Moderate/Conservative Elements in In Sacred Loneliness
Following are significant moderate traits in my book. It would have been desirable for Anderson, Faulring and Bachman, and it would have given them credibility, if they had recognized and acknowledged these moderate/conservative aspects of my book in a fair-minded, judicious way, even while disagreeing with my main thesis.
1. Bachman refers to my title as entirely negative. (p. 106.) However, when I was finalizing the book's title, some of my more "liberal" friends objected to it, and wanted me to explore other possible titles, because they considered the word "sacred" to be too positive. So one side sees only negativity, the other only the positive. Personally, I believe the title reflects ambiguity.
2. Bachman spends most of his review registering strong disagreement with a few pages of my prologue. However, I wrote the prologue after the rest of the book, the biographical chapters, because a friend, Maureen Ursenbach Beecher if I remember correctly, suggested that I should make some explanations for the rationale of polygamy, as many readers would have questions about unfamiliar aspects of it. It is very different from the kind of monogamy we practice today, or even from standard idealized views of polygamy in modern Mormonism today. Furthermore, many of the women I wrote about had polyandrous relationships with Joseph Smith, and these relationships deserved some explanation. In addition, I wanted to distance myself from Brodie. Her view seems to be that Joseph Smith started and continued polygamy merely because he was sexually overactive. There are liberals who still accept Brodie's point of view, but aside from the yellow journalism slant this has, I felt that it vastly oversimplified a complex subject.
Therefore, I wanted to show that there were religious, doctrinal reasons for the number of wives Joseph took, and for the polyandrous marriages. I do not believe that sexual attraction should be ruled out of Joseph's marriages completely (it is a standard component of good marriages), but it is overshadowed by more important religious motivations.
Therefore, I was puzzled that Bachman chose my prologue for his frontal assault, and that his assault was so emotional. (He has since given an oral presentation at the May 1999 Mormon History Association meeting in which he made an even more personal ad hominem attack on me.)
Though I wrote the prologue after the biographical chapters, that does not mean that I did not write it carefully. (Bachman has implied that I wrote it hastily and without thoughtful care because I wrote it last.) It certainly was given as much thought and revision as the rest of the book. And in fact, when it was published as an article in Dialogue in Summer 1996 long before In Sacred Loneliness was published, it received awards from the Mormon History Association and from Dialogue. Such awards do not mean that the chapter or book is perfect (as no article or book is); but it shows that Bachman's characterizations of it as entirely lacking in competence are not shared by experienced, balanced Mormon historians.
3. In my first chapter, on Fanny Alger, one accepted idea, again, which can be traced back to Brodie, was that Fanny Alger was never Joseph Smith's wife, but was his mistress, and so the relationship was only an affair. By this perspective, there was never an actual polygamous marriage ceremony. This was supported by the earliest contemporary reference to the Joseph Smith-Fanny Alger connection, in which Oliver Cowdery heatedly referred to it as an affair. (See above.) In this scenario, the first plural wife of Joseph Smith was Louisa Beaman in Nauvoo. However, I had always felt that it was likely that there had been an actual polygamous ceremony with Fanny and Joseph. (If I'd been on the extreme radical side, I would have tried to prove that the Alger relationship was only an affair from the beginning.) When I found an account of the marriage ceremony by Fanny's cousin, Mosiah Hancock, in the Church Archives one day, I was not surprised, though I was pleased to find my view supported. When my Fanny Alger chapter was published in Journal of Mormon History a year or so before my book was published, I got a call from a long time friend in the Mormon history community thanking me profusely, emotionally, for showing that the relationship was really a marriage. She had previously been told by a historian she trusted that the relationship had been only an affair.
So on that issue, I take the conservative position. If I'd been writing a biased attack on Joseph Smith, of course, I could have emphasized evidence such as the Oliver Cowdery quote.
Some historians on the "left" side of the spectrum were not happy with the "conservative" position I took on the Fanny Alger marriage. (Of course, I did not take that position because I wanted to be "conservative" or antagonize the "liberals": I took it because the best evidence pointed that way, in my opinion.) The first printed response to the Fanny Alger article was by Janet Ellingson, who rejected the Hancock document and my portrayal of the Alger-Smith relationship as a formal marriage. Respected non-Mormon scholar Lawrence Foster has critiqued me for the same reason, referring to my work as "apologetic," i.e., defending the church.
4. Brodie places an enormous emphasis on children of Joseph Smith by his plural wives, and she has a list of these that I consider severely inflated. I accept only one child as solid, Josephine Lyon Fisher, for whom there is affidavit evidence.
5. One child of Joseph Smith that Brodie regards as proven and that she sensationalizes is Oliver Buell, child of Presendia Huntington Buell (later Smith Kimball) and Norman Buell. As this child was born before the date of Joseph Smith's marriage to Presendia, if we accept him as Joseph's, we would have a clear case of adultery, with a child of Joseph Smith as evidence. If I'd wanted to attack Joseph Smith with an extreme negative bias, I could have accepted and supported Brodie. However, I have repeatedly criticized Brodie's position here -- both in oral presentations and twice in print. Hopefully, the idea that Oliver Buell was Joseph Smith's child will now be laid completely to rest.
6. In the complex story of Zina Huntington's marriages to Henry Jacobs, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, it would have been easy for me to portray Jacobs entirely as a victim. Along with many of his descendants, I still believe that he was not treated fairly; but I also included historical evidence that showed he was not a perfect human being. (See, e.g., his sudden proposal to "Sister Elsy"; his tendency to take Oliver Huntington's speaking time in the mission field; his combativeness on the trip west, which left one leader angry at him; his occasional apparent self- pity after Zina left him; the tendency women had to leave him, even after Zina.) If I'd wanted to portray Henry as a purely innocent victim, I would have edited all that out. Instead, as a moderate historian, I tried to leave in Henry's limitations along with his strengths. And though the story of Henry, Zina and Brigham Young shows Young as marrying another man's wife, it also clearly shows sympathetic sides to Brigham's character: e.g., see the quote beginning "No man could be more careful" on page 95 of In Sacred Loneliness.
7. Brodie quoted Hall's statement that Joseph Smith married Zina Huntington while Henry was on a mission to England. She made no evaluation or check of this data -- she merely quoted the damaging statement. In my Brodie article and in In Sacred Loneliness I show that Hall's statement is false -- Henry Jacobs did not go on a mission to England until after Joseph Smith's death. The Oliver Huntington journal, which Brodie had access to and quotes from, shows this clearly. Why did Brodie even cite Hall? I ignore the quote in my book and took Brodie to task for using it.
8. Brodie, working from one late, not even secondhand, anti-Mormon source, suggested that the reason for Joseph's tar and feathering was that he had taken sexual liberties with Marinda Johnson. This one flimsy piece of evidence fit perfectly into her pan-sexual theory. I showed the weakness of her case here.
9. Sidney Rigdon and Ebenezer Robinson and an anonymous source assert that Marinda Johnson Hyde married Willard Richards polyandrously (while her husband was on his mission to Palestine) before marrying Joseph Smith. This is actually a possible position -- Rigdon and Robinson were first-hand Nauvoo witnesses. They were not questionable figures such as John C. Bennett. However, I argue that they may have misunderstood the evidence here, and were not in the inner polygamy circle of Nauvoo, therefore I do not find the idea that Marinda married Willard Richards convincing (In Sacred Loneliness, 238.)
Why, if I was so intensely biased against Joseph Smith and Mormonism, as Mr. Bachman emphatically accuses, did I take these "conservative" positions? But, the conservative reviewer asks, if I'm so conservative, why didn't I portray polygamy as entirely rosy? My answer is that I am moderate, that I try to be balanced. I admit, I am not an extreme conservative. But the positions outlined in this section show clearly that I was not on the anti-Mormon extreme.
The Theme of Sacred Loneliness
How did I arrive at my main thesis, which certainly included problematic aspects of polygamy? As was mentioned above, I did not have the title until some two years after I began research, when I needed a title for a talk on Presendia Huntington Kimball. Though Presendia is not the most pronounced example of "sacred loneliness" in my book, the title seemed fitting to me, and I eventually felt that the phenomenon was shared by other wives and that the title was appropriate for the whole book.
In fact, far from having pronounced anti-polygamy biases when I began the book, as Bachman implies, polygamy was not an issue for me. But researching and writing the book was obviously an education. It developed my views on polygamy, especially reading the writings of certain key women such as Emily Partridge Young and Patty Sessions.
I did wonder if I had by chance stumbled on the writings of women who had extraordinarily bad experiences with polygamy. However, I began to discover many of the same patterns in other polygamous relationships. See, for example, Tanner's A Mormon Mother. (And I do not see the problems in that relationship as resulting primarily from post- Manifesto status, as Anderson and Faulring suggest. The problems started much earlier.) Also, see the thesis cited above, Suzanne Adel Katz, "Sisters in Salvation: Patterns of Emotional Loneliness Among Nineteenth-Century Non-Elite Mormon Polygamous Women." I read Katz in the later stages of writing my book, I believe in 1996 or early 1997. While I came to have great admiration for many polygamists, female and male, I came to believe that the problem was in the polygamous system. Obviously, if a man has five wives, he has to fragment limited time and resources. The contrast with monogamous marriage, difficult enough by itself, was remarkable.
I think perhaps one of the reasons I especially saw the difficult side of polygamy is because I looked at it from the woman's point of view, and because in the group of wives I studied there were some private records of their inner turmoil. The polygamy experience, from the male point of view, was very different from the female point of view. For a man with five wives, he was with a woman every day; for the woman, she had male companionship and household help once every five days (if the husband was strictly equitable, which he often wasn't).
One of the most powerful documents reflected in my book is the diary of Emily Partridge Young. Obviously the marriage of Emily and Brigham was dysfunctional. You might argue that the relationship would have been the same in a monogamous relationship, but I find that hard to imagine. Anderson and Faulring refer to my "negative interpretation" of Emily Partridge, but it is difficult for me to imagine anyone reading her diary and painting a flowery picture of her life with Brigham. Anderson and Faulring suggest that the problem in the relationship was really Emily's: "Yet mood is one of her problems. . ." (p. 97). However, Brigham simply refused to pay her small water and school bills, and she agonized about how she could work to make enough money to pay them. This financial struggle for Emily, especially since she had poor health, cannot be blamed on her "problems" with "mood."
I agree that there were complexities in Emily's relationship with Brigham, and in my book I included positive things she said about him, and positive things he did for her. Yet an overwhelming emotional impression of the journal is agonized disbelief at how Brigham treated her. The diary expresses her ambivalence and inner conflicts, which were fascinating.
If I were reproducing a flatly "negative interpretation," I would not have included the positive things she said about Brigham. Anderson and Faulring seem to suggest that I should have merely cited the positive passages. After describing positive things Brigham did for Emily (all taken from my book), Anderson and Faulring write, disapprovingly, "In Sacred Loneliness prefers to keep Emily's complaints on the record." (p. 98) But citing only the positive would have given a dishonest account of Emily's diary and experiences. The only responsible route for a historian is to reflect the positive and negative and the relative weight they have in her diary. Emily created her record; I didn't. Emily kept her complaints on the record.
Did I overemphasize those negative passages? I doubt that anyone who has read the whole diary would say so. In fact, let me cite a summary of the diary written long before In Sacred Loneliness appeared, that found in Davis Bitton's Mormon Diaries and Autobiographies: "Begins: ‘Today I am fifty years old.' Many gaps. Entries sometimes long. Much introspection and philosophizing; indeed some pages seem close to sermons or essays and may have been published in church periodicals." When the summary describes the central content of the diary, it begins: "A major theme: author's financial hardships due to refusal of Brigham Young to provide support. Yet she still shows admiration for him. Mixed emotions."
I believe, instead of "negative interpretation," I supplied a balanced interpretation, reflecting the negative, but also the positive. Certainly, this creates a dissonance, but it was a dissonance that Emily experienced, as Bitton or a Bitton-sponsored historian reflects: "Mixed emotions." To have suppressed the "difficult" passages would have been ethically dishonest -- and in addition, might have turned Emily and Brigham into sentimentalized puppets, instead of real people.
Anderson and Faulring write, "We have learned from Todd Compton's work but are disturbed by its dissonances." (103) The Emily Partridge journal shows that I did not arrange inoffensive documents to create dissonance -- the dissonances are there in the original documents, in the life experiences of these women. I formulated the central thesis of my book, I believe, only after it surfaced repeatedly in many different documents. I believe anyone who studies nineteenth century Mormon polygamy seriously and honestly will be disturbed by the dissonances it caused in many families. (On the other hand, as I have mentioned, there were other polygamous families in which problems were worked out more successfully.)
Sexual Relations in Joseph Smith's Plural Marriages
As can be seen from the list of significant "conservative" aspects of my book, above, I did not go out of my way to document as much sex as possible in Joseph Smith's marriages, as Brodie seemingly did. In fact, I disallowed much of Brodie's argumentation and evidence on this subject, including her "certain" son of Joseph Smith, Oliver Buell (and if I had accepted this son as Joseph's, it would have proven an adulterous relationship).
Nevertheless, there was clear evidence for sexual relations in some of the relationships, and when this was found, I accepted it. I did not highlight it for sensational effect like Brodie; to me, it is merely part of the picture that should not be overemphasized or underemphasized, and not an especially controversial part. Marriages usually include sexual relations, and if we accept that Joseph Smith had marriage ceremonies for his marriages, the sexual relations should be normal and expected unless there is some other factor involved. Polygamy in the Old Testament usually included children, and in fact, having children was often one of the motivations for polygamy.
As Bachman notes (p. 107), an anti-Mormon writer has critiqued me for not making sexuality the only motivation for Joseph Smith's marriages. Instead, I focus on theological and dynastic reasons for the marriages, though I do not rule out spiritual and physical attraction as another motivation for specific marriages (which again, is entirely appropriate for normal marriages).
Despite my taking a very balanced position here, I think, it is still a difficult, charged topic, and so I am not completely surprised that Anderson and Faulring register objections to my treatment of some aspects of it. I'll look at two issues here: Helen Mar Whitney's marriage to Joseph Smith, and polyandry.