, and then having them use that to… coerce a 14 year old into marriage… That’s pretty much AGAINST what our church teaches.
You said IF in your statement above. Do you also know that Joseph Smith told others that sometimes revelation came from God and sometimes it didn’t? I think maybe that Joseph Smith THOUGHT this revelation came from God. Maybe he really did think that. But it doesn’t fit with what we KNOW about God.
The idea you are portraying that Joseph made this all up doesn’t match when we see that others received the same witness.
Brigham Young and Heber Kimball are two men that come to mind who didn’t accept plural marriage easily. They both went through quite the ordeal before they received a witness from the Lord.
Brigham Young said that, upon learning of plural marriage, “it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave.” “I had to pray unceasingly,” he said, “and I had to exercise faith and the Lord revealed to me the truth of it…” As, I recall, Brigham also fasted for an extended length of time.
Heber was told that in order to live the principle he would have to give his wife to Joseph. The relationship between Heber and Vilate was incredibly strong and I can only imagine what that couple went through while making their decision. Both, however, received an answer and told Joseph that they were willing to live the principle. Joseph responded that it had all been a test and one account I read stated that Joseph’s told them that they were now worthy of the greatest blessings because they had been willing to sacrifice everything like Abraham. They then received the blessings of a temple sealing at Joseph’s hand.
It is wrong to portray these couples (Joseph and Emma, Brigham and Mary Ann, and Heber and Vilate) in any light other than that of faithful, righteous, and pure men and women of God who were sincerely living the will of the Lord.
It may not have been common but on what basis it was wrong? Legally wrong? No evidence of that it was. This whole age 18 thing is a 20th century standard. Morally wrong? That depends on the standard of what one basis their morality on. Perhaps morally wrong in a 2016 context but not a mid 19th century context. Wrong as the laws of God. No scripture would declare such an age gap being wrong nor a 14 year old marrying to be wrong. So when you say it was just wrong no matter what year it was, that is simply your opinion with no objective standard to base your opinion on. Have you ever entertained the idea that if you were raised in the 1830s or 40s you probably would have an entirely different view of this matter instead of being raised at this time?
By the logic of this article, I should be okay with my daughter getting married at 14 to a man in his 30s. Are you suggesting that I should support that? Would my bishop support it? If not, why?
This article suggests that God has supported that very thing in the past. We should not be challenging God’s approval in these marriages because of current societal norms and cultural opinions. Today, current law and norms make marriage that young highly abnormal. However, in that time, it was normal for arranged marriages such as this one with Joseph Smith and Helen Kimball to take place despite widely differing ages.
You ask if these principles apply to our modern society. The answer (at least for me) is that I would avoid breaking societal rules unless I had specific revelation and instruction from the Lord. It’s the principle of higher vs. lower laws. Today, God has not given specific instruction on the matter (i.e. told young women to or to not marry at 14) therefore I would obey societal rules unless they were overpowered by a higher law (instruction from God).
“Societal rules” didn’t support Joseph’s marriage to Helen Mar Kimball either. This is why I don’t find the article very compelling. I think the only argument that can be made is the belief that God commanded such a marriage. Using Mary’s relationship with God the Father and medieval European customs to assuage the distaste that people have for Joseph’s marriages is unconvincing.
Societal rules at the time (as has been stated and shared) would accept a 14-year old marrying a 38 year old. The article here, which has already been shared contains some diagrams and info on ages of marriages in Kirtland during that time.
“Using Mary’s relationship… to assuage the distaste that people have… is unconvincing.” If we cannot use the mother of Christ as an example of faithfulness, righteousness, and cleanliness in marriage, (even at such a young age) who can we use?
I haven’t questions Helen Mar Kimball’s faithfulness or righteousness. So I’m not sure what your point is with that comment.
As for the article, the diagrams lump together 14 yr old brides with 17, 18, 19, and 20 yr old brides. And it doesn’t show the ages of the grooms. In short, it doesn’t really prove that their marriage was normal (even if it wasn’t polygamous and coerced).
The point of remembering Mary’s pure, faithful character and marriage is to assure us that early marriages are normal and acceptable to God – that God Himself had a physical Son we call Jesus Christ, born through a very young virgin – Mary. If God Himself can be a part of a young marriage, then any ‘distaste’ we have for it is not morally justified, but based on our own cultural bias.
Not sure which diagram you’re looking at. The only diagram that lumps ages 14-20 together (12-5) is clarified and expanded in diagram 12-4 to show precise ages. Check out diagram 12-3. Combining diagram 12-2 and 12-3 can give us some important information. It shows relative ages of brides to grooms and also the number of recorded brides in Nauvoo. At this age (14-15) the youngest groom was 5 years older than the bride! Diagrams 12-4 and 12-5 show the age differences in Joseph’s marriages as compared to US Census averages.
This information is not the main point. Showing that such marriages were not as culturally distasteful or abnormal at the time only solidifies my case. Bottom line is that God has approved of such marriages and as such Joseph marrying a young girl would not be morally wrong even if this goes against current cultural opinions.
Also, can you give me evidence that these marriages (specifically Helen Kimball’s) was coerced? You keep saying this but don’t give proof.
I didn’t know we considered God to be married to Mary. Where do you get that from?
If you eliminate the data/charts that contain only Nauvoo (which is obviously not a representative sample of the greater culture of the time) you don’t have data specific enough to make the conclusion you are making.
In order to draw the conclusion that God approved of other early marriages and Joseph’s marriage to a 14 yr old, you’d need some kind of statement or action from God showing specific approval.
Have you read the accounts of how Helen Mar and some of the other young brides were convinced to enter marriages with Joseph? It seems clear that they were coerced by tying the marriages to the eternal salvation of the girl’s family.
We also should keep in mind that Joseph’s marriage to other women as highly illegal. I am also having a hard time justifying breaking the law and conducting these marriages in secret. I don’t think that is how God works
The principle here is higher vs. lower law. God’s law always overpowers man’s laws. If Joseph was a Prophet and received revelation from God to institute plural marriage, we are in no position to question the word of the Lord. The only thing that will help you accept these difficult questions is a solid testimony of the Prophet Joseph and the church.
So much for obeying, honoring and sustaining the law??????
Once again……the FLDS have a solid testimony of Joseph smith and his church. They believe they are living the higher law. Who are we to step in and say it’s wrong and that they can’t do it because it’s illegal? Shame on us for sending their prophet warren jeffs to prison just for living gods law.
Well if you belong to the FLDS god HAS given specific instruction on the matter. How do we know the FLDS prophets are not getting direct revelation from God as they say they are? They believe Joseph is their prophet, they study the same Book of Mormon and doctrine and covenants. According to them they are getting gods word directly from him on the issue so who’s to say we are right and they are wrong? They are practicing the Mormon church EXACTLY. Like it was under Joseph and Brigham. In fact I honestly believe that if Joseph or Brigham came back to the earth today they wouldn’t recognize the LDS church as their church-they would be looking for the FLDS
If your daughter, at age 14, has your trust and the same moral character as Mary, Rebekah or Helen M. K., by all means, go ahead. The world needs more good children.
I don’t think LDS Answers is suggesting anything: they are simply placing evidence in front of you and letting you decide. Are you suggesting to not support that? If so, what scriptural reason why?
We should ask ourselves the question: why is this concept of marriage between people of different ages so disgusting to us, and why is that so? Are we biased because of our culture?
I don’t believe that the world needs more good children to enter into underage marriages. And I don’t believe for a moment that you would ever want your own 14 year old daughter to marry a man in his late thirties. That aside…
The evidence LDS Answers presents is odd: Stoddard encourages the reader to throw off our current cultural prejudices and replace them with the cultural norms of Biblical and medieval times. I think she should have just stuck with the argument that it was okay because God commanded it.
Why do I think we shouldn’t have our 14 year old daughters get married? They are too young. And that isn’t a cultural prejudice. It’s just a fact of life.
All of this ignores the coercion that happened with these young polygamous marriages, but I guess that is a subject for another article.
Hannah Stoddard does not “encourage the reader to throw off… cultural prejudices and replace them with the cultural norms of Biblical… times” She simply makes the valid point that that these early marriages are right regardless of past or present cultural opinions. How do we know that they are right? Because God has sanctioned them over and over throughout the history of the house of Israel.
If Stoddard wasn’t encouraging the reader to re-examine biases based in cultural norms than why did she dedicate the first section of the essay to that topic? Why bring up teen brides of the renaissance?
So we should conclude that because God didn’t condemn the marriages of Mary to Joseph and Rebekah to Isaac that God is okay with girls as young as 10 being married? Why is that not okay now? The Church won’t even let girls that young enter the temple? Why the change in what God sanctions?
The first section of the article you reference was used to show that historically, early marriages have not been abnormal or uncommon. The article does not push for a return of these norms, it simply makes the main point that God has sanctioned and approved of early marriages – therefore Joseph’s marriage to a young woman was not morally wrong.
The times that Stoddard cites when “early marriages” were more accepted were not the times when Joseph was alive. Nor do her examples address a 20+ year age gap.
What do we consider the evidence that God approved of the two marriages cited? And how do we extrapolate that to Joseph’s case?
The article shows that early marriages are not morally wrong, then shows that they have been more culturally acceptable in the past. The first is the real point, the second just supports. See my other comment above about how God’s approval of these marriages applies to Joseph.
How does the article show ” that early marriages are not morally wrong”? Simply referencing Mary’s marriage to Joseph and Rebekah’s marriage to Isaac does not establish the moral rightness of a 14 year old girl marrying a man two decades her senior. Further, the ages of Mary and Rebekah are solely hypothesized based on apocryphal texts.
This is such a stretch to try to find a justification. Wouldn’t it be easier to admit Joseph may have made a mistake?
I read the essay, and am left questioning your basic premise. You started the essay with the idea that if we looked at what JS did through the lens of current culture, that we would end up with a very skewed vision of what actually happened.
Why then, did you spend so much energy trying to get me to look at it through the eyes of those in Renaissance Europe and Mary’s culture, which is 2000 years old?
I don’t follow that logic.
To be fair, let’s look at it from the prevailing culture of JS’s world. It was not unheard of for a 14 year old girl to marry back then. The issue is that it was definitely not common, and both parties were usually very young. It WAS unheard of, AND illegal in JS’s world (1800’s New England) for the groom to be a 37 year old married man who also happened to be her spiritual leader.
Your essay does not feel honest to me.
The point of the article is not to get you to see “through the eyes of those in Renaissance Europe and Mary’s culture.” The point is to understand that these early marriages are right and acceptable to God regardless of cultural opinions or societal norms. Quite frankly, if God has accepted it, I’m not going to disagree with Him. He knows right and wrong much better than our culture does.
You’re right. Marriage at 14 was not the average age of marriage, but it was accepted and not too uncommon. However, as far as I have found, women getting married that young were usually married to men significantly older than themselves. This article here shows some graphs that are helpful in plotting the ages of grooms compared to brides in Kirtland. Can you get me a source on your claim that it was “illegal in JS’s world for the groom to be a 37 year old”?
Caleb, I see what you did there…. You completely ignored the fact that polygamy was illegal in Illinois at the time JS was practicing it, and tried to frame my comment as to the age of JS at the time. I think you already knew that though. I never intended to, nor did I say or imply that “illegal in JS’s world for the groom to be a 37 year old”? So why the quotation marks?
As far as I understood, this is not a discussion of polygamy but whether or not it was morally wrong for Joseph to marry a 14-year old. I understood your statement about illegality to apply to it being illegal for a 37-year old to marry a 14-year old, not for a 37-year old to marry multiple wives. The quotation marks showed a quote from your previous comment. I apologize if it seemed taken out of context and purposely misinterpreted. That was not my purpose. Your statement did not mention polygamy or multiple wives, simply the age discrepancy in the marriage. I merely was asking for your source on what I thought to be your claim (that it was illegal for a 37-year old to marry a 14-year old).
If your question was dealing with the law of the land and conflicts with the law of God, there is a simple answer. We put God first. If God commands us to do something then we obey. His laws are the higher laws and “His ways are higher than [our] ways.”
Caleb, I have seen the graph you referred to before on fairmormon. I don’t think that the graph really shows what you think it does for two reasons:
First, there is no attachment of brides and grooms. In other words, all grooms of a certain age are on the same line, as well as the same for brides. the result is that one can only guess which brides are attached to which grooms.
Second, and more important is that this graph seems to be a sample of only Nauvoo marriages. (correct me if I am wrong)
Using the stats from Nauvoo during the time all of this was occurring says nothing about what the accepted standards of society were at the time. It only shows what was going on in Nauvoo, which, by all accounts, is nothing if not an anomaly.
I am an active member, not a detractor. I just have an issue when people use info as backup that really is misleading. We need to be taking the high road, not the misleading one.
Frankly, the info from your site and fair Mormon leaves a lot to be desired. No wonder the first presidency will not back you up.
Diagram 12-3 shows important information regarding marriages in Nauvoo. We can see that the youngest groom for a 14-15 year old bride in Nauvoo was 5 years older than the bride. This breaks up the myth that both were usually the same age. Diagrams 12-4 and 12-5 compare the age differences in Joseph’s marriages and the US Census – the cultural ‘norms’ and opinions. These diagrams show us that early marriages like this one of Joseph’s were far more common back then.
I’m not sure why you feel this info is “misleading”. Perhaps the diagrams were not properly understood or explained. “No wonder the first presidency will not back you up.” I didn’t claim the first presidency was backing me nor have you given evidence to show they are opposing me.
However, the real answer to the question here is that God has approved of early marriages (as shown by biblical examples) therefore they are not morally wrong.
Caleb, you need to address the elephant in the room. Joseph Smith, a married man at 38 years old, married a 14 year old girl under the auspice that her family would receive eternal life if she consented. If that isn’t coercion, what is? Citing norms in Nauvoo to justify this 38/14 marriage age is like stating 9/10 Pepsi employees prefer Pepsi. Pointless. Joseph even states that we should obey honor and sustain the law, so practicing polygyny in Illinois was illegal, so then what? Oh, God said it was ok….to who?…the guy committing the illegalities. SO, even if all of the above things can still be cognitively dissed in your mind…the elephant in the room that matters more to the entire JS polygyny issue is this….FIDELITY. What part of marrying women behind Emma’s back is honest, true chaste, benevolent and FAITHFUL? What part of D&C 132, stating that if Emma didn’t approve of JS polygyny she would be destroyed and Joseph’s wives would be added to him, comes from a loving kind and empathetic God????? The God I worship loves women and men. The God I worship wouldn’t tell a woman to get over the infidelity or be destroyed. Those here who have been the victims of infidelity understand the problem here. It is with this problem with JS Polygyny that I say…..who cares about marrying age, number of wives, marrying married women…..his lack of honesty and fidelity and treatment of Emma in the process says more about his character than any cultural norm.
Thanks Caleb, yes the graphs are confusing at best. I am not trying to “go to battle” with you, I hope you understand. It just confuses me how you are trying to only address the issue of girls marrying young. It takes the matter of polygamy out of the equation and, in my opinion, takes the conversation completely out of context. Joseph was indeed at least 37 when he promised H.C.K. and his whole family eternal salvation in exchange for allowing him to marry his 14 year old daughter. I’m not sure that promise was his to give. Seems like some kind of coercion was being used. He also lied to members, the public, and his own first wife regarding his actions. I cannot align myself with a God that would ask his servant to lie, nor do I think such a God exists. I understand that your final argument is, as Joseph said, that whatever God calls for is good, even if it seems wrong. If that is your answer, then let your essay say that. The whole renaissance/ Mary’s culture thing just gets tedious, especially when you first tell me that I shouldn’t look at it through my modern interpretation. In the end, we are brothers in Christ, and I hope you don’t feel harassed by my line of thinking. The church could use way more transparency. That is the only way to regain the trust of those, like me, who feel that they have been purposely misled. In reference to my comment about the first presidency not backing you up, my only point was that it is sad that there is nothing coming to us as church members from them on these issues. The fact that the only defenses being given are by apologists such as yourself is not comforting to me. Just my opinion. Thanks for your time, Caleb!
This article is fantastic. ‘My ways are not your ways’, says the Lord. We would do well not to lean on our own understanding. Our culture is not what the Lord would organize us into that much is clear. If anything the Lord performs in His work is outside our paradigm of understanding, wouldn’t it be wise to seek counsel from the Lord and not expect His ways to conform to our preferences which are taught of men?
Brigham Young supported himself at 14. Mormon led an army at 15. Joseph Smith spoke with God at 14. David was 12 when he killed Goliath. It would appear we put limitations many times where God does not.
Too many people do not understand the ways of God. They are so caught up in the society and culture they live in that they begin to think that just because something goes against their own culture or societal laws it must be against the laws of God. That is just one way I could go with my defense, but I will take a different route.
First off, I would like to state that I am the son of a polygamist. I am part of an awesome polygamist family. I have a very strong testimony of plural marriage. I dare to stand and defy anybody who believes it is against the commandments of God. Not only have several prophets advocated and lived it, but, in the New Testament, Jesus himself praises Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (all polygamists). Also not to mention that every single prophet has looked forward to the building of the Latter Day Zion, which just happens to have the names of twelve men who were the sons of a polygamist written on the gates? or walls, I forget. Not only does plural marriage make complete sense logically, but also, when lived righteously, it brings forth good fruit. For example, counting myself, my polygamist father has sent 7 sons on missions for the church with several more still not even old enough to go yet. Now, I don’t mean to boast or anything, but practically everybody that has met and knows my family loves us to death. We were contemplating moving one time and the Bishop of our ward said that he was praying that we WOULDN’T!
Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. He is a TRUE prophet of God. True prophets don’t reveal false teachings. A good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit. Those who disagree with plural marriage or Joseph’s practice of it are either ignorant or prideful.
Aren’t we supposed to judge things based on their fruit and not by our own cultural standards? Think about it.
I challenge all those who question or doubt the divine authenticity of plural marriage to spend time with my family for a while. See for yourself what the fruit tastes like.
Jarom, I have no doubt that your family is absolutely awesome! Family is the best, for sure. I think your understanding and my understanding differ somewhere, though, and I’d appreciate some help in seeing your point of view.
As I understand it (see Jacob 2:27-30), plural marriage is only authorized when commanded by the Lord, and is otherwise not sanctioned by God. (Not that he necessarily personally commands every instance when a couple should enter a plural marriage, but that he gives a general commandment to the saints). I know the Lord commanded many prophets throughout history to enter plural marriages, and I don’t have any problem with that. I know he did the same in the early days of the Church, and I have no problem with that either. I know he will re-establish the practice at some future date, and I hope I am humble and faithful enough to accept that commandment when it comes. But it is my understanding that the Lord commanded the Saints to discontinue the practice of plural marriage (therefore making it no longer authorized) in the mid 1800s.
This chapter from the D&C institute manual gives a summary of the history of plural marriage in the restored Church.
This is the understanding I was raised with, and my parents have always been careful to back up their instruction with scripture and quotations from prophets and apostles. I think it’s pretty safe to say that you were raised with a different understanding. 🙂 But it’s also clear that you and your family are an amazing, righteous, and faithful bunch, so I’m just trying to reconcile what I’ve always understood as God’s law currently with what you’ve shared.
Could you lend me a hand? Or a brain, as it were? 🙂
In reply to some comments that people in the 1800’s didn’t get married that young, I would like to put forth an example of my Grandfather and Grandmother. In 1891 my Grandmother married my Grandfather when she was 16 years old and he was 24 years old (8 years older). My Grandmother had her first child when she was just 17 years old. And she went on to bear 12 children, my father being the 12th and last child. There was never any stigma attached to their marriage. It was a beautiful marriage and they lived a good long life together, both dying in their 80’s. I don’t put much faith in the veracity of the Gnostic “Gospel of James” or “Pseudo-Matthew” or other writings from long after the 1st century. They don’t agree with the Biblical writings in the Four Gospels, and with other historical documents. You can’t “prove” any point from fictional stories written by people living many centuries later. It is like reading about “The Three Musketeers” or other novels which are loosely based on historical events.
It doesn’t matter what society says. Since when did God change things to help His people fit in with society? We as servants of God, are supposed to abide by God’s law. God changes not.
Joseph Smith said “I make this my motto, when God commands, do it.” I believe that the Lord commanded Joseph to do what he did and that Joseph Smith’s obedience to God is what led him at all times. It has been said that what people often see as faults in the Prophet, was really him obeying God. Let us not be too hasty in finding faults with the Lord’s anointed servants, as we normally don’t know the whole story. As for me, I have a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and that -to use the words of President Gordon B. Hinkley- “he HAS entered God’s kingdom, crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.” Thank you for this article!
Anyone who really knows me, knows that I don’t get into church history. I know the Book of Mormon is true and that the priesthood is restored and that is all I need.
I’m going come out and say it: I don’t know if polygamy was right at that time. I don’t. However, I know that some things aren’t given for me to know in this life. I know that I must act in faith.
As a young woman, close to Helen’s age, I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t have reservations to polygamy. Some have suggested pressure and force. I don’t think Heber or Joseph would have pressured or forced this young woman to do anything. This is my opinion based on what I know of their character. HOWEVER, neither do I think Helen would have gone through with it without special promptings or revelations. I know for certain, that I wouldn’t have gone through with it without that.
People may debate about Joseph’s morals on being in his late 30s, already married, and marrying a girl midteens—- but that is in the past. I am not saying “shove it under the carpet” or “that it was acceptable,” I am saying that it is in the past. Frankly, we can’t reverse time. The saddest part is, we can’t even address what is happening in the world today. That some people, against their will, have been exposed. That people, both married and unmarried, have taken advantage of their exposure. We can’t be in the past, but we can see and change the future.
I will not question the Lord’s timing, character, or will on the matter of polygamy. His ways are higher than my ways, and so are His thoughts. His laws are even higher than the world’s laws. His mysteries will eventually be revealed and made clear to me as they will be to you— if not in this life, but in the next.
My grandmother got married to my grandfather when she was 14. My grandfather was a 41 year old widower, with 5 children: the oldest was 13 and the younger one was 4 years old. He was a orthodox Catholic, she was evangelical. He was very kind towards her and all her step children and children loved her dearly. They had 8 children together, my mom was his 12th child.
Of course you know that both Romeo & Juliet were suppose to be young and is a story about young chosen love that went against the wishes of both families. They desired to make those arrangements themselves and not allow them to choose for themselves. On the apocryphal accounts I also remember reading that Johns father, who was the High Priest Zachariah, placed the rod or staff of Moses next to each of the chosen men of Israel. When the staff came next to Joseph, the rod started to bud and blossom showing the chosen one of Israel to be the husband of Mary. Later Zachariah was killed for holding back information where the children were. Herod saught the life of the first born thinking his son may have also been the one they were looking for.
Possibly also worth noting that marrying at that age was no weirder then than a girl marrying at 19 is now. It was a bit unusual, but certainly not considered immoral. It is unlikely that the critics of Joseph Smith in this regard do not have relatives from that time that also married girls of comparable age. Among my own relatives from that time period I know of a girl (not a Mormon) who was married at the age of 16 to a much older man. I know of another girl who was married at 15. These were acceptable ages for a girl to marry at the time. We live in a day of long life and I don’t think we have any idea what it would mean to us to live acquainted with death as they were and to grow up seeing from the lives of our neighbors and relatives that many of us would not live past our 40s, and a fair number would not even live that long. Younger marriage is quite natural in a society that grows up knowing that life will often to prove to be short.
I do not see where it is for us to judge the Prophet Joseph Smith. I have a firm testimony of his calling as the Prophet, Head of the Last Dispensation.
Personally, my grandmother was married at the age of 14 in 1937. She was more mature than girls of 14 today. It was a tough life and you had to be strong, mature at an earlier age.
I rely so much on personal revelation and go to Heavenly Father for my answers. You must take the customs and morals of the times into context with the statement or comments by those of the past. We also must remember even as Joseph said, “I am just a man” as all of the others since. They are men called as Prophets which they would be the first to say they are not perfect. Either we sustain them as Prophets or we don’t. That is for us to decide and be accountable for at the Judgement seat of Heavenly Father and His Son.
This is the first I have ever heard of Joseph being a widower before marrying Mary. Or of Mary being the adopted mother of James. Thanks for sharing this! I have often wondered about the scriptural accounts in the Bible of babies who are entrusted into the care of the High Priests so as to assist with service in the temple, etc… Perhaps this was something that the Lord hasn’t intended to restore yet? It does make more sense as to why Christ was found in the temple teaching at such a young age though- if that was what his mother had previously done.
Also, I haven’t read this account of Joseph Smith referring to Brigham and Heber as lifting their “heel” against him in this way before. It does make sense that it could be interpreted this way though I get a sense that Joseph was not thrilled participating in the act, regardless.
Terrific article. I cannot thank you enough for posting it and leaving it online. There many important things I could say in acknowledgement and in full support; but today you reminded me of something critical, in my own journey, not to get hung up about age. Thank you.
Hello it’s Aaron with 2 a’s and no e’s here to say that comparing the culture of medevil Europe to mid 19th century America is a leap to say the least. As I can tell from your past messages you seem to have no issue with a man who looked at a stone in a hat to recieve word from god marrying a teenager. If I started telling people I can talk to god and they said to give me you’re teenagers I would be arrested, as I should be. But of course an all knowing being wouldn’t tell the man who was chosen to bring the “one true church” that marrying teenagers is bad and inmoral but alas I guess that if god had no problems with it it’s fine for anyone to marry a teenager under the age of 18, after all they are past the age of accountablity. So thank you Caleb Young for explaining that if anyone has an issue with someone marrying a 14 is wrong and has no idea what they are talking about.
This article is also as biased as Brigham Young was against African Americans. For a website called LDS Answers this only gives one answer. Shouldn’t this use 2 author’s for a defensive and offensive approach to allow the reader to decide which article has stronger evidence and stronger points? Under my teachings in the church is that Satan’s plan was to get everyone to live to same to put it in basic terms. Doesn’t only giving one answer that the author only got to by going in with the answer they want follow Satan’s plan? Please reconsider paying to keep this website up next time the payment’s due (fixed spelling errors)
The internet is dominant with the opposing view (even if they pretend otherwise). Not sure why more of it helps here. I dont see this as journalism.
1. Smith has 12 kids with his wife.
2. He has no kids with dozens of other wives.
When you realize all your attempts to discover the truth are completely misguided. Genius.
(oh and “timing method” of conception fails 24% of the time)