A reader commented, “The accusation that Joseph Smith tried to hide his other marriages from [his wife Emma] is not true (at least I have seen no evidence for it).”
Unfortunately for the commenter, it’s not an accusation; it’s simply a fact. Take, for example, Emily and Eliza Partridge, whose experience is instructive. When their father, Edward Partridge, died, they were invited to move into Joseph Smith’s home, where they would work as housekeepers, with Emily also serving as a “nurse girl.”
In the spring of 1842, Joseph brought up the subject of plural marriage with Emily, who refused to discuss the matter. Soon after, the sisters were approached by Elizabeth Durfee, whom Joseph frequently employed to convey his proposals to prospective wives:
“Mrs. Durf – came to me one day and said Joseph would like an opportunity to talk with me. I asked her if she knew what he wanted. She said she thought he wanted me for a wife. I was thirely [thoroughly] prepared for almost anything. I was to meet him in the evening at Mr. Kimball’s. (Women’s Exponent, v. 14, August 1, 1885, p. 38)
According to Emily, the Partridge sisters were married to Joseph Smith in March, 1843, and her sister married him a few days later. Eliza wrote,
“I cannot tell all Joseph said, but he said the Lord had commanded [Joseph] to enter into plural marriage and had given me to him and although I had got badly frightened he knew I would yet have him…. Well I was married there and then. Joseph went home his way and I going my way alone. A strange way of getting married wasen’t it?” (Eliza Lyman autobiography, p. 219).
Emily writes in the Historical Record (again, it’s in Google Books, so look it up):
My sister Eliza and I, having arrived at an age at which we might earn our own living and perhaps contribute something to help our mother and the smaller children, were considering what we had better do, when the Prophet Joseph and his wife Emma offered us a home in their family, and they treated us with great kindness. We had been there about a year when the principle of plural marriage was made known to us, and I was married to Joseph Smith on the 4th of March, 1843, Elder Heber C. Kimball performing the ceremony. My sister Eliza was also married to Joseph Smith a few days later. This was done without the knowledge of Emma Smith. Two months afterward she consented to give her husband two wives, provided he would give her the privilege of choosing them. She accordingly chose my sister Eliza and myself, and to save family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed. Accordingly on the 11th of May, 1843, we were sealed to Joseph Smith a second time, in Emma’s presence, she giving her free and full consent thereto. (Historical Record, p. 240).
Emily affirmed in her Temple Lot case affidavit that she had roomed with Joseph and had carnal intercourse with him the night of their marriage.
According to George D. Smith, “when asked by Temple Lot attorneys in 1892 if her marriage went beyond an ‘eternal sealing’ and involved sexual relations, Emily affirmed that she had ‘slept’ with Joseph after their first marriage on March 4 and ‘roomed’ with him the day of their second marriage, May 11. She was not able to ‘live with him’ after that because of Emma’s close surveillance” (Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 181, citing Reorganized Church v. Church of Christ, questions 310-11, 480-84, 747-62).
Todd Compton (In Sacred Loneliness, 732) cites Emily’s testimony as follows:
Q: Did you ever have carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith?
A: Yes sir…
Q: Do you make the declaration that you never slept with him but one night?
A: Yes sir.
Q: And that was the only time and place that you were ever in bed with him?
A: No sir.
This is corroborated by the statement of Benjamin Johnson, who wrote that in April, 1843,
“The Prophet again Came and at my house occupied the Same Room & Bed with my Sister [Almera Johnson] that the month previous he had occupied with the Daughter of the Late Bishop Partridge.” (Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets, 44. See also “The Origin of Plural Marriage,” Joseph F. Smith, Jr., Deseret News Press, page 70-71.)
The case of 17-year-old Lucy Walker is similar. When Lucy’s mother died, Joseph Smith sent her father, John Walker, on a mission to the eastern states, and Lucy moved into the prophet’s home. Joseph approached Lucy privately, and she consented to marry him:
The Lawrence girls were married to the prophet, too. … Weddings were not performed publicly in those days. … The Partridge girls were married to him also. …
It was the 1st day of May, 1843, when I married him [Joseph Smith]. … Elder William Clayton performed the ceremony. Emma Smith was not present, and she did not consent to the marriage; she did not know anything about it at all.
No, sir, she did not know anything about my marriage to her husband. I shall not answer your question as to what room I occupied on the 1st day of May, 1843, after my marriage. I decline to answer whether I occupied the same room with Joseph Smith on the night of the 1st day of May, 1843. I decline to answer whether I ever occupied the same room with Joseph Smith on the night of May 1, or any other night, and there is no law that will compel me to do so, or upholds you in intruding into my affairs. I decline to answer your questions because I consider them insulting; yes, sir, I do. (Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Complainant, vs. The Church of Christ at Independence Missouri et al., 373-374.)
It’s clear what happened according to the direct testimony of the women involved (and these are just three of Joseph’s 33 or so wives). In neither case was Emma aware of her husband’s actions, clearly indicating that Joseph “tried to hide his other marriages from her.”