Wednesday’s Book Review: “More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910”

More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910. By Kathryn M. Daynes. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001). 305 pp. $34.95.

Plural marriage was by far Joseph Smith’s most controversial doctrine. The Mormon founder began the practice in the 1830s and established it as a central part of the Mormon religion in the 1840s. It defined the religion’s distinctiveness until the beginning of the twentieth century. Accordingly, and appropriately, it has received considerable historical attention. Kathryn Daynes’ More Wives than One offers an in-depth look at the long-term interaction between belief and the practice of polygamy among the Mormons in the central Utah town of Manti.

Following the obligatory, and rather unsatisfactory, opening chapter on the origins of Mormon plural marriage in Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois, Daynes begins a sustained analysis of polygamy in Manti. She shows that plural marriage followed no monolithic pattern there, but that each approach had its own rights and responsibilities. Using biographical and demographic data she also demonstrates the factors shaping the practice, analyses the ingredients of plural marriage, and explores how it evolved over time.

Daynes discusses how Mormon marriage practices solidified a patriarchal model of society, one that diverged sharply from the “companionate” model of marriage and egalitarian social ideas then taking hold in mainstream America. This divergence prompted resistance from elsewhere in the United States, eventually forcing ending of the practice by the church.

This is a well done work that provides important insights into the Mormon’s “peculiar institution.”

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One Response to Wednesday’s Book Review: “More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910”

  1. Al Pratt says:

    When the Mormon church says they have nothing to do with polygamy, they should add, that is, not any more and not at this time. Mormon doctrine defends their earlier practice of polygamy as God-mandated, still allows for multiple wives in the hereafter, suggests that God Himself may be a polygamist, and holds that God may someday reinstate polygamy. The book It’s Not About the Sex My A** by Joanne Hanks does a good job explaining much of that. Or read the Doctrine and Covenants (which the Mormons regard as scripture), Section 132, where God out-and-out states that taking multiple wives is a COMMANDMENT.


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