I read about the following information in this book:
Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery (Doubleday, 1984).
It would appear that Joseph first introduced the subject of plural marriage through a revelation received near Jackson County, Missouri, on July 17, 1831. You can read it here.
Newell and Avery suggest that although Joseph seems to have believed that he was commanded by God to establish plural marriage he was not given specific instructions as to it's implementation. They go on to outline how this made things very difficult for Emma.
Mary Elizabeth Rollins married Joseph Smith in Feb of 1842 at the age of 24. Rollins recounts a conversation between herself and Joseph in 1831 when she was just 12 years old. She said Joseph "told me about his great vision concerning me. He said I was the first woman God commanded him to take as a plural wife." ( Mormon Enigma p.65. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner to Emmeline B. Wells, summer 1905, LDS Archives).
Less than 6 months later Emma and Joseph moved into the John Johnson home. (See this post) Newell and Avery suggest that "Perhaps Joseph was not discreet in his discussions about plural marriage, because rumor and insinuation fed the fury of the mob that tarred and feathered him. When the Johnson boys joined the mob that entered their own home, they clearly suspected an improper association between Joseph and their sixteen-year-old sister, Nancy Marinda." (Mormon Enigma p. 65).
"William E. McLellin, a member of the Twelve wrote in an 1872 letter about an incident related to him by Frederick G. Williams in 1838. McLellin wrote that Joseph "committed an act with a Miss Hill--a hired girl" : near the time of Joseph III's birth. "Emma saw him and spoke to him... he desisted, but Mrs. Smith refused to be satisfied. [Joseph] called in Dr. Williams. O. Cowdery, and S. Rigdon to reconcile Emma. But she told them just as the circumstances took place. He found he was caught. He confessed humbly, and begged forgiveness. Emma and all forgave him. She told me this story was true". " (Mormon Enigma pp. 65-66).
Around the time of the birth of Emma's second son, Frederick, a similar incident occurred. Fanny Alger came to live with Emma and Joseph as a hired girl. She was 19 years old at the time. It is claimed that Joseph married Fanny in 1836. In an 1872 letter McLellin wrote that Emma noticed both Fanny and Joseph missing one night, and went to look for them. She "saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through the crack and saw the transaction!!!" (Mormon Enigma p. 66). Newell and Avery further explain that "Joseph's theology may have allowed him to marry Fanny, but Emma was not ready to share her marriage with another woman. When Fanny's pregnancy became obvious, Emma forced her to leave." (Mormon Enigma p. 66).
The incident drove a serious wedge between Oliver Cowdery and Joseph. Oliver wrote to his brother "When [Joseph] was here we had some conversation in which in every instance I did not fail to affirm that what I had said was strictly true. A dirty nasty, filthy affair of his and Fanny Alger's was talked over in which I strictly declared that I had never deviated from the truth in the matter... just before leaving, he wanted to drop every past thing, in which had been a difficulty or a difference--he called witnesses to the fact, he gave me his hand in their presence". (Mormon Enigma p. 66).
So, here is just the tip of the iceberg. I feel sick. Can you imagine Emma hugely pregnant, then going through labour, recovering, looking after a newborn... meanwhile Joseph is off with some teenager!
Did Joseph come up with an ingenious way to satisfy his sexual desires? A theology including plural marriage. No adultery, they were married, how very legal and happy for everyone!
And the mens club!! let's shake hands and be friends again. Never mind the deplorable way we treat our women, us men can rise above the muck!
Tell me your thoughts people. What is your reaction? Do you want to spit chips like me? Do you feel incensed? or can you accept it?