Secret Wives

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.”

27 Responses to Secret Wives

  1. Some people just really don’t know about this stuff. The little church videos about polygamy days are actually kind of funny and heartwarming, and certainly don’t bring up coercion and corruption of minors.

  2. Odell says:

    Very succinct presentation. Although some may not want to believe that Smith “married” others without Emma’s consent, the facts, as you so precisely set forth, demonstrate otherwise.

    When Joseph Smith attempted to flee Nauvoo, didn’t he also attempt to entice a “wife” other than Emma to run away with him?

  3. shematwater says:

    IN all truth, if we are going on facts, this doe snot prove that she did not know. All they prove is that these women were under the impression that she didn’t.

    Maybe she didn’t. I will do a little more research into it.

    Now, just a note on the references given. Only one has a date as to when it was writen, which was 45 years after the fact. Some of the others, by the author, indicate a similar gap in time. So, were any of these written at the same time as the events being described? Can you provide publication dates?

    The reason I mention this is because time has a funny way of interpreting events. As such, as the only proof is that these women were under the impression that she didn’t know, the time between events and these statements may have been enough cause this impression, even if it didn’t exists at the time.

    Now, as I am the one being quoted at the beginning of this article, let me say this. My statement was to mean that the accusation cannot truly be proven, and so should not be made at all.

    • runtu says:

      If Emma knew, why did the Partridge sisters get married to Joseph twice? It makes no sense. As to their being under the impression that she didn’t know, there is good reason for that impression. From the first (Fanny Alger is generally considered the first, though there is evidence that Joseph had relations with a woman before he married Emma), Joseph took pains to conceal his marriages. Emma found out about Fanny after the fact and was so angered she threw Fanny out of the house. Similarly, when Joseph wanted to meet one of his wives, he took pains to tell her not to come if Emma was around. And we have firsthand testimony from three wives that Emma was unaware of the marriages. Honestly, there is only one reason to doubt the consistent and corroborated testimonies of these women: their testimony troubles people (as it should) and must therefore be discounted. The evidence is overwhelming, at least it is for those who are willing to deal with it.

      • shematwater says:

        Oh, I am perfectly willing to deal with it. I was just pointing out a few things that everyone should consider when looking at the evidence, especially personal testimony.

        I may have been wrong, and that is fine, I really don’t care. Knowing a few things about Emma I would question whether or not it was Joseph Smith was justified in what he did. After all, Emma did seem to have a violent temper, and even once shoved one of Joseph’s wives(I believe Eliza Young) down the stars, causing a miscarriage.

        As I said, I will need to read a little bit more than what you provide (as well as the original sources you do provide) before I am willing to make any statement as to whether these allegations are true or not.
        However, based solely on what you give I would again dismiss them for lack of evidence.

      • runtu says:

        OK, that just made me laugh. The story about Emma shoving Eliza Snow down the stairs has been pretty well debunked, but you see it as confirmation that she had a violent temper. Guess what? Joseph had a violent temper, too.

        I’ve provided substantiation for every “allegation” that I’ve made. I would suggest you do some homework before dismissing them. I’m not making this stuff up. I wish it were that simple.

      • shematwater says:


        Please show the evidence that this was debunked. I have spoken to people I trust a lot more than anyone on these threads, who have done extensive research on Emma herself, and they have confirmed this actually happened.
        So, please give me the proof that it didn’t.

      • runtu says:

        As I said, Mormon Enigma does a good job of debunking it. The first mention of the incident is in 1886 in an anti-Mormon book. Nothing about the story checks out. It’s odd that you accept an anti-Mormon account here but reject firsthand testimony from Joseph’s wives that he married them without Emma’s knowledge. Weird.

      • shematwater says:

        A page number would be helpful.

        No, I do not take an Anti-Mormon account. I take the word of a person who has done extensive research on Emma.
        I have not done the research myself, but I trust the one who has. I will contact them again to find out more details.

  4. Odell says:

    @ shematwater:

    Would it matter if Joseph Smith had sexual relations with women without Emma’s knowledge or consent? If so, why? And if not, why bother refuting?

    And do you believe that god allegedly re-initiated polygamy as a result of Emma’s alleged anger?

    • shematwater says:

      Q. And do you believe that god allegedly re-initiated polygamy as a result of Emma’s alleged anger?

      A. Now when did I ever even imply this?
      What I said is that one must consider Emma’s character at the time before they pass judgement of Joseph Smith. I never connected Emma’s anger to Polygamy in the way you suggest.

      Q. Would it matter if Joseph Smith had sexual relations with women without Emma’s knowledge or consent?

      A. That would depend on whether such was approved by God or not. If it was than no. If it wasn’t than yes.

      Q. If So, why?

      A. If it was done without the approval of God it would be significant evidence that he was not a prophet.
      Now, just to make one things clear. The approval of God is not something that can be shown through quotes and testimonies. Thus, whether an individual believes God approved or not means nothing really.
      Q. And if not, why bother refuting?

      A. I never actually refuted the point. This has never been my intention in this thread. My intention in this thread is simlpy to look at the merits of the evidence provided, which I think are not good enough truly refute or confirm.
      As I said, I simply dismiss the whole thing on a basis of lack of evidence.

      • Ruth says:

        “If it was done without the approval of God, it would be significant evidence that he was not a prophet.”

        There are many prophets within main stream Christianity and Judaism who did not adhere to God’s commands, or approval. It is evidence of they are fallible, just like everybody else. According to belief in prophethood, prophets have lied, tricked, stolen, manipulated, evaded, attempted human sacrifice, and even murdered all in the name of God. Some actions seem to have been allegedly approved God, others not.

        It’s like saying if the President of the U.S. done something illegal, being proof he wasn’t really the President.

      • shematwater says:


        I know of many allegations, and as I said, I don’t think any of the evidence is sufficient to refute or confirm. This goes for all the ancient prophets as well. My point is that such actions must cast some doubt on the character and thus the claims of the person. For one who does not already accept the prophetic calling of another, such actions are significant and can be seen as evidence that they are not a prophet.
        This is simply psychology and human nature.

        As to comparing this to the President of the United States, the difference is that one is chosen by fallible humans, while the other is claiming to be chosen by an infallible God. If the U.S. President breaks the law we can say we made a mistake and that they shouldn’t be president. We correct that error in the next vote (or pressure congress to impeach). However, if a prophet is guilty of major sins than what do we have? Can we say that God made a mistake? If He did than He has to be the one to correct it. The implications are far greater with a wicked prophet than with a wicked president.

  5. Meg Stout says:

    Emily Partridge was sufficiently uninformed that she thought Mrs. Durfee’s original questions in 1842 regarding spiritual wifery were germane to Joseph wanting to get it on with her as per Emily’s interpretation of the conversation he tried to have with her and the letter he tried to pass to her.

    Lucy Walker’s refusal to testify regarding whether she was intimate with Joseph is telling. This same manner of refusal occurred with Malissa Lott with respect to her own family (who would have loved to know she was Joseph’s factual bedded wife). Malissa always refused to confirm or deny.

    I grant that we have Joseph spending the evening in the same room as women who would later be known as his plural wives, per the attestation of Benjamin Johnson. But Benjamin wasn’t watching through the knothole to confirm sexual intercourse. He was merely presuming what activity was occurring.

    It all boils down to the one admission from Emily, where she responded “Yes sir.” when asked if she had engaged in carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith. But recall that this Emily had been the wife of Brigham Young, had lived through the culture wars of the 1870s and later, when her people were being put in jail for polygamy, when women were going on the underground with fake identities to avoid being forced to testify against husbands and fathers.

    Had Emily not replied “Yes sir.” to that question, she believed that the temple lot of prophesy would be awarded to Joseph’s sons and their Church and therefore forever made unavailable to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Besides this, Emily was by then 70 years old, and knew her way around the English language. Carnal refers to meat. Intercourse refers to commerce or trade (ever visited Intercourse, PA?). Therefore “carnal intercourse” would also be a legitimate description of passing Joseph a platter of turkey or chicken or mutton or beef at a meal, an activity the young Emily had almost certainly engaged in.

    As I recall the testimony, Emily was really testy after her “Yes sir.” Which I would be too, if I had technically told the truth but actually implied a falsehood.

    • runtu says:

      So, you’re suggesting that Joseph spent the night with a young woman he had just married and didn’t have sex? And you’re parsing “carnal intercourse” such that it doesn’t mean what it plainly meant in the question and answer?

      I’m sorry, but I can’t take you seriously. I went through your material last year and was nonplussed. Still am.

    • Justin says:

      That is the stupdiest thing I have ever read.

      • Justin says:

        I couldn’t even spell “stupidest” correctly. That’s how many brain cells died just from reading that.

      • Indeed. I could buy “not having sex on your wedding night” because it does happen. But “eating meat together?” Please. The woman would have to be smart enough to understand that carnal comes from the Latin word “carn” for “meat” or more specifically, “flesh” and yet dumb enough to not understand that the men were asking “Did you have sex with Joseph Smith?” Not to mention, what was her motive to lie about having sex with Joseph Smith? What did she gain from lying?

        I agree with you Justin, a few of my brain cells died reading this comment, and I will never get them back. I am in mourning.

    • Kim Johns says:

      This is the most asinine spin I have ever read. If I hadn’t already left the LDS church, stupid rationalizations, as exhibited above, surely would have done the trick. Damn, there goes 3 minutes of my life that I can’t get back and brain cells that will never regenerate….thanks Meg Stout – keep on spinning and living in la-la land….

    • Julie M. says:

      I can’t stop laughing about this post!

      Meg Stout,
      Emily Partridge also testified that she slept in the same bed with Joseph and spent the night with him (in conjunction with having “carnal intercourse” with him). Are you seriously saying that they were sharing a platter of turkey, chicken, mutton or beef all night long while they were in the same bed together?

      What’s the big deal about Joseph Smith having sex with his polygamous wives? Are you ok with all the other Prophets (who lived the identical principle of polygamy as Joseph) having sex with their multiple wives? If so, why the double standard?

      • fightinglee says:

        I have to resurrect this comment, even from almost a year ago. This is too funny. Carnal Intercourse.

        And to Julie, I also don’t understand why any apologist argues about Joseph having sex with his polygamous wives. According the the BOM, that is the only reason TO have polygamy. To raise up seed.

        Carnal Intercouse.

    • perrylporter says:

      So since the following two questions after carnal intercourse where about sleeping in bed meg are you implying that they were eating in bed?

      My theory as to why Joseph Smith so few children with all the wives, was he could not afford it financially or socially so actually I think he did do a lot of eating in bed.

  6. Steelhead says:

    It must be the second coming, because the dead threads are arising.

  7. tapir rider says:

    Intercourse and meat? At some point the truth might hit Meg between the eyes. Joseph Smith screwed the babysitter (Fanny), coveted neighbors wives and took them from their husbands and committed adultery. Thank you Meg for your meat exchange theory. It helps others to see how ridiculous the attempts are to try to hide the truth about Joseph Smith.

  8. […] I’m a married man, and I’d like to have sex with another woman without my wife finding o… […]

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