LDS Mormon Teen Polygamy

 
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Was it normal to marry 14 year-old girls in Joseph Smith's time?

teen-polygamy"And I will bless Joseph Smith and multiply him and give unto him an hundredfold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds."

"And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified."

"But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused [to Joseph Smith], shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto Joseph Smith to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified."
- Doctrine and Covenants Section 132:55, 62-63

Many LDS Church leaders and historians suggest that sexual relations and the marriage of Joseph Smith and his youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball, fourteen at the time, was "approaching eligibility."

There is no documentation to support the idea that marriage at fourteen was "approaching eligibility." Actually, marriages even two years later, at the age of sixteen, occurred occasionally but infrequently in Helen Mar's culture. Thus, girls marrying at fourteen, even fifteen, were very much out of the ordinary. Sixteen was comparatively rare, but not unheard of. American women began to marry in their late teens; around different parts of the United States the average age of marriage varied from nineteen to twenty-three.

pioneer-girlIn the United States the average age of menarche (first menstruation) dropped from 16.5 in 1840 to 12.9 in 1950. More recent figures indicate that it now occurs on average at 12.8 years of age. The mean age of first marriages in colonial America was between 19.8 years to 23.7, most women were married during the age period of peak fecundity (fertility).

Mean pubertal age has declined by some 3.7 years from the 1840’s.

The psychological sexual maturity of Helen Mar Kimball in today’s average age of menarche (first menstruation) would put her psychological age of sexual maturity at the time of the marriage of Joseph Smith at 9.1 years old. (16.5 years-12.8 years =3.7 years) (12.8 years-3.7 years=9.1 years)

The fact is Helen Mar Kimball's sexual development was still far from complete. Her psychological sexual maturity was not competent for procreation. The coming of puberty is regarded as the termination of childhood; in fact the term child is usually defined as the human being from the time of birth to the on-coming of puberty. Puberty the point of time at which the sexual development is completed. In young women, from the date of the first menstruation to the time at which she has become fitted for marriage, the average lapse of time is assumed by researchers to be two years.

Age of eligibility for women in Joseph Smith’s time-frame would start at a minimum of 19 ½ years old.

This would suggest that Joseph Smith had sexual relations and married several women before the age of eligibility, and some very close to the age of eligibility including:

  • Fanny Alger 16
  • Sarah Ann Whitney 17
  • Lucy Walker 17
  • Flora Ann Woodworth 16
  • Emily Dow Partridge 19
  • Sarah Lawrence 17
  • Maria Lawrence 19
  • Helen Mar Kimball 14
  • Melissa Lott 19
  • Nancy M. Winchester [14?]

And then we have these testimonies:
joseph smith "Joseph was very free in his talk about his women. He told me one day of a certain girl and remarked, that she had given him more pleasure than any girl he had ever enjoyed. I told him it was horrible to talk like this."
- Joseph Smith's close confidant and LDS Church First Councilor, William Law, Interview in Salt Lake Tribune, July 31, 1887

When Heber C. Kimball asked Sister Eliza R. Snow the question if she was not a virgin although married to Joseph Smith, she replied, "I thought you knew Joseph Smith better than that."
- Stake President Angus M. Cannon, statement of interview with Joseph III, 23, LDS archives.

Short Bios of Smith's wives:
http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org

Did Smith have sex with his wives?:
http://www.i4m.com/think/history/joseph_smith_sex.htm

Whatever the average age of menarche might have been in the mid 19th-century, the average age of marriage was around 20 for women and 22 for men. And a gap of 15 to 20 years or more between partners was very unusual, not typical. Whatever biology might have to say, according to the morals of his time, several of Joseph Smith's wives were still inappropriately young for him.

It is a pure myth that 19th-century American girls married at age 12-14.

For example, Laura Ingalls Wilder, from Little House on the Prairie fame, was born in 1867, which puts her later than Joseph Smith but still in the 1800s. She tells of hearing of the marriage of a 13-year-old girl, and being shocked. She also notes that the girl's mother 'takes in laundry,' and is sloppy and unkempt--implying that "nice" people don't marry off their teenaged daughters. Laura, herself, became engaged at 17--but her parents asked her to wait until she was 18 to marry.

You merely need to go to your local courthouse and ask to see the old 19th century marriage books. Take a look at and pay attention to the age at marriage. Sure a very few did, but it was far from the norm. The vast majority of women married after the age of twenty.

In fact, look up the marriage ages in the Smith family before polygamy. You'll find that one of the Smith girls was 19. The rest of them, and their sisters-in-law, were in their early 20s when they married. The Smith boys' first wives were in their 20s. The same pattern was true for the various branches of my family and the rest of American society at the time.

On the extremely rare occasions women younger than 17 married, it was to men close to their same age, not 15 to 20 years older.

The case is even true in pioneer Utah among first marriages. Mormon men in their twenties started out marrying someone their own age. Then later these older men married girls under twenty to be their plural wives. But the first wives were the age of the husband and married over the age of twenty. This is still the case is the rural Utah polygamist communities.

References:

Coale and Zelnik assume a mean age of marriage for white women of 20 (1963: 37). Sanderson's assumptions are consistent with a mean of 19.8 years (Sanderson 1979: 343). The Massachusetts family reconstitutions revealed somewhat higher mean ages. For Hingham, Smith reports an age at first marriage of 23.7 at the end of the eighteenth century (1972: Table 3, p. 177). For Sturbridge, the age for a comparable group was 22.46 years (Osterud and Fulton 1976: Table 2, p. 484), and in Franklin County it was 23.3 years (Temkin-Greener, H., and A.C. Swedlund. 1978. Fertility Transition in the Connecticut Valley:1740-1850. Population Studies 32 (March 1978):27-41.: Table 6, p. 34).

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 63; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 (NY: Oxford University Press, 1980), 6; Nancy F. Cott, "Young Women in the Second Great Awakening in New England," Feminist Studies 3 (1975): 16. Larkin writes,

Dr. Dorothy V. Whipple, Dynamics of Development: Euthenic Pediatrics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966)

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