Dr. Todd Compton is the author of a couple of books, both of them called In Sacred Loneliness, but the new one is subtitled, The Documents. So we’re going to talk a lot about both of his books, In Sacred Loneliness and In Sacred Loneliness: The Documents. These are two fantastic books. We’re going to talk a lot about polygamy, some of the early days, and get his opinions. There were some really surprising ones in this episode, dealing with people like Helen Mar Kimball and Sylvia Sessions Lyon and some things like that. I talked to Todd last month at the John Whitmer Historical Association, the 50th anniversary of that organization, so it was back in Independence. You’ll notice he’s wearing this shirt and I thought I would show it to your full view, so that you can see what he was wearing. Anyway, check out our conversation with Dr. Todd Compton.
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Accidental Mormon Historian
GT 01:11 Welcome to Gospel Tangents. I’m excited to have one of the icons of Mormon history here today. Could you go ahead and tell us who you are?
Todd 01:21 I’m Dr. Todd M. Compton, and this is Gospel Tangents.
GT 01:27 All right. So, one of the things I always like to do is get my guests’ background, where you went to school. I believe you went to BYU and UCLA. Is that right? Can you tell us more about that?
Todd 01:43 Yeah, I started out, of course, high school at Provo High.
GT 01:45 Oh, you’re a Bulldog.
Todd 01:47 Yeah, and then I went to Snow College for two years. I majored in music. Then I went to BYU and majored in English. Then I started doing graduate work in classics, which is ancient Greek and Latin. Then I did…
GT 02:07 Was that so you could learn the Bible?
Todd 02:10 Well, I was a Nibley fan.
GT 02:13 Okay.
Todd 02:14 Me and a couple of my friends, we took all the Nibley classes we could. So, I got interested in in the ancient world. I got interested, actually, when I was living in South America, in Peru.
GT 02:32 Was that where you went on a mission or something?
Todd 02:34 No, my dad taught Spanish at BYU, and he was on sabbatical for a year. So, we went and lived in Peru. So, I visited all the great museums dealing with the ancient world, the Incas and the people before them.
GT 03:01 Some people think the Book of Mormon took place there in Peru.
Todd 03:04 Yeah.
GT 03:05 Were you aware of that at the time?
Todd 03:06 That’s one geography, yeah. I think people back then were more interested in Mesoamerican geography, like the John Sorenson geography, at that time. I wasn’t interested for that reason. It just got really exciting going to these sites and thinking about these really ancient time periods. So, anyway, back at BYU, I eventually decided to do Greek and Latin. I pick up languages fairly well. So, I was able to work on that. Then I went to UCLA, doing ancient Greek and Latin. At UCLA–oh, we’re segueing into how I wrote In Sacred Loneliness.
GT 04:06 Oh, perfect.
Todd 04:07 Is that in accordance with your [plan]?
GT 04:10 That’s totally great.
Todd 04:11 I taught for a year after I got my doctorate. I taught for a year at USC and then the job market was really, really tough.
GT 04:21 Yeah, it still is tough, I think. It’s always tough.
Todd 04:29 It is. I ended up not teaching and not knowing what I was going to do. It was a really tough period of my life. Here’s everything I worked for, and it didn’t seem to be working out. While I was in that period, a friend of mine who I had known in the singles ward in L.A., and then she went to University of Utah and did a doctorate in Mormon history. But we were talking one time and she said, “Todd, why don’t you,” I think she wrote this to me. I know she wrote this to me. But we talked also. “Why don’t you get one of the summer fellowships at the Huntington Library,” which has a fabulous library and gardens in Pasadena. They have a really great Mormon collection. Juanita Brooks was associated with the Huntington Library, for quite a while.
GT 05:42 And the weather’s really nice.
Todd 05:46 Yeah, and beautiful gardens. She [my friend] said, “Why don’t you get one of these fellowships where they pay you to study something?” She said, “They have the Eliza R. Snow journals/diaries there. So why don’t you apply to work on the Eliza R. Snow diaries, and they’ll pay you to come to the Huntington every day?” I thought it was a crazy idea, because I had no background in Mormon history.
GT 06:22 Yeah. So, your doctorate was in Greek and Latin?
Todd 06:24 Yeah.
GT 06:25 Wow.
Todd 06:26 I mean, I’d always been interested in Mormon history, but I’d never done any research in it. I’d started doing research in women in the ancient world. So, I was interested in women in religion. I had a bit of background there. So, I thought it was a crazy idea. But my friend, Janet, she sent me a letter. She said, “Here, go ahead, and this is how you submit your application. And here’s what I think you should say.”
Todd 07:06 So, I thought, “Well, she’s basically written it for me. It won’t take too much time.” So, I went ahead with the application and sent it in. I really didn’t think I was qualified to get it, because I wasn’t in Mormon history at all. I didn’t think I would get it. I totally forgot about it.
GT 07:32 The job market is not bad in Mormon history.
Todd 07:36 I wasn’t thinking about getting a job in Mormon history. I wasn’t expecting to get the fellowship. I sent it in, and then I totally forgot about it, because I was sure I wouldn’t get it. Then, I got a letter in the mail, “You’ve received the fellowship to work on the diaries of Eliza R. Snow for a couple months”.
Todd 08:06 I said, “Okay. I’ll go down, and I’ll work on Eliza Snow, and I’ll work on some of my other classic stuff that’s there, too.” But I felt obligated to work on the Eliza R. Snow diaries. So, the first day, I went there, I walked in, and went to the reading room and ordered those diaries. They are these little, small, diaries, quite small. You open it up, and there’s Eliza R. Snow’s handwriting, quite small. She’d be writing about her daily life. She’d be traveling, crossing the plains. They were her plains diaries. So, she crossed the plains during the day, and at night, I guess she’d sit by the fire and write the account of the day. It was really exciting to me to get to see someone’s actual handwriting. In Greek and Latin texts, you have copies of copies of copies of copies. Having an autograph written by one of these ancient writers is totally unheard of.
Todd 09:38 So, it was really exciting to me, and I found that the Eliza R. Snow diary had been published, like, in The Improvement Era, but it wasn’t a scholarly transcription and there were no footnotes. So, I started getting a text for that diary on my computer. I started to do footnotes and that was something that I really enjoyed doing, footnoting that diary and trying to figure out [who the people in the diary were.] History is like a detective game. There’s a word you don’t understand that Eliza R. Snow is using, and you look it up and try to find out what it means, and you understand the text better. Often, the word you don’t understand is a name. So, you need to look it up and find out who it is. One thing annotators do when you publish a text is you have a little mini biography of that person, if you can, birth date, death date, a little bit about their marriages, maybe. If they’re in any Church offices, how they made money, how they survived. You can put a lot into one of these little, mini biographies. One of my models in doing this was Juanita Brooks, who had helped get the Mormon collection going at the Huntington Library. So, she was one of my heroes and models. She wrote these wonderful little mini biographies in texts she edited. She helped edit/collaborated on the John D. Lee journals. Then she did Hosea Stout journals, wonderful, scholarly contributions. So, she was a model. Eliza R. Snow had been a plural wife of Joseph Smith. Then, she became a plural wife of Brigham Young, and lived in the Brigham Young family the rest of her life. There’s obviously a whole story there that I’m not getting into. But I felt like I was starting to try to identify some of these women she was referring to.
Documenting Joseph Smith’s Wives
Todd 12:35 Often, she would say just the last name, so she would say, “Sister, Buell.” Okay, so my task, my detective task was to find out who Sister Buell was. I found out, often, you couldn’t just look it up someplace. Sometimes you could.
GT 12:59 Google didn’t exist back then, did it?
Todd 13:00 No, no. The internet was in its infancy, and there were no primary texts on the internet. So, you go to Andrew Jenson’s Biographical Encyclopedia. You go to other [records.] I might go to other texts that Juanita Brooks had worked on and see if she referred to that person, if he or she is in the index. One issue I faced is there had been more work done on the men than the women.
GT 13:36 Right.
Todd 13:38 Another problem was that the men, their names never changed. The problem with the women is their names were often changing, because their names changed when they got married. Then, the first husband would die or they would separate, and the woman would marry someone else. So, at a certain time period in the diary, she’s called Sister Goldsmith. In the next 10 years, she’s known as Sister Brackenbury, and then the next 10 years in Nauvoo, she’s known as Sister Durfee. I’m thinking of Elizabeth Davis. That’s her birth name [Davis], then her married names were Goldsmith, Brackenbury, Durfee. Then she married Joseph Smith. Then she married, who was it? Was it Lott? Okay. And [she married] one other person, but she didn’t stick with him. So, now we know that this Sister Goldsmith is the same as Sister Brackenbury, who is the same as Sister Durfee. She was quite well-known in Nauvoo at Sister Durfee. But we didn’t know that connection when I when I started out.
GT 15:07 It’s because of you that we know the connection, right?
Todd 15:10 Yeah, for Sister Durfee, yes. For all of these women, it would be good if I had lists of the Joseph Smith wives and the Brigham Young wives and the Heber C Kimball wives, because they were all very close to each other. So, the Brigham Young wives, there’s a pretty good list by Jeffrey Johnson, with footnotes, an article in, I think it was Dialogue. So that was a great source for the Brigham Young wives. Heber C. Kimball, there was a great biography of Heber C. Kimball by Stan Kimball and he had an appendix where he went through all of the wives and their kids. So, that was great for the Heber C. Kimball wives, but I couldn’t find a good list of Joseph Smith’s wives. The best I could find was Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, and she had an appendix with a lot of Joseph Smith’s wives. But I started working with that, and I found a lot of problems with it.
GT 16:40 With Fawn Brodie’s list of wives?
Todd 16:41 With Fawn Brodie’s list. One was, it was really out of date, like, I was, what, 30 or 40 years later?
GT 16:50 Right. Because she wrote in the 1950’s?
Todd 16:53 Yeah, what was it? So 194[5.] So I was starting to do this, in, like, 1994, 1993. So, it was really out of date, and she had this, I wouldn’t call it an anti-Mormon bias, but she used a lot of anti-Mormon sources that were late. I really didn’t know if I could trust them. If you have problem sources, you look at them, and you see if there’s backup with any other source. You have this, for any problem source, you go through that. If it’s late, sometimes the late source can be good. It can be helpful, but it’s good to get back up with another source. If something is controversial, then you want more backup and more sources. The Joseph Smith wives, Joseph Smith’s polygamy was controversial, kind of a taboo subject among Mormons. So, I started to work with Fawn Brodie’s list, but it had a lot of problems. So, I just started making my own list. And back on Elizabeth Davis Goldsmith Brackenbury Durfee Smith Lott. Back on her, she was listed twice in Fawn Brodie’s list. Once she’s listed as, I think, Brackenbury and once she’s listed as Durfee.
GT 18:38 Oh, so thinking they’re two different people.
Todd 18:39 She hadn’t made the connection, yeah. It’s hard to blame her, because…
GT 18:47 She was a pioneer.
Todd 18:48 Yeah, and she had separate husbands and she was known by a different name in every period of our history. That’s just one of the problems of working with women’s history in Mormon history and history throughout the world, is that often, they’re known by their husband’s name, instead of their maiden name. I remember working on Elizabeth Davis. It’s like it was a triumph every time I got one of those connections. So, I knew Elizabeth Davis was Elizabeth Durfee and so on.
Writing “In Sacred Loneliness”
Todd 19:28 Anyway, so I started making my own list of Joseph Smith’s wives and started writing my little mini biographies. I found out that, sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find another mini biography and work with that, but often you’re starting from scratch, almost. So, it really helped if you found a diary or an autobiography, or a reference in a newspaper. If you found a reference in the diary, you would say, “Oh, okay, I know, Hannah Ells was living in Nauvoo in May 1845. So, you get a residence history, and you figure out the names, with three marriages. Some women were quite simple in their marriage history. They married one person. So, all you had to do is find the maiden name and find her name. Then, if you can find a birth date and death date, that was great, and the name of the husband and name of the kids. You fill all those things in and it’s great. But I found out if you found a really good source, a primary source, it can really help in those mini biographies. So, while I was at the Huntington, I started branching out from Eliza R. Snow’s diary to the diaries of her sister wives, the writings of her sister wives. One was Zina Diantha Huntington. That’s her maiden name. Then her married names were Jacobs Smith Young.
GT 21:48 No relation to the Huntington Library, right?
Todd 21:49 No. It’s a common name, yeah. The Huntington library is connected with the railroad magnate Henry Huntington, the California railroad owner. Anyway, I found at the Huntington, I had access to the diaries of her brother, Oliver Huntington. He wrote these diaries throughout his life. They’re paying me to go there and work on Eliza R Snow. So, I had time, and I just sat down and took a few days and I read through all of those Oliver Huntington diaries. They were on film. They didn’t have the originals, but they were on film and they were very readable. I took notes. He was always talking about two of his sisters who married Joseph Smith: Presendia and Zina. So, I would take notes, and I could get the residence history of these two women and a lot about their background. Often, people would write their diaries, but they’d start out with a little autobiography, because they weren’t keeping diaries when they were kids. So, they’d start out with an autobiography and then switch to the diary at some point. That would be helpful for me.
Todd 23:25 One diary that really had a big impact on me was the diary of [Eliza Partridge Smith Lyman] and, as people may know, if they know a little background on Joseph Smith and his marriages, he married the Partridge sisters, Emily Partridge, and Eliza Partridge, who lived in his home as teenagers. They both were really wonderful writers. Emily wrote wonderful memoirs of her marriage to Joseph Smith and growing up near Kirtland on her dad’s hat making farm. He was a hatter, but he lived on a farm. Eliza later married Amasa Lyman, one of the apostles and ended up in central Utah near Fillmore. But her son, Platte Lyman was called to go on the Hole in the Rock mission in southeastern Utah. So, that was one of the last great frontiers of Utah and you had to–we’ve been talking about how hard it was for Jacob Hamblin to cross the Colorado River, because you had to go down these really difficult trails to get down to the Colorado. Then it was a big task to get across the Colorado. Then, often it was difficult on the other side to get away from the Colorado and get back up onto where you had smooth land again. Anyway, the Hole in the Rock company had to do that. Eliza wasn’t there, but Platte Lyman came home after a year and convinced her to go with him back down there, his mother Eliza. She kept a really fine diary of it. Before she went on the hole in the rock route to southeastern Utah, her daughter [Carlie] married in a polygamous marriage, and it was problematic. Eliza’s polygamous marriage [to Amasa Lyman] was [also] problematic. So, her daughter’s marriage was problematic, without getting into details. Then, her daughter died, and Eliza kept a full diary of the whole thing.
GT 23:31 Eliza Partridge.
Todd 23:43 Eliza Partridge Smith Lyman, she never remarried after Amasa Lyman died. That’s another story. They separated, at one point, because he left the church. So, this daughter [Caroline Eliza “Carlie” Lyman Callister] in this problematic polygamous family, after her child, her first child, [was born] she got really, really sick and had an excruciating sickness and died. It was incredibly painful for Eliza. I don’t know how she did it [kept a diary in that situation]. When I’m doing something, like when I come to a conference like the John Whitmer Association Conference…
GT 26:57 Yeah, nice shirt, by the way.
Todd 26:58 Yeah, there we are. We just went to it, the 2022, 50th anniversary conference. But I’m too tired to write. I don’t write in a diary, anyway, I should. I keep thinking I ought to start. But I’m too tired to do anything. I go to sleep when I go home. She kept this faithful, full diary, and it was really moving to read it. So, I felt like I really knew her. Then she went down to southeastern Utah and kept a really full diary down there. Her son was pursuing outlaws who had rustled some horses. There was a gunfight, I think, on the Colorado River, and he got shot in the leg. He had a really bad wound in his leg. So, she gave a full explanation of that. It’s just a wonderful diary. She has this precise, wonderful style, and you can tell her love for her children, like her son, Joseph, who was shot and the ordeal he went through healing from this wound. I forgot to mention that this daughter who died [Carlie], had a child who survived. And because she had this problematic relationship with her husband, she told him, she said, “I don’t want you and your family raising my child. I want my mother to raise the child.” So, when Eliza went down to southern Utah, she took this child, who, was named Joseph, with her, and she talks about raising him. Anyway, it’s a wonderful diary. That’s another thing that really hooked me toward continuing writing about these plural wives of Joseph Smith. I began finding these wonderful documents that were often very moving, often fascinating. Sometimes, they talked about the daily life, which isn’t as dramatic, but it’s really interesting to see what their daily life is like.
GT 29:46 So, you’re kind of an accidental Mormon historian.
Todd 29:50 Oh, yeah, for Mormon history. And by the way, I have this new book, the sequel, In Sacred Loneliness: The Documents, which just appeared a few days ago.
GT 30:06 That’s why we’re here. I got mine on Monday. I was like, “Oh, I could get him to sign it. This is awesome.”
Todd 30:12 Anyway, it has generous excerpts from Eliza R. Snow’s, I mean, Eliza–Eliza R. Snow, too. But Eliza Partridge Lyman, and has generous excerpts from her diary, and so on. In my first book, I’m going ahead here…
GT 30:34 Well, that’s absolutely fine, because I wanted to talk about your first book anyway.
Todd 30:38 In the first book, I have excerpts, but they’re part of narrative history. I tell the stories of each of the women. Each woman has a separate chapter, and I quote from the women. I wanted their voice there, but they’re not [complete.] [The documents are not complete] In the [first] book, it’s all quotations. Let’s see, where were we?
GT 31:03 This is kind of a primary source book, in a way.
Todd 31:05 This is a primary source book, yes.
GT 31:07 Yeah.
Todd 31:08 The Documents. So, that’s how you can tell the difference between the two books, the title has The Documents there.
GT 31:14 Right.
Todd 31:15 Which also explains the book. So, between those two things, I was just getting fascinated with writing these little mini histories, which we’re turning into…
GT 31:31 A book.
Todd 31:31 …longer histories. So, I had an outline history for each woman. I would just keep adding to each of these outlines. Eventually, I found out that Maureen Ursenbach Beecher [was working on the Eliza R. Snow diaries, and she contacted me, and she was a historian at BYU. She had been working on the Eliza R. Snow diaries for a long time. So I think…
GT 32:16 She wanted your research.
Todd 32:18 Well, I think she didn’t want me to do the diaries and bring them out before her.
GT 32:25 Oh, okay.
Todd 32:27 So, anyway, she contacted me, and we talked about what we were doing. I was happy to let her go ahead with that Eliza R. Snow diaries. Instead, I focused on the plural wives of Joseph.
GT 32:44 Oh, and that’s how we got In Sacred Loneliness.
Todd 32:46 Yeah, the first book. I helped her somewhat with her book, because I was right there at the Huntington and I could check things, and she helped me. I remember going to Provo, Utah–so I went to high school there and junior high. So, I had family there. I’m going ahead of myself, again. But my memory was, I went and visited Maureen at BYU at her office. She shared a whole bunch of documents with me, because, obviously, she was focusing on Eliza R. Snow. A lot of Eliza R. Snow’s friends were plural wives, former plural wives of Joseph Smith. So, we helped each other at that point. I was totally focused on the plural wives of Joseph Smith. Part of this was the detective work of history, which is one of the two things that really drew me into the book; and everyone who does research has that same experience. If you do family history of your ancestors, or if you’re doing a biography of a politician, like George Washington, there’s always this detective excitement about finding new documents. And there’s problems, like things that don’t make sense. You just keep working on that, getting more documents and eventually it makes sense, if you’re lucky, if you find the right documents. But with me, I found some special problems with the Joseph Smith wives. It was that a number of them, about a third of them, they married men in civil unions. So, they were married. Then, while they were married to these men, they married Joseph Smith. So, when I found out that was going on, then I just tried to document what was going on, find sources, find documents that talked about what was happening. So, this was a problem. What were the dynamics of these marriages? So, let’s take one.
Did Eliza Snow Get Pushed Down Stairs by Emma?
GT 35:50 Well, before you go there.
Todd 35:51 Okay.
GT 35:52 I want to just ask you a couple of questions about Eliza Snow and Eliza Partridge (and Elizabeth too.) There’s the famous story where Emma pushed Eliza [Snow] down the stairs. Were you able to document whether that was a true story or false story?
Todd 36:14 As I mentioned earlier, if you have a problematic source, what you try to do is you try to find something that supports it. So, that is, it’s a family history. It’s from the Snow family, and it’s late, which is a…
GT 36:37 problem.
Todd 36:40 I don’t like to call it a problem, but…
GT 36:42 It’s an issue.
Todd 36:43 It’s an issue, yeah. So, if something is late, it helps to find something to support it. So, it’s never been supported by any other source that I know of. So, in that kind of situation, you say, “Okay, here’s the document. Here’s the story.” You look at things like, does this make sense? And if it doesn’t make sense, that’s a problem. And is this in conflict with other documents? Would other sources have talked about this? And you ask these questions. This is just standard for all of history. Some people just say, “It’s late, so…”
GT 37:44 I’m going to throw it away.
Todd 37:46 I’m not like that at all. I could talk about that in more depth. But, as far as I know, and it’s been a long time since I actually, looked at that, when I was at the Huntington — and Linda King Newell wrote an article about it.
GT 38:07 Well, we think Don Bradley has basically come out and said, “Yeah, the story is not true.”
Todd 38:11 Yeah. I think Linda Newell cast doubt on it, also. So, you say, okay, here’s the story. It’s a family story. It’s late. In some ways, it doesn’t make sense, it conflicts with something else. So, you let the reader know that it may not be true. And, you say, this authority on Emma, and the Joseph Smith household, Linda King Newell, she believes that it has problems, and she rejects it. So, that’s how you work with it. But you keep it open, in your mind. Will we find another document that supports it? You never know. Sometimes that happens. You have a problem document, and then you find another document that supports it.
GT 39:07 Was this over Emma? I mean, the story is Emma was upset, because Eliza Snow was not only a secret wife of Joseph, but she was a counselor with Emma in the Relief Society presidency, right?
Todd 39:23 She was the secretary.
GT 39:24 Secretary.
Todd 39:25 She was a friend.
GT 39:27 Yeah so, they were friends, and, the story is this is over polygamy, and that…
Todd 39:33 The story is, I think, that Eliza R. Snow was pregnant.
GT 39:37 Right.
Todd 39:38 And Emma pushed her down the stairs and then she had a miscarriage, or something like that. That’s the story.
GT 39:49 I guess the other question is, well, if it’s not true, why would the family come up with the story?
Todd 39:53 Yeah, here again, you look at things like, were they mad at Emma? So did they come up with the story? I think this was from the Lorenzo Snow family. Okay. Were they mad at Emma? Is this part of propaganda against Emma that we know was happening in Utah at that time. Other people explain Eliza R. Snow never having kids by the fact that possibly she was raped in Missouri.
GT 40:34 Andrea Radke-Moss, I think, said that. She was gang raped, basically.
Todd 40:39 That could be. I’m not a doctor, but I guess that could affect you so you wouldn’t have kids. So, that could be an explanation for why she didn’t have kids. And maybe they didn’t want to talk about that, and the Snow family came up with a different explanation. So, if you have a problem document or problem situation, you look at all the sources and try to make sense of them.
GT 41:05 So, are you still open to the possibly that it could be true, but you just can’t confirm it? Is that kind of where you are?
Todd 41:10 Yeah, I forget exactly what I wrote about it. But you never know. Will another document come along, or not? Will the document be a contemporary [one?] That will help if it’s a contemporary source, and so on. But at this point, I would say [that] I don’t accept it. If you pulled a gun on me and told me, I had to say yes or no, I’d say no, at this point.
GT 41:16 No weapons here. (Chuckling)
Helen Mar Whitney
Todd 41:49 There’s some things, like another one of those situations is, did Joseph Smith consummate his marriage with the 14-year-old Helen Mar Whitney?
GT 42:01 Oh, yeah.
Todd 42:01 And I remember, Gary Bergera really wanted to get me to say what I thought. This is just on the phone. I said, “Well, you know, there’s no actual documentation [for consummation].” Usually, in a marriage, there is no documentation [for consummation] in someone’s diary, or autobiography.
GT 42:28 People don’t say, “I had sex last night. It was great.” People don’t say that.
Todd 42:29 There’s no documentation for that. The documentation is if they have kids.
GT 42:34 Right.
Todd 42:35 That shows there were sexual relations. But, sometimes, there are no kids, and they had sexual relations and for medical reasons, the wife, or the husband can’t have kids. Anyway, so with Gary, I said–well, you know, he didn’t pull a gun on me.
GT 42:40 (Chuckling)
Todd 42:55 But, he really wondered what I thought about that. I said, “I think that it was not consummated.”
GT 43:04 Really?
Todd 43:05 There were parallels in Utah, where people married girls, teenagers that young, and then they did not consummate the marriage until later. So, I said, “There’s at least that parallel in Utah and it might be the same pattern here in Nauvoo. So, we’re really going ahead of…
GT 43:29 This is a tangent, that’s okay.
Todd 43:29 ..the linear story.
GT 43:31 This is where the interesting stuff happens, usually, anyway. Because that’s been a big position of Brian Hales is that Joseph didn’t consummate anything with Helen. You called her Helen Mar Whitney. [Do you mean] Helen Mar Kimball?
Todd 43:44 Helen Mar Kimball Whitney.
GT 43:46 She has, like, 15 last names.
Todd 43:47 Helen Mar Kimball Smith Whitney. But she married Horace Whitney, the brother of Sarah Ann Whitney, another wife of Joseph Smith. So, she married Horace Whitney and had a number of kids with Horace Whitney. She was widely known as Helen Mar Whitney.
GT 44:05 Yeah. So one of the things that…
Todd 44:07 She’s often most broadly known by her last married name, so I often call her Helen Mar Whitney.
GT 44:13 Oh, I usually hear her known by Kimball. But anyways…
Todd 44:16 That’s the maiden name —. That’s, often when I do my own organizing things, like in my computer, I go by the maiden name, because that never changes.
GT 44:27 Right.
Todd 44:27 Anyway, go ahead.
GT 44:28 So one of the things Brian said, and I’d be curious about your opinion on this, especially with regards to Helen Mar Kimball Whitney Smith, (chuckling) is there was no Law of Adoption and even though it was a marriage or a sealing, that was the only way to seal families together, because the Law of Adoption came later. Is that a reasonable explanation for you?
Todd 44:59 Well, yeah, the Law the Adoption, we usually use that with men being adopted into someone else’s family, like a man being adopted into Brigham Young’s family.
GT 45:14 Yeah, like John D. Lee and Brigham Young.
Todd 45:16 Yeah. But it was done with Joseph Smith, too. Like, “I would like to have my family adopted into the Joseph Smith family,” after he died.
GT 45:26 Well, that theology just didn’t exist. So, the only way to tie families together was through marriage sealing.
Todd 45:31 So, for marriages, then and now, there were multiple reasons for marriage. It’s a healthy thing for there to be physical attraction. It’s a normal, healthy thing for there to be physical attraction in marriages, monogamous and polygamous, too. So, people go too far in saying, “Oh, there was no sexual attraction in Joseph Smith’s marriages.” And why not? I mean, it was a healthy, normal part of polygamous marriages, any marriage.
Todd 46:16 But there can be other motivations, too, that are kind of not taking over the whole motivation, but also part of the motivation. One can be, if you’re really close to another family, you might marry into the family, and there could be good, healthy attraction there, also. But you also might like to marry into this family [that] you admire so much. So, there definitely was, like Heber C. Kimball wanted this connection with Joseph Smith. So, it was done with the marriage to Helen Mar.
GT 47:09 And some marriages were more economic.
Todd 47:12 Yeah, in history, there were lots of economic reasons for marriages. And sometimes there was no attraction [in a marriage] at all. [The marriage was arranged for] a political reason. We need our families to be connected. Or [there was] a financial reason. You go into the history of ancient Rome, and a father would marry [off] his daughter, and the daughter had no say in it, but he would want a political connection with someone else.
GT 47:47 Right. I mean, is that what Joseph’s thinking was is, these are political connections with the Kimball family or something?
Todd 47:55 I don’t know if we’d call them political. Would we call them religious, eternal? So, I think this kind of marriage, I call it “dynastic.” [They were] connecting families. That’s one word that’s used. So, as I say, there are multiple reasons for every marriage, possibly. So, you might have attraction, but also this dynastic motivation.
Reject Pedophile Label?
GT 48:25 So would you take issue with some who would say Joseph was a pedophile because he married Helen Mar?
Todd 48:33 Yeah, well. I just went to Hales, what’s his first name?
GT 48:47 Brian.
Todd 48:47 Brian, yeah. I went to his session at Sunstone, and it was just an overview of Joseph Smith’s polygamy. I missed the first half. But he mentioned during his main talk, he said, “If it were…” — This is interesting, because he’s known as a defender of Joseph Smith, which I think he is overall. But he said, “If it were up to me, and I could go back and whisper in Joseph Smith’s ear, I would advise him to do polygamy in different ways.” He just said that and went on.
Todd 49:40 But during the question and answer [portion of the talk,] someone raised their hand and said, “Could you be more specific about what ways you would advise Joseph Smith, not to, Joseph Smith not to do his polygamy. So, he said someplace, either in his website or one of his books, he has gone through the things he would have done differently. But Brian, himself, right there, he went through five things. One was, he would have advised Joseph not to marry really young teenagers. And he would have advised him not to marry women who were married to other men.
GT 50:20 Right.
Todd 50:22 So, where were we? Are we still talking about Helen Mar? So, there was definitely that dynastic connection. Heber C. Kimball wanted this family connection with Joseph Smith, and they used sealings to do that.
GT 50:39 And you would reject the pedophile label?
Todd 50:46 Yeah. I wouldn’t use the pedophile label.
GT 50:49 So, this was more of a dynastic sealing?
Todd 50:52 We don’t have it documented that it was consummated. He might have gone through the pattern that we find in Utah, sometimes, of waiting before there was sexual relations. However, I think it is problematic that he would marry someone at that age. I think it’s problematic this idea of men saying, “Well, we’re going to use a marriage to a daughter to connect ourselves.” I think it’s not fair to the daughter, definitely.
GT 51:30 Didn’t Helen feel that way?
Todd 51:31 Yes, she was very, very disturbed by it. The mother, Vilate, was disturbed by it, [Helen’s] mother, the wife of Heber C. Kimball. And Helen Mar left a wonderful memoir of her marriage to Joseph Smith, and it was addressed to her kids. And this is another one of these late documents that I think is extremely, extremely valuable. And, yes, if we find a diary by someone who was there at the marriage, and it talks about it, yes. Compare the two. But, without that contemporary documentation, this is a very valuable source. Some people say, “No, it’s valuable, because it [only] shows how Helen Mar felt about it.” I disagree with that. I think it’s valuable, because it’s a valuable record of what happened in history. It’s not perfect, but no historical record is perfect. Contemporary records are not perfect. In diaries, if you have a certain event happen [involving two people], let’s say a controversial event. Let’s say we’re lucky. Both of them keep a diary. Let’s say for instance, they have an argument. And they both go home, and they write in their diaries, that very same day. Each will be biased toward their own point of view. You get these biases in contemporary sources.
GT 53:26 He said/she said kind of a thing.
Todd 53:28 Yeah, and we have a John D. Lee diary, talking about Jacob Hamblin, and conflicts they had. John D. Lee, he kept a wonderful diary. I’m amazed that these people found time to keep diaries—, but he was very egotistic. And that comes through in a lot of diaries. It’s a very human thing. So, with these conflicts he had with Jacob Hamblin, one thing I say is, “Well, you know, this is what Lee said, but it would be great to have Jacob Hamblin’s version of what was going on here. I let people know that there’s another side, and we don’t have it. That’s one problem with contemporary sources is often we don’t have those sources where we’d like them. So, anyway, so Helen Mar kept this wonderful memoir, which she gave to her kids about how she married Joseph Smith, and how incredibly painful it was to her and to her mother. Aside from this sealing connection of the two families, Joseph Smith told her, a 14-year-old if you go through with this marriage with me, you’ll be saved for eternity. You’ll have exaltation. But not only you, but your family. It’s a horrible thing to say to a 14-year-old to try to get her to marry you.
GT 55:14 Very manipulative.
Todd 55:16 I don’t know if I would call it manipulative. I have this real moderate streak, so I have to apologize for that.
GT 55:26 No, no apologies necessary.
Todd 55:28 Heber C. Kimball and Joseph Smith might have been very sincere in wanting to link their families. And this is how you did it, through sealings. But I don’t think it was a good way to link and I don’t think it was good to put a woman of any sort, but, especially, a 14-year-old, in that position —. So, let’s see, where were we?
GT 56:01 So do you have anything you can add from Helen Mar, in The Documents book here, that you’d like to share?
Todd 56:09 Every woman left different kinds of documents, and a different selection of documents. Some women left lots of documents, and others just left a letter, and that’s all we know about that woman from a primary source, from what she wrote. But Helen Mar, she wrote an extensive autobiography that was published in Women’s Exponent, mostly about Nauvoo and her growing up before Nauvoo and then crossing the plains and Winter Quarters. Then she wrote that private memoir of her marriage to Joseph Smith, to her kids, and then she started keeping a diary later in her life. So, we have extensive diaries from her, later in her life. I helped publish those diaries. Those are available at Utah State University Press. They’re long past Nauvoo, obviously. But it’s very interesting, every now and then she looks back toward Nauvoo.
GT 57:40 Right.
Experiences of Women in Polygamy
Todd 57:41 And this is another thing I found out with all of these [women], or a lot of these women is they’re looking, in their later lives, sometimes they’re known as plural wives with Joseph Smith, and so they’re sought out, “Can you tell us what happened? Can you write your autobiography?” And they’re looking back toward Nauvoo, and there’s this backward vision in their later lives. And I guess, I should say, when I was back at the Huntington, starting to write these first mini biographies, and then extensive outlines of their lives. I got interested in their later lives. The Eliza Partridge [Lyman] diary is one example of how I got interested in their later lives. But, some really fine scholars have focused on Nauvoo and Joseph Smith’s polygamy, and that’s totally valid. They’re kind of interested in the plural wives, as helping to tell the story of Joseph Smith and his polygamy. And that’s entirely valid and helpful.
Todd 59:02 However, I got interested in the women, themselves, and partially through Eliza Partridge Lyman. So, I tell the whole story of their lives. One thing that I found out was in Nauvoo, their marriages to Joseph Smith were very, very secret. And it [polygamy] was illegal, according to state law in Nauvoo, and Joseph Smith was very worried about legal liability throughout his life and from Kirtland on, so he swore everyone to secrecy when he introduced them to polygamy.
GT 59:54 Did masonry help with the secrecy? I’ve heard that said.
Todd 59:56 Yes, there’s that connection. Again, you’d have to read Cheryl Bruno’s book. Masonry really emphasized secrecy. So, I think some people, I think Cheryl believes that this Masonic demand for secrecy, kind of was connected with this polygamy demand for secrecy. Anyway, later Joseph Smith died, and they [his plural wives] remarried. Often, they remarried apostles who felt they had a duty to marry Joseph Smith’s widows. So, Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young married a number of Joseph Smith’s plural wives. Then they went, obviously, they went to Utah. However, in Utah, plural marriage wasn’t secret. It was open, and they could live openly. The wives of Brigham Young could live openly in his household.
GT 1:01:16 At least after 1852, right?
Todd 1:01:18 Well…
GT 1:01:20 Even before?
Todd 1:01:21 They were kind of living it openly. Everyone knew about it, before that. But they made a public imprint/announcement of it to the world in 1852. Anyway, it was a different kind of polygamy in Utah than it had been in Nauvoo. Because I included the latter part of their lives, I recorded what their lives were like in polygamy, like, in the Brigham Young household. Emily Partridge Smith Young kept a very interesting diary of her marriage to Brigham Young, and what it was like to live in his household. She had real financial problems. At the same time she was in the household, she was in the plural family of Brigham Young, and he was quite wealthy. So, that’s a really interesting diary. And why did she have this problem with Brigham Young? When she needed things, it was totally different than this monogamous family that we’re used to now, where you everyone in the family (like the wife and the kids) see the father every day. And the father sees the wife and the kids every day. That wasn’t what it was like in Emily Partridge’s household. If she wanted to talk to Brigham Young, she made an appointment. She would sit in the office and wait and make this [request.] She was really nervous as she was waiting, because often she was requesting things.
GT 1:03:32 She was a pretty young wife, too, wasn’t she?
Todd 1:03:34 When she married Brigham Young, yeah. And I’m not telling the whole story.
GT 1:03:43 You’ve got to read the book for that.
Todd 1:03:44 But all I’m saying is that I found often there were these problems with polygamy where the husband was absent. So, there were financial problems for the wife and there were emotional issues. Different wives had different relationships with the husband, and sometimes they called them, like, the favorite wife. And other wives were not. And Emily Partridge was not a favorite wife at that point. Very often, the favorite wife was a younger wife. So, there was this tension between the older wives and the younger wives, and you’d have situations where it’s difficult, where the older wives are watching their husband go out and court a younger wife. [This was] very, very, emotionally disturbing for the older wives. So, I found these patterns and that gave the book the title, In Sacred Loneliness. I found that…
GT 1:04:57 Because they were lonely.
Todd 1:04:57 Yeah, and there were different types of plural marriages and different types of relationships and plural marriages. Some plural families were more successful than others. Brigham Young had, like, 56 wives. Most of them separated from him at some point. So, he had children with only about, what was it? 20, 19, something like that.
GT 1:05:34 Out of how many?
Todd 1:05:37 Well, you had like 56 wives, and then he had kids with, like, 19 wives. He ended up with 56 kids, something like that. You also had polygamous families where the husband had two wives. That’s very different. That was a very different experience from a family where the husband had 20 or more wives, or even 10 or more wives.
GT 1:06:14 Because physically just can’t see them every day.
Todd 1:06:18 Right, yeah. So, that gave the title of my book. It’s one of the main themes of my book, what the experience was like for women in polygamy. So, in modern polygamy, there’s a good book, and I haven’t made that a focus of my study. But there’s a good book, the author’s Ginat. There are at least two authors. I forget the other author, but he did lots of interviews with modern polygamists. [Irwin Altman and Joseph Ginat, Polygamous Families in Contemporary Society.] And I found some of the same issues. Oh, and we should add, when we’re talking about the number of wives, you can see that the more wives you had, the more problematic it would be. During the time of Joseph Smith, he developed the doctrine that–first he developed the doctrine that to gain the highest exaltation, you had to be a polygamist.
GT 1:07:39 Right.
Todd 1:07:41 And then, using certain scriptures, he added onto that, that the more, the greater your family, the more wives you had, and the more children you had with these more wives, again, the greater your exaltation. So, there was this religious motivation to have a large family, to have a lot [of children.] So, that’s one of the reasons you had these really big families, like, Heber C. Kimball’s family and Brigham Young’s family. You had this religious motivation to get the large family. But the larger the family you had, the more problematic it was for the women. There was less financial help. There was less emotional help. Often what happened was, the plural wife, when her kids grew up, she was dependent upon them for both emotional and economic help. So, there’s just a little explanation of the title of the book, and that interpretation of polygamy and one of the problems with polygamy.
GT 1:09:14 So, one other question, jumping back to…
Todd 1:09:17 Oh, I was going to mention in that book, some of the same issues…
GT 1:09:22 Oh, the modern polygamy book.
Todd 1:09:23 Yeah. I remember in the book, apparently, they picked it up, I guess, from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, this religious motivation to have a lot of wives. So, you have some of these modern polygamists with lots of lives. Anyway, in this one account in this book by Ginat, the polygamist said he had a system where he was very equal in his visits to his wives, and I think he had like 25 or something like that.
GT 1:10:08 Really? Wow.
Todd 1:10:10 And so, he would visit one, one night, one the other night, and the wives knew when he would be there to visit. But then one of the kids would have a birthday. Obviously, they often had large families, each wife, six or seven kids.
GT 1:10:37 They probably shared birthdays.
Todd 1:10:39 Well, they’d have a birthday, and so they’d have a birthday party. The husband would want to be at the birthday party, and he would try to be at the birthday party. He found it really difficult, because he was scheduled to be with another wife and another family at the time of the birthday party. So, eventually, he decided he couldn’t go to birthday parties, this particular person who was interviewed in this book. So, [it’s] just showing how split up you were as the husband, split by your numerous families, especially if you have a large polygamous family.
GT 1:11:26 Right.
Todd 1:11:27 Yeah. [So] I wrote these small bios that turned into bigger bios, and, eventually, I turned them into narratives, which was an adventure for me. I’d never written this kind of narrative or history before. Fortunately, it worked out. And without going into details, it eventually, got published. I developed this really strong, emotional connection with these women. Their writing was wonderful. So, I didn’t know if other people would be affected like I was, but other people have been and so the book has had a readership and other people are affected, too. So that’s great.
Partridge Sisters Double Marriages
GT 1:12:24 Can I jump back to the Partridge sisters, Emily and Eliza? Is there evidence? Because what I’ve heard is they were married secretly to Joseph, and then Emma gave permission to marry them. So, then they have a second sham sealing ceremony with Emma present. Then Emma was surprised to find out that these were physical relationships, right?
Todd 1:12:58 Yeah.
GT 1:12:59 Then she demanded a watch or a necklace or something like that. I can’t remember what it was.
Todd 1:13:05 That’s a different wife. I think that’s Desdemona Fullmer. [Flora Ann Woodworth]
GT 1:13:11 Okay. I thought it was the Partridge sisters. But, anyway, so do we have evidence that Emma actually did give permission for Joseph to marry the Partridge sisters?
Todd 1:13:24 Well, this is mostly from the memoir of Emily Partridge Young.
GT 1:13:35 Okay.
Todd 1:13:36 And as I mentioned, her sister, Eliza Partridge Lyman was a fine writer, a really wonderful writer and not meaning as a sophisticated, well-educated writer, but as a writer who could express her emotions, like in her diary in her memoirs, and so on. Emily was the same way. So, Emily kept this, wrote this full memoir of her marriage to Joseph Smith. Again, it’s late. But, again, you know, it’s a really vivid memoir. Let me just go a little bit into this, because some people are saying…
GT 1:14:23 It’s late so we’re going to throw it out.
Todd 1:14:23 Throw out all late writings.
GT 1:14:25 It sure makes it easy to say that Joseph didn’t practice polygamy if you do that though.
Todd 1:14:28 Oh, yeah. Oh, that’s right. We are getting people who are absolutely denying that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, aren’t we? Anyway, my dad was in World War II, and he was training to be an airplane mechanic. So, they shipped him [out.] He started in Utah, and they shipped him to different military posts across the country, and he got trained in a different thing in each post. Anyway, one day he was he was in his 90s, 92 or something like that. I said, “Dad, tell me about World War II, your experience in World War II.”
Todd 1:15:23 And he, without looking at any notes or anything, he just went through it all. He said, “I went here first, and I learned about this. And I knew such and such people and they were wonderful people and, then I went to this next post in Texas, and this is what I did here.” His memory was really vivid. And obviously, if we’d had a diary, we could have filled in the exact dates when he went from place to place. But his memory was very vivid of him going to these different places. He knew the names of the people he ran into in these places. He remembered them with great affection, and fondness. So, I wrote this down. I wrote all this down, and I have this little oral history I took with him when he was 93 or so. And that’s a really important historical document. His memory was very vivid. He remembered lots of details. For me, that’s an important, valid historical document.
Todd 1:16:47 In the same way, if Emily Partridge gives her memories of her marriage to Joseph Smith, to me, that’s an important, valid document. Now, with late documents, you have certain issues. One is, often you don’t have the exact dates. They get the dates wrong. They get the year wrong. That’s very typical of, I call this retrospective writing. But [because my Dad didn’t have the exact dates] that doesn’t mean that my dad didn’t go to these different places.
GT 1:17:17 Didn’t participate in World War II.
Todd 1:17:19 Yeah and it’s the same thing with Emily Partridge, unless you think that she’s totally, incredibly dishonest, and has a very vivid [imagination and] is just totally making it up. So, I know myself. I have vivid memories of going to third grade and central school in Alamosa, Colorado, and the name of the teacher, Mrs. Lobato, who yelled at me. I don’t remember the date of my third grade.
Todd 1:17:54 I could go look it up, and check with my siblings and find out if any of them have documents. I might have documents myself. So, that’s what you need to do if you’re worried about the dates, the exact dates. You see if you have other sources to help make the bigger picture. Evidence works with other evidence when you’re a historian. You find all the evidence you can, and you put it together like a puzzle. The evidence, it really helps. One document really helps [us understand] another document. But what I’m saying is, you can’t just reject late documents. You can’t reject a memoir. So, where was I?
Todd 1:18:58 So, all of this business about the two marriages, I think, mostly it’s from the Emily Partridge memoir. And it’s very vivid. It’s a wonderful piece of storytelling. But there are some problems. One is, both she and her sisters gave affidavits about that second marriage, and they gave the date, May 11. I think they said, “Emma was there.” We look into other documentation, and Emma wasn’t at home on May 11. So, that’s a problem.
Todd 1:19:44 So, what people have done if they’ve said, “Okay, we think this happened like Emily Partridge said, but, we think we she got the dates wrong,” which is very typical of memoirs. I think anyone would have that problem if they were talking about their earlier life. They wouldn’t get the dates right. So, there’s a problem with that May 11 date, but other people have suggested other dates that are possible. But I accept her story, I accept that document as what happened.
Todd 1:20:30 She said that Emma was wonderful to them. They were living in the home of Joseph Smith and Emma, and they were helping tend the kids, help with the kids, like a governess type thing. Emily and Eliza’s father had died, Edward Partridge. So, you had this large family that needed help. So, it helped that Emily and Eliza got to live in the Smith home.
GT 1:21:10 In the Mansion House, right?
Todd 1:21:11 I think it was the Mansion house, yeah. Eventually, their mother remarried. Interestingly enough, the father of Zina Diantha Huntington Smith Young, and Presendia Huntington Smith Kimball. [So Emily and Eliza] said [that] Emma was wonderful to them, when they were living in the home, and Joseph was, too. However, after the marriage, Emily says, “Emma turned against us, right then.” And there were big arguments with Joseph. Eventually, Emma had them kicked out of the house. So, they had to find other places to live. So, it shows how difficult it was for Emma.
Todd 1:22:24 Emily, kind of blamed Joseph Smith, like, “Here, you married us, and then all of a sudden, you’re kicking us out of the house.” She didn’t feel that was right. But she said, “Looking back on it,” and we get this way, as we get older, we get more forgiving. She was more forgiving toward Joseph Smith, and felt she knew how difficult it was for him dealing with Emma, and his situation as prophet of the Church, and so on. So, that’s my evaluation of that story. I believe there were the two marriages. The May 11 date, probably we should look for a different date. Some people have suggested other dates.
GT 1:23:17 May 11 is the second date.
Todd 1:23:19 Right, yeah. So, they had married Joseph Smith, secretly. These were all really secret marriages. Emily and Eliza didn’t even know about how they had married Joseph Smith. [Each sister didn’t know that the other sister had married Joseph Smith.]
GT 1:23:41 The first time.
Todd 1:23:42 The first time, and eventually, Emily told Eliza, even though Joseph Smith had told them not to. But that was when he hadn’t told Emma. So. that’s another thing. That was on Brian Hales list of, “He should have told Emma before any of these marriages,” he [Brian] felt. And that’s true. I think that would have been great for the rest of the history of polygamy in Utah.
Todd 1:24:31 They had this ideal of the first wife. You had to get permission to the first wife, talk with the first wife and get her permission. Then, they called it the Law of Sarah and she would give the hand of the new wife into the hand of the husband. So, that was the ideal. But, often, it didn’t work like that. Often, the first wife didn’t know when the husband was thinking of adding another wife, and she was not happy about it. She was not consulted. But it would have been good if they could have kept with that ideal all through Utah.
Todd 1:25:18 Often the first wife had the most difficult experience. But, on the other hand, sometimes the first wife was one that the husband was most attached to. So, he never had the connection with the other wives that he had with the first wife. That’s how it was with Heber C. Kimball. He had this really close attachment with Vilate Kimball. And he had these younger wives and he had children with these younger wives, but he never quite had the attachment that he had with Vilate. So that’s another example of this inequality of attachment. I call it practical polygamy in Utah.
[End Part 1]
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