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.”