Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Emma Smith and Eliza R. Snow were both 32 years of age when they became friends.

In 1835 Emma and Joseph invited Eliza to board with them while she taught a girls school. "Eliza was not fond of teaching school, but living in Emma's home offered a compensation: Eliza watched Joseph" (Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Tippetts and Avery, p. 61).

On March 17, 1842 the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo was formed with Emma Smith as president. Emma chose Elizabeth Ann and Sarah Cleveland as her counselors and Eliza as secretary.

On 29 June 1842 Eliza R. Snow and Joseph were married in secret. At the time Eliza was living with Sarah Cleveland. Sarah's husband, John Cleveland, was living several blocks away. It seems likely that Sarah was also married to Joseph by this time.

"Sarah and Eliza knew that Emma regarded them with respect and affection. While women who became Joseph's wives were able to accept the principle of plural marriage as a revelation from God, they still had to grapple silently and alone with their betrayal of Emma. To live as a secret wife to a friend's husband demanded evasion, subterfuge, and deception. For these sincerely devout and faithful women, their duplicity regarding Emma must have prompted guilt and anxiety." (Mormon Enigma:Emma Hale Smith, Newell and Avery p. 120).

Emma worked tirelessly to promote the church, nurture the people and notably to combat accusations of polygamous practices within the church. All the while the members of this group of women, this 'Relief Society', continued to marry Emma's husband in secret.

Louisa Beaman married Joseph April 5, 1841
Agnes Coolbrith Smith married Joseph before June 1842 (she was the widow of Joseph's brother, Don Carlos).
Sarah Cleveland married Joseph in 1842 (this date is not certain but the marriage is)
Elizabeth Durfee married Joseph before June 1842 (this date is not certain but the marriage is)
(The above 2 women were older women who were sometimes referred to as "Mothers in Israel", their job was to teach the younger women the principles of plural marriage).

These women all served in the Relief Society 'supporting' Emma as president whilst married to her husband! As well as these women who were married to Joseph, there were others in the organisation who knew of the plural marriages but kept the secret from Emma.

Joseph addressed the Relief Society on May 26 1842 "There is another error which opens a door for the adversary to enter. As females posses refined feelings and sensitiveness, they are also subject to an overmuch zeal which must ever prove dangerous, and cause them to be rigid in capacity. [You] should be arm'd with mercy notwithstanding the iniquity among us.... Put a double watch over the tongue...[You] should chasten and reprove and keep it all in silence, not even mention them again... One request to the Prest. and society, that you search yourselves--the tongue is an unruly member--hold your tongues about things of no moment. A little tale will set the world on fire. At this time the truth on the guilty should not be told openly--strange as this may seem, yet this is policy. We must use precaution in bringing sinners to justice lest in exposing these heinous sins, we draw the indignation of a gentile world upon us (and to their imagination justly, too). It is necessary to hold an influence in the world and thus to spare ourselves an extermination" Joseph contradicted his previous charge that the women watch over the morals of the community. Emma was doing her job too well. " (Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Tippetts and Avery, p.115).

Emma discovered Eliza's secret in early 1843. There is much folklore surrounding the discovery. Tales were told of Emma catching Joseph and Eliza in an embrace outside of his bedroom (Emma's room was on one side of Joseph's room, Eliza's was on the other!) and that Emma then flew into a fury and flung Eliza down the stairs. Some stories claim that Eliza was carrying Joseph's child at the time and miscarried as a result of the fall. Whatever the details it is certain that Emma would have been deeply hurt and shocked by the news.

Shame on the church for their treatment of Emma in their history. Shame on the church for their god-like portrayal of Joseph.

I know of members who believe that the practice of plural marriage was an awful, terrible mistake. They still choose to remain members of the church. They believe that Joseph made a mistake but that he was still a prophet who spoke to god and translated the Book of Mormon. I personally believe he was a complete fraud but my point here is that I hope that members of the church will at least look into the matter of plural marriage, not for my sake, god no, but for Emma and all of the women and men who suffered from the practice.


  1. FIRST! YES!
    The evidence (circumstancial, anecdotal, actual, whatever), is certainly stacked against Ol' Joe. What gets me is the sheer magnitude of the deception and the close proximity of the infidelities. And the deception continues still.
    Come, come, ye saints.

  2. Do I detect some sexual innuendo in your last sentence or have I just been living with your sexual innuendos for too long!?

  3. Hey Maureen, would you characterise the Church's current depiction of Emma as net positive? I imagine she probably got discussed more in Relief Society than in EQ, but my experience has been that she was most often talked about in favourable terms.

  4. To be honest with you I have not spent that much time in Relief Society, most of my callings were in Primary or Young Women's. I did however witness discussions (in class situations) of Emma being a strong woman but these compliments always seemed to be overshadowed by comments about her having gone 'wrong' toward the end of her life.

    I actually would attribute some female jealousy to these discussions. It seems to be a sad reality that women like to tear each other down and can actually do more damage to each others reputations than the men would ever dare to do.

    Overall, I don't remember hearing much about Emma. That fact in itself was and is disturbing to me. Having now read much more about her life than I ever learned at church I am even more disappointed at the lack of honour Mormons give to her. She really was remarkable and gave so much of herself for the church.

    I feel sick thinking about the honoured status given to Eliza R. Snow. I'm willing to bet you that a good 75% of the adult membership do not even realise that she was married to Joseph while he was alive. Not to mention the awful secrecy and betrayal surrounding the marriage.

  5. I never really heard much mentioned about Eliza R Snow. I'd read about her, but I don't recall hearing much specific about her on Sundays.
    Emma is certainly an interesting character though. I wonder what comments she would leave here if she was alive to read your blog?

  6. I heard quite a bit about Eliza in YW and RS. I think that she was supposed to be a hero for us.

    I hope that what I write would be acceptable to Emma, especially since she is one of my main subjects. I do feel some sympathy for the 'villains' in my pieces, like Joseph and Eliza but my main drive I suppose is feeling that I want to somehow give Emma a bit of a voice here. In her day women did not have as many choices. I would like to spend some of my lovely 'spare time' writing for her. I wish she were here to help with the details!

  7. Bikini Guru here.
    I grew up in the church and certainly Eliza R. Snow was a revered figure. And no, I never had any idea of the duplicity she had been involved in. I think she probably was a very good woman who was very conflicted at being told by a "prophet" that she should have sex with another woman's husband, and lie about it. I can only imagine the horror of being in that situation. One never tends to think about it, but were these women even attracted to JS? How much of this was under sufference, and trying to love him and do the right thing because it was what god wanted? This is emotional manipulation at it's best...and worst.

  8. There are many questions that I have as far as attraction goes. Was Joseph an attractive, charismatic man who woo'd women and made them feel special, for a moment or two.. here and there.. or, were the women/girls conflicted by their own feelings or lack of feelings towards him but felt they had to comply due to family pressure, not to mention pressure from god?

  9. A lot of them left first hand accounts, sometimes diary entries, describing their reactions.

  10. I really need to read 'In Sacred Loneliness', I just got to a point of saturation a while back where I couldn't bear to read anymore about Mormon polygamy. I also need to re-read 'Mormon Enigma' and pay attention to the first hand accounts there.

  11. My dad just told me about a first hand account recently published by Eliza R. Snow that Joseph was her one true love...

    I kind of think that JS was really charismatic and wooed the women really well and if they hesitated at first then he threw in the God and salvation and stuff. He was probably a fair lover and the women soon felt they were somewhat important and there you go...even though they were pretty lonely since they didn't have him all the time. I mean when he's THE PROPHET...they were probably tickled pink about it...sounds a lot like many of the polygamist cult leaders today. shudder

  12. Hi anonymous with a dad who has useful info... I think I just figured out who you might be :)

    Interesting word choice for a polygamist relationship. "One true love". So what about Joseph then, he never had "one true love" at least I hope he never said that to any of his wives! ...And the women that Joseph married who were already married, their husbands "One true love" was on time-share.