Table of Contents

Helen Mar Kimball Smith Whitney
Were there sexual relations in the marriage of Joseph Smith and his youngest wife, Helen Mar Whitney, fourteen at the time of her marriage to Smith? First of all, some preliminary points. Anderson and Faulring hint that I should have referred to her as "nearly fifteen." (p. 79.) This kind of terminology might be understandable if she had been a week or so away from fifteen, but she was three months away. But even if she had been a week away, she would have still been fourteen till the date of her birthday. Anderson and Faulring are not facing up to the truth here.

Then Anderson and Faulring suggest that Helen was "approaching eligibility." Here, they should have included documentation to support the idea that marriage at fourteen was "approaching eligibility." Actually, marriages even two years later, at the age of sixteen, occurred occasionally but infrequently in Helen Mar's culture. If we take a random sample of the marriage ages of the women in my book who married before they were sealed to Joseph Smith, we have the following: Lucinda Pendleton, 18. Zina Huntington, 20. Presendia Huntington, 16. Agnes Coolbrith, 27. Patty Bartlett, 17. Sylvia Sessions, 19. Mary Rollins, 17. Marinda Johnson, 18, Elizabeth Davis, 20, Sarah Kingsley, 19, Delcena Johnson, 22, Martha McBride, 21, Ruth Vose, 33, Elvira Cowles, 29, Fanny Young, 18.

Thus, girls marrying at fourteen, even fifteen, was very much out of the ordinary. Sixteen was comparatively rare, but not unheard of. So Helen was quite far from usual ages of eligibility, seventeen or eighteen.[40]

Now we approach the question of sexuality in the marriage of Helen Mar and Joseph Smith. Anderson and Faulring represent that I take the position that there were sexual relations between Helen Mar and Smith. Compton "writes as though it is likely that Helen's sealing to Joseph Smith included marital relations." (p. 80). Compton "leaves it open to assume this was a sexual adjustment." (p. 80) Having typecast me into the Brodie sexualist camp, Anderson and Faulring then strongly take the position that it is a virtual certainty that there was no sexuality in this marriage ["there is every reason not to assume a sexual dimension", 80] and lambast my purported "sexual" position for the rest of that section.

Anderson and Faulring's treatment leaves me taken aback, for I nowhere say that Helen Mar and Joseph had sexual relations. The most important passages from my book in this respect are as follows:

Interestingly, Joseph's youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball, was the daughter of another loyal apostle, Heber C. Kimball, so that marriage may also be considered dynastic, not motivated solely by sexual interest. (In Sacred Loneliness, 12) Some conclude that Helen Mar Kimball, who married Smith when she was fourteen, did not have marital relations with him. This is possible, as there are cases of Mormons in Utah marrying young girls and refraining from sexuality until they were older. But the evidence for Helen Mar is entirely ambiguous, in my view. (In Sacred Loneliness, 14) Orson Whitney wrote, "Soon after the revelation [to Vilate] was given, a golden link was forged whereby the house of Heber and Joseph were indissolubly and forever joined. Helen Mar. . . was given to the Prophet in the holy bonds of celestial marriage." This marriage, like that of Smith to Sarah Whitney, looks to be almost purely dynastic, as Whitney's language ("golden link" "the houses of Heber and Joseph") shows. (In Sacred Loneliness, 497)

My position, actually, is that there is no evidence, pro or con, for sexual relations. You cannot prove that there were sexual relations; you cannot prove that there were no sexual relations. Notice that I do not simply say "ambiguous"; I say "entirely ambiguous."

But, the reader may ask, what is my best guess? I remember talking with my publisher Gary Bergera on the phone once during the editorial process and I restated the cautious "no evidence either way" position. But Gary pressed: "But what do you think? What is your best guess?" And I answered that my best guess was that there were no sexual relations, based on parallels from some marriages to underage women in Utah polygamy.

A careful reader, I believe, would have understood that this was the way I was leaning from the quotes above. First of all, while not removing the idea of sexual/spiritual attraction altogether, I assert that the Helen Mar marriage was primarily ("almost purely") dynastic, mostly motivated by the desire of Heber Kimball and Joseph Smith to link their families. This removes me from the Brodie sexualist camp.

Second, I provide evidence for the possibility that there were no sexual relations by drawing the parallels from Utah polygamy. See In Sacred Loneliness, p. 638, section "marrying underage women," which gathers three sources showing deferred sexual relations in the cases of underage women marrying older men.

So, if I was not hinting that there was a "sexual adjustment" after the Helen Mar / Joseph Smith marriage, what was I suggesting? My view, based on Helen's short 1881 reminiscence, is that she married Joseph thinking the marriage would be "for eternity alone," linking the houses of Heber and Joseph. In my reconstruction, she may have understood that she would be free to date in her peer group and marry someone else for time.

I think Helen Mar had already become interested in Horace Whitney, the brother of her best friend, Sarah Ann Whitney. So when she came to understand that the marriage included time (therefore she would be allowed no dating, no marriage to Horace), she was understandably devastated, as she was not in love with Joseph Smith. If I were to isolate one event that may have triggered this realization, it is when Joseph and Heber Kimball would not let her attend a dance at the Mansion House. (In Sacred Loneliness, 502.) I emphasize how this event might have triggered Helen's realization that the marriage to Joseph included time. [41]

Anderson and Faulring, I believe, misinterpret Helen's statement that "The step I now am taking's for eternity alone." (p. 80, In Sacred Loneliness, 499). The poem clearly shows that this was her original understanding, but she later had to abandon it. (See the section of the poem at In Sacred Loneliness, 500.)

This is a painful story. I tend to think that dynastic marriages, arranged by male parents (Helen's mother clearly opposed the marriage), without authentic courtship, are always a mistake, and adversely affect the young woman involved; and I also think that plural marriages to young teens are unwise, and have set an example that has had unfortunate consequences even in contemporary Utah, as recent events in fundamentalist polygamist groups in Utah show. [42] Nevertheless, in the issue under discussion, sexuality in the Helen Mar marriage, though I do not see proof on either side, I lean toward the non-sexuality interpretation, as Anderson and Faulring do. (Though they seem to regard it completely certain.)

As I was writing this response, I talked about my book with a conservative friend of mine, the wife of a bishop, and more conservative than her husband I think, and the subject of the Helen Mar chapter came up. Did that chapter bother you, I asked? No, she said, because there was no sexuality involved.

So once again, in this case, I took a moderate, even conservative position. We are left to wonder why Anderson and Faulring portrayed me as pushing the most extreme sexual interpretation possible in this volatile topic of Joseph Smith's youngest wife. It is almost as if they wished I had written an anti-Mormon, a neo-Brodie book, so they attacked the book they wished I had written. I believe that here again, Anderson and Faulring misread the point of view of a moderate, who tries to look at both valid "positive" and valid "problematic" evidence and make a synthesis. So they leapt to the judgment that portrayed me as a Brodie disciple or an anti-Mormon and attacked my supposed thesis on that basis.

Sexuality in the Polyandrous Marriages
On p. 84, Anderson and Faulring quote my statement reflecting the union of Zina Huntington Jacobs and Joseph Smith, "Nothing specific is known about sexuality in their marriage, though judging from Smith's other marriages, sexuality was probably included." They respond, "This is an example of many questionable conclusions in this book that are overly broad, nonspecific, or undocumented."[43] My statement is actually very undogmatic and cautious. I straightforwardly state that there is no specific evidence on sexuality in the Zina marriage that I know of. Then I state, judging from other Smith marriages that included sexuality, it was "probably" included, not certainly. I allow the reader to assess the evidence and make his or her own conclusion. However, Anderson and Faulring's sentence, which is quite sweeping and general in its own right, gives the impression that my book largely consists of sexual innuendo based on no evidence. ("questionable conclusions . . . undocumented.")

I'm not sure exactly where Anderson and Faulring are going with their argument here, but it seems to be an attempt to make a case for as little sexuality in Joseph Smith's marriages as possible. As I have mentioned above, sexuality is an accepted aspect of marriages, polygamous or monogamous. I do not find it especially controversial in a polygamous marriage. And while an overemphasis on sex creates a tone of yellow journalism (a failing I have criticized Brodie for), attempts to ignore it completely or underemphasize it are also unhealthy.

In the case of the polyandrous marriages, Anderson and Faulring apparently are going in the direction of proposing that there was no sexuality involved in any of them. Thus, they would have to regard Sylvia Sessions as a conspicuous exception, if they accept the Fisher affidavit, which they apparently do (p. 83). Theoretically, they could argue, out of eleven cases (I strongly doubt that their rejection of Jensen's reliability will hold up, see below), in ten cases there is no evidence for sexuality. In only one case do we have evidence, they might argue, so we can view it as an exception.

There is some ambiguity in the evidence here, so I can understand such an argument. However, in my view, it is unconvincing. A survey of the evidence for the eleven women in question (looking at whether there is an autobiography recording the marriage, a record of the sealing with valid information, and whether the marriage was for time / eternity or for eternity only), will be helpful. I asterisk the wives for whom we have some significant evidence.

Lucinda Harris -- never came west, no autobiographical writings, not part of affidavit drive.

*Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs -- autobiographical writings, but no certain evidence, pro or con, on sexuality. On the issue of time/eternity, the evidence is entirely ambiguous. However, Zina's biographers, Bradley and Woodward, note that while Zina did not explicitly say her marriage with Joseph Smith was consummated, she signed an affidavit saying she was Joseph Smith's wife "in very deed," which they take as evidence that the marriage was consummated.[44] BYU historian Kathyrn Daynes also seems to interpret "in very deed" this way.[45]

Presendia Huntington Buell -- no real autobiographical writings on the subject.

*Sylvia Sessions Lyon – her daughter, Josephine Lyon Fisher, left an important affidavit affirming that she (Josephine) was Smith's child. So this is the most explicit evidence for sexuality and offspring in all of Smith's plural marriages, polyandrous or polygynist.

*Mary Rollins Lightner -- autobiographical writings. No evidence pro or con on sexuality. However, there is evidence that the marriage was for time as well as eternity. Mary said she knew of some of Joseph Smith's children by plural wives.

*Patty Sessions -- no autobiographical writings, but a record of the marriage ceremony in her diary shows that it was for time as well as eternity.

Marinda Johnson Hyde -- no autobiographical writings or other significant evidence.

Elizabeth Davis Durfee -- no autobiographical writings or other significant evidence. Not part of affidavit-seeking drive, as she ended up RLDS.

Sarah Kingsley Cleveland -- did not come west, not part of affidavit drive. No autobiographical writings or other significant evidence on this issue.

Ruth Vose Sayers -- no autobiographical writings or other significant evidence on this issue.

Elvira Cowles Holmes -- no autobiographical writings or other significant evidence on this issue.

Thus, there are only four polyandrous wives who left us significant evidence about the marriage to Smith. Of these cases, one explicitly said she had a child by Smith, and two others affirmed that the marriages were for time as well as eternity. Another strongly hinted in a formal affidavit that the marriage had been consummated.

For Anderson and Faulring to make a convincing case for Sylvia certainly being a complete exception, I would think they would need a woman to say that the general rule was for no sexual relations, and then explain how and why the Sylvia Sessions Lyon exception occurred. Furthermore, it would help their case if they found polyandrous wives who explicitly, unambiguously stated that their marriages were for eternity only, not for time. They may eventually find such documents, but I know of none at this time. Therefore, with four cases providing significant data, two providing evidence of time marriages, and one providing strong evidence of a child, I think the most probable scenario includes sexual relations in the polyandrous marriages, except in the cases of older women.

This is not a "final word" on the topic; "final words" do not exist in history. I hope and expect that further documents relating to these polyandrous marriages will surface in the future, and my views may change accordingly. But as things stand now, the weight of the evidence suggests that the polyandrous marriages were generally for time, as well as for eternity, and probably included sexuality.

The Number of Joseph Smith's Wives
Anderson and Faulring take my list of 33 wives of Joseph Smith and assert that I was incorrect in allowing four of them, Lucinda Morgan Harris, Elizabeth Durfee, Sarah Kingsley Cleveland, and Nancy Maria Winchester. (pp. 73-78.) This discussion shades into the discussion of polyandry and youth of the wives, as three of these women were polyandrous, and one, Winchester, was very young -- she must have been about fourteen years old when she married Smith. (One well documented wife, Helen Mar Kimball, was certainly married to Joseph Smith when she was fourteen so this is completely within the realm of possibility.)

Anderson and Faulring state their case for disallowing these wives very strongly. It is not a situation in which they allow me a reasonable case -- they simply reject these women: "Wives Included on Inadequate Evidence." (p. 75) "This reasoning [my saying that certain lists are reliable] is the Achilles heel of [Compton's] attempts at objectivity in enumerating the Prophet's wives." (p. 73) "We rejected four wives for lack of documentation." (p. 81).

In rejecting these four wives, Anderson and Faulring plunge us into the question of interpretation of historical evidence. I am obviously fully in favor of applying the highest possible standards for interpreting historical evidence, and I am on record in my Brodie article and elsewhere that Brodie made serious mistakes because she used late and second-hand antagonistic, biased evidence as her primary basis for discussion in many cases.[46] In many cases, I have tried to put a number of mistaken conclusions based on Brodie's flawed methodology to rest.[47] So I am concerned that historical methodology for accepting and evaluating evidence be careful, reasonable and fair.

So, some general principles:

(1) No piece of evidence is perfect. As I wrote in In Sacred Loneliness (p. 29), contemporary evidence is very desirable, but is not perfect. Even if someone writes something in a diary (contemporary evidence), it is still biased and limited to his or her viewpoint. That person's enemy, or even a friend, may write on the same day about the same events and look at them very differently.

Therefore, since no piece of evidence is perfect, if you do not like any piece of evidence, you can always object in some way and throw it out. As a result, it is important that one does not hold a double standard for crucial evidence, that one is consistent. For instance, if one rejects a piece of evidence whose content one does not like on the argument that it is second-hand, one should not accept another piece of evidence (whose content one likes) that is equally second- hand.

Evidence can be used, and should be used, even if it is not perfect. (Otherwise, no evidence could be used at all.) One can use evidence skillfully, but still allow for its limitations. For instance, if one has two pieces of evidence, one can balance them against each other. One limited truism of historical research is that late evidence is inferior to contemporary evidence. In many respects this is true, but not necessarily. I cited Eliza R. Snow's contemporary diary entry for the day she married Joseph Smith, In Sacred Loneliness, 313. Nowhere is there explicit mention of the marriage in that entry. A researcher with that diary alone would never affirm or try to prove that Eliza married Joseph on that day, or at all. However, in a late piece of evidence, her autobiography, she explicitly affirms the marriage to Joseph (cited at In Sacred Loneliness, 312), and in other late evidence she gave the date. No one piece of evidence was perfect, but all were valuable. Combined, they presented a reliable, full view of the event.

(2) Thus, evidence supports other evidence, and the totality is more than any single piece of evidence. Every added bit of evidence makes the case stronger. One can see if different pieces of evidence agree or disagree on something. If they agree, one piece of evidence can be corroborated by other pieces of evidence. If six people affirm something, the validity of the event is heightened or demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. This is why it is important for a scholar to read and judge all the possible evidence on a subject. Sometimes a piece of evidence that is valuable, but cannot entirely support a complex event, can combine with another piece of evidence to present more of the totality. This is not a question of two bad pieces of evidence making a good case for something. It is a question of a good piece of evidence standing alone lacking complete certainty, but if combined with another good piece of evidence, being made reasonably certain. Anderson and Faulring are repeatedly quite scathing about this principle: "two tanks of ordinary gas do not produce a high-octane mix", 77; "assembling several flawed diamonds does not produce a perfect stone," 75. Anderson and Faulring's statement here assumes that there is such a thing as perfect evidence, which, as I have remarked above, is not the case. It also overstates its case. I am not searching for a "perfect stone," which does not exist in the real world or in history; I am searching for a convincing, reliable case. Anderson and Faulring's sarcastic statements here also imply that all my evidence is bad (a collection of "flawed" stones); actually, I would not introduce any evidence at all if it were not worthwhile in some way. [48]

Corroboration is a basic principle of legal proof, and is obviously also valid in scholarship. Certainly two completely wrong sources can be wrong together; but the more sources that support each other, the higher the likelihood that they are reliable. In Mormon history, a combination of sympathetic and unsympathetic sources agreeing on something can be very valuable, because then you do not suspect either side of distorting the truth from bias. This leads to my next point:

(3) In religious history, biases for and against an organization or religious leader are often intense; often intelligent, trustworthy people can be limited by their biases. (For instance, any autobiographer will tend to look at himself very sympathetically.) Dealing with these biases in historical evidence is thus a challenge. In Mormonism you have more or less strongly pro-Mormon evidence and more or less strongly anti-Mormon evidence. How do you evaluate the different kinds of evidence, and write history that both Mormons and non-Mormons can trust? First of all, even if evidence is biased, that does not mean it cannot be used at all. No evidence is perfect, but we can sometimes make allowance for extreme bias, positive or negative, and still find usefulness in the evidence, especially if it is solid in other aspects. In highly charged evidence, a danger sign is heightened rhetoric. So one can make allowance for the rhetoric, and judge what else the evidence tells us.

One very simple methodology is for the anti-Mormon to accept only evidence on Mormonism that has a strongly negative bias, or to highlight that evidence, then ignore or downplay contrary, sympathetic evidence. The very simple equivalent of this methodology on the other side is to accept only pro-Mormon evidence, and highlight that, then ignore or downplay contrary, non-Mormon evidence.

Naturally, I believe both these strategies are fatally flawed. My personal methodology, when I deal with a sensitive, problematic issue in Mormon history, is usually to start with sympathetic sources. Then I bring in corroborative evidence from other sources, including the more valid, first-hand "unsympathetic" sources, in which allowance is made for distortion, but in which there is often something useful. (This inverts Brodie's methodology; she often used anti- Mormon sources as the foundation. If I were merely out to attack Mormonism, Brodie's methodology would be more logical, obviously.)

If I have my two or three sympathetic sources, why even look at the "negative" sources? Because, as I said, no evidence is perfect, but, for a responsible historian, all relevant evidence should be looked at and evaluated. Mormons would be enormously narrow and parochial (and solipsistic and even unchristian) if they only accepted evidence and writing that had been written by other Mormons.

In addition, anti-Mormon writing is not all of the same quality. On the one hand you have yellow-journalistic writers producing exposés with little primary research or little or no first hand knowledge of Mormon history. This can be close to fiction, or the worst kind of muck-raking. On the other hand, you may have a good Mormon who was involved in many of the incidents of Mormon history first hand, who becomes disillusioned, leaves the church, and writes his memoirs. These first hand memoirs can still have great value, despite the author's bias, and no responsible Mormon historian would simply ignore this kind of evidence. (And, as I have mentioned, the Mormon who stays within the church will write memoirs that have a positive bias.)

Respected non-Mormon scholar, Lawrence Foster, also makes the distinction between valid, useful, and totally worthless evidence from antagonistic Mormons: see his Religion and Sexuality,[46] in which he asserts that there are two kinds of anti-Mormon evidence: first hand (which must be considered and used) vs. semi-fictional exposes, which are close to useless, except as compendiums of wild gossip.

If one disallowed all authors who had bias, there would be no evidence for Mormon history, or any history. Even statistical evidence can be the result of bias.

Anderson, Faulring and Bachman all excoriate me for being influenced by John C. Bennett. (pp. 74; 131.) Bachman affirms, in relation to Bennett, that I have "taken" his "bait," as if my whole philosophy were based on Bennett. (In fact, I use him in an entirely secondary way. Nowhere do I make a case based entirely on Bennett. I actually feel a certain antipathy to Bennett, which is understandable, as he was not an honest, sympathetic character.) Nevertheless, I occasionally use statements by Bennett in a limited way, when they look like they are based on personal experience and have substantiation from other sources.

Bachman himself has used anti-Mormon evidence. See his reprinting of "Buckeye's Lament," an anti-Mormon poem, in his thesis.[50] He was entirely justified in reprinting and using this poem. Even if it was anti-Mormon, it was very early, and apparently written by an insider. Bachman, as a historian, would have been derelict in his duty if he had not considered it and quoted it.

An example of the necessity for using antagonistic evidence on occasion is Oliver Cowdery's statement: "A dirty, nasty, filthy affair of his and Fanny Alger's was talked over in which I strictly declared that I never deviated from the truth." As we have seen, this, the first contemporary reference to Fanny Alger's relationship with Joseph Smith, is taken from a letter written on January 21, 1838 (see In Sacred Loneliness, 38). Here we find heightened rhetoric, so Oliver's labeling as the Smith-Alger relationship as an "affair" is suspect. But it nevertheless shows irrefutably that Cowdery knew there had been a relationship between Smith and Alger by early 1838, and that it was a emotional point of contention between the two men. Thus, while one need not accept the interpretations of antagonistic sources, a responsible historian must consider them, and perhaps filter them. Anderson and Faulring refer to me as sanitizing a "smear" (p. 75) -- in my view, I extracted what was worthwhile in a source (Sarah Pratt) and discarded the suspect rhetoric. Their desired alternative -- completely ignore Sarah Pratt, a Nauvoo veteran and wife of an apostle -- is a simplistic solution that will not work in the long run.

Now, we return to the lists of wives.

First of all, I regard Danel Bachman's thesis on Joseph Smith's polygamy as a milestone in the historiography of Mormon polygamy and an effective response to Brodie's inflated list of wives because he emphasized the affidavits collected by Joseph F. Smith and others.[51] However, we cannot make affidavit evidence an absolute principle. If we have a good autobiography by a woman, or evidence in someone else's diary or autobiography for a plural marriage, then that is good evidence. The affidavit principle should be used as a tool rather than as a straitjacket. For instance, what of the wives of Joseph Smith who died before 1869 (when the affidavits began to be gathered)? We cannot simply disallow these wives, if there is reliable evidence for their marriage to Joseph Smith, even if they did not leave an affidavit. In the same way, we cannot disallow Joseph's wives who did not end up in Utah. (This is exactly the case with three of the women Anderson and Faulring want to disallow.)

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