The Polygamous Marriages of Joseph Smith

Introduction to Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism and the leader of the Latter-day Saints, is a figure who has sparked both curiosity and controversy throughout history. One of the most debated aspects of his life revolves around his practice of polygamy, also known as plural marriage. The question on many people’s minds is: How many wives did Joseph Smith have?

To understand the significance of this inquiry, it is important to delve into the early life and religious journey of Joseph Smith. Born into the Smith family in 1805, he would go on to shape the beliefs and traditions of a new religious movement. His claim of receiving divine revelations and translating the Book of Mormon brought him followers and eventually led to the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Polygamy emerged as a controversial practice within early Mormonism during the Nauvoo period of the mid-1840s. While some viewed it as a sacred commandment from God, others criticized it for being secretive and potentially exploitative. Understanding Joseph Smith’s involvement in this practice and the number of wives he had is crucial to comprehending the complexities surrounding his life and legacy.

In this article, we will explore the topic of Joseph Smith’s multiple marriages, examining the historical context, controversies, and the impact these relationships had on his own community. Let us delve into the fascinating and often contentious world of Joseph Smith’s polygamous unions.

Introduction to Joseph Smith

Introduction to Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith was a prominent religious leader and the founder of Mormonism, also known as the Latter-day Saint movement. Born on December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont, Smith’s life journey would eventually lead to the establishment of one of the fastest-growing religions in the world today.

Mormonism, officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a Christian restorationist movement that originated in upstate New York during the early 19th century. The religion follows the teachings of Joseph Smith, who claimed to have been visited by God and Jesus Christ in a series of divine revelations.

Smith’s early experiences with religion were shaped by the religious fervor and revivalism prevalent during the Second Great Awakening in America. As a teenager, he became disillusioned with the various denominations around him and sought solace through prayer and personal reflection.

In 1820, at the age of 14, Smith described an extraordinary event known as the “First Vision.” According to his account, he received a heavenly visitation where God and Jesus Christ appeared before him, providing guidance and counseling. This profound experience laid the foundation for his future religious endeavors.

Over the course of his life, Joseph Smith not only translated and published the Book of Mormon, which he claimed was an ancient record of the Americas, but he also established a unique religious community based on principles of faith, family, and communal living.

The teachings of Joseph Smith centered around the concept of continuing revelation, emphasizing the ability of individuals to receive personal guidance from God. This belief formed the basis for the development of new doctrines and practices within the Latter-day Saint movement.

While Joseph Smith’s contributions to the religious landscape are significant, his legacy is not without controversy. One notable aspect that continues to spark debate is his practice of polygamy, also known as plural marriage.

Smith believed that he had received a revelation from God authorizing the practice of polygamy. This led to his marriage to multiple women, including some who were already married to other men. The practice of polygamy became a defining characteristic of early Mormonism and remains a topic of interest among scholars and followers of the faith.

In conclusion, Joseph Smith’s life and teachings are intrinsically tied to the foundation and growth of Mormonism. His religious experiences, from the First Vision to the establishment of communal living and the controversial practice of polygamy, shaped the unique beliefs and practices of the Latter-day Saints. Understanding Joseph Smith’s role in the development of Mormonism is essential for comprehending the faith and its ongoing impact on millions of individuals worldwide.

Early Life and Religious Journey

Early Life and Religious Journey

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism and the man at the center of the controversy surrounding his multiple marriages, had an intriguing early life and religious journey that laid the foundation for his beliefs and actions.

The Smith Family

Joseph Smith was born into a humble farming family on December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont. His parents, Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, instilled in him strong religious values and a deep sense of spirituality. Raised in a devout Christian household, young Joseph was exposed to various Protestant denominations and their interpretations of Christianity.

Religious Beliefs and Quest for Truth

As Joseph Smith grew older, he became increasingly dissatisfied with the conflicting doctrines and practices of different Christian sects. He sought answers to profound questions about the nature of God, salvation, and the purpose of life. Inspired by his own spiritual yearnings, Smith embarked on a personal quest for truth, often engaging in intense discussions and debates with religious leaders and scholars of his time.

The Book of Mormon

It was during this period of introspection and seeking divine guidance that Joseph Smith claimed to have received a series of revelations from God. According to Smith’s account, an angel named Moroni directed him to a hidden record engraved on golden plates buried in a hill near his family’s home in upstate New York. These plates, which Smith would later translate with the help of divine instruments, were said to contain the ancient writings of prophets who had lived in the Americas centuries before.

The result of Smith’s purported translation efforts was the Book of Mormon, a sacred text that he claimed was a companion to the Bible and a testament of Jesus Christ. Published in 1830, the Book of Mormon became the centerpiece of Smith’s religious teachings and the foundation of the faith known today as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormonism.

The First Vision

One of the most pivotal moments in Joseph Smith’s religious journey occurred when he was a young man of 14. In what would become known as the First Vision, Smith claimed to have experienced a divine manifestation in which he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. According to his account, this vision confirmed the existence of God and marked the beginning of his prophetic calling.

The First Vision is regarded as a seminal event in Mormon theology, as it revealed the restoration of true Christianity and set Smith on a path that eventually led to the establishment of a new religious movement.

As we delve deeper into Joseph Smith’s life and explore the controversies surrounding his multiple marriages, it is important to understand the early experiences and spiritual convictions that shaped his beliefs and influenced his actions. Only by examining the full context can we gain a comprehensive understanding of the complexities surrounding his religious journey.

Polygamy in Early Mormonism

Polygamy in Early Mormonism

During the early years of Mormonism, the practice of polygamy, also known as plural marriage, played a significant role. The period when polygamy was most prevalent within the Mormon community is often referred to as the Nauvoo period. This controversial aspect of Joseph Smith’s teachings and personal life continues to intrigue historians and spark debates.

Polygamy Defined
Polygamy refers to the practice of having more than one spouse simultaneously. It can take various forms, such as polygyny (one man marrying multiple women) or polyandry (one woman marrying multiple men). In the case of Joseph Smith and early Mormonism, polygyny was the prevalent form.

Rationale Behind Plural Marriage
According to Joseph Smith and his followers, the practice of polygamy was rooted in religious beliefs and revelations. They believed that God had commanded them to enter into these sacred unions, which they deemed necessary for achieving exaltation in the afterlife. Plural marriage was seen as a way to fulfill biblical practices and restore ancient traditions.

Nauvoo Period: A Turning Point
The Nauvoo period, from approximately 1839 to 1844, marked a turning point for the implementation of polygamy within the Mormon community. It was during this time that Joseph Smith publicly introduced and taught the principle of celestial marriage, which included plural marriage.

Challenges and Controversies
The practice of polygamy faced significant challenges and controversies during this period. Many within and outside the Mormon community were skeptical of and opposed to the idea of plural marriage. Non-Mormons viewed it as immoral and a threat to societal norms, while some Mormons themselves struggled with the concept.

Plural Wives of Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith had several wives throughout his life. Some well-known examples include Emma Smith, who was his first wife and remained staunchly opposed to polygamy, and Fanny Alger, who was rumored to be his first plural wife. Other notable wives of Joseph Smith included Lucinda Harris, Eliza Partridge, and many more.

Legacy and Impact
The practice of polygamy within early Mormonism left a lasting impact on the history and development of the Latter-day Saints movement. After Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, the Church leadership continued to practice polygamy until it was officially discontinued in 1890. However, its legacy still influences some sects and fundamentalist groups within Mormonism today.

Polygamy in early Mormonism was a complex and controversial aspect of Joseph Smith’s teachings. The Nauvoo period witnessed the widespread acceptance and practice of plural marriage, which had a profound impact on the Mormon community. Understanding this historical context is crucial for comprehending the beliefs and experiences of early Mormons.

Joseph Smith’s Wives

Joseph Smith’s Wives

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was known to have practiced polygamy or plural marriage. While his most well-known and prominent wife was Emma Smith, he had multiple other wives who played significant roles in his life and the development of the Mormon community.

Emma Smith

Emma Hale Smith was Joseph Smith’s first wife and remained his only legal wife throughout their marriage. They were married on January 18, 1827, and had eleven children together, although sadly, only five of them survived to adulthood. Emma was a devoted supporter of her husband and played an essential role in the early days of the LDS Church. Despite her unwavering loyalty, Emma struggled with the concept of polygamy and did not accept or participate in Joseph’s later plural marriages.

Fanny Alger

Fanny Alger is believed to be the first plural wife of Joseph Smith. She was a young woman who worked as a housemaid for the Smith family in the mid-1830s. While the exact details of their relationship remain somewhat ambiguous, it is widely accepted that they were married in a form of celestial or spiritual marriage. This union created controversy within the Mormon community and strained Joseph’s relationship with his wife Emma.

Lucinda Harris

Lucinda Pendleton Morgan Harris was another woman who became one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives. Lucinda was previously married to George W. Harris and joined the Mormon community with her husband in 1831. After her husband’s death, she married Joseph Smith in a plural marriage in 1842. Lucinda played an active role in the Nauvoo Relief Society, a women’s organization established by Joseph Smith.

Eliza Partridge

Eliza Maria Partridge was a young woman who became one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives during the Nauvoo period. She was introduced to the idea of plural marriage by her older sister, Emily Partridge, who was also married to Joseph Smith. Eliza lived with the Smith family and acted as a nanny for their children. She later became an advocate for women’s rights and played a crucial role in the suffrage movement.

These are just a few examples of the women who became Joseph Smith’s plural wives. While some of these marriages were well-documented and acknowledged by the church, others remain controversial or disputed. The practice of polygamy in early Mormonism continues to be a topic of discussion and study within the LDS community.

The relationships between Joseph Smith and his plural wives remain complex and multi-faceted, reflecting the challenges and controversies that surrounded the early days of the Mormon faith. By exploring these historical connections, we gain valuable insights into the life and legacy of Joseph Smith and the development of the Mormon community.

Note: It is important to approach this topic with sensitivity and respect for differing perspectives and beliefs within the Mormon community.

Controversies and Criticisms

Controversies and Criticisms

The practice of polygamy in early Mormonism, particularly under the leadership of Joseph Smith, has been a subject of controversies and criticisms. The secrecy surrounding these plural marriages and the implications they had on individual relationships and the broader community sparked heated debates during that time and continue to be discussed today.

Secrecy and Hidden Practices

One of the key issues that led to controversies was the secrecy surrounding Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. While some accounts suggest that Smith openly taught about plural marriage, it is widely believed that he kept many of his marriages hidden from public knowledge. This secrecy raised questions about the ethical nature of these relationships and led to mistrust among some members of the early Mormon community.

Critics argue that the secretive nature of these marriages indicates a lack of transparency and honesty, especially considering the social and legal norms of the time. The clandestine nature of the practice also created a sense of exclusion within the community, with only a select few individuals being aware of Smith’s multiple wives.

Impact on Relationships

Another point of criticism revolves around the impact of polygamy on existing marriages and family dynamics. Joseph Smith’s first wife, Emma Smith, initially struggled with the idea of plural marriage and reportedly did not approve of her husband’s additional marriages. This tension within their relationship highlights the challenges posed by polygamy, including jealousy, unequal treatment of wives, and potential strain on familial bonds.

The introduction of plural marriage also had wider repercussions within the Mormon community. Some individuals who were promised celestial salvation through these marriages felt betrayed when they discovered their spouses had entered into additional unions unbeknownst to them. This betrayal and subsequent fallout resulted in fractured relationships and emotional turmoil for those involved.

Criticisms from Within and Outside the Community

Criticism of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy extended beyond the confines of the Mormon community. Non-Mormon critics, as well as some dissident Mormons, condemned the practice as immoral and contrary to societal norms. These criticisms arose from various perspectives, including religious, feminist, and legal viewpoints.

From a religious perspective, opponents argued that polygamy violated traditional Christian teachings on monogamous marriage. Feminist critics expressed concerns about the unequal power dynamics and treatment of women in polygamous relationships. Legal objections emerged due to the fact that polygamy was illegal according to the laws of the time, leading to legal consequences for those involved.

In response to these controversies and criticisms, the LDS Church officially discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890, emphasizing monogamous marriage as the accepted standard within the faith. However, the legacy of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages continues to be examined and debated within both academic and religious circles.

The controversies and criticisms surrounding Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy shed light on the complex and often contentious nature of this aspect of early Mormonism. Understanding these historical debates allows us to better comprehend the challenges faced by the Mormon community and the subsequent evolution of their beliefs and practices.



The life and teachings of Joseph Smith have had a profound impact on the Mormon community, leaving behind a lasting legacy that continues to shape the beliefs and practices of the Latter-day Saints. Through his controversial practice of polygamy and his role as the founder of Mormonism, Smith’s influence can be seen in every aspect of the religion.

One of the key aspects of Joseph Smith’s legacy is the establishment of the doctrine of plural marriage within the Mormon faith. While this practice has evolved over time and is no longer officially recognized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it remains an important part of its history. The impact of plural marriage is still felt today as it shapes the family structures and dynamics within the Mormon community.

Smith’s teachings on eternal families and the importance of marriage have also had a significant impact on the Mormon community. The belief that families can be sealed together for eternity has fostered strong family bonds and a sense of purpose within the faith. This emphasis on family values has helped create a tight-knit community that supports and uplifts its members.

Furthermore, Joseph Smith’s leadership and revelations have given rise to a unique religious identity for Mormons. His claim of being a prophet and the restoration of the true church of Jesus Christ attracted followers who were seeking spiritual guidance and a deeper connection with their faith. The Mormon community, with its distinct beliefs and practices, has grown and flourished under Smith’s influence.

Despite controversies and criticisms surrounding Joseph Smith and his practice of polygamy, his impact on the Mormon community cannot be denied. His teachings, revelations, and personal example continue to inspire and guide millions of people worldwide. The legacy of Joseph Smith serves as a testament to the enduring power of faith and the ability of one individual to shape the course of religious history.

In conclusion, Joseph Smith’s multiple wives and the practice of polygamy may be a topic of controversy, but it is an integral part of his legacy. The impact of his teachings and the Mormon community’s continued growth and unity stand as a testament to the enduring influence of Joseph Smith on the lives of believers. As time goes on, the legacy of Joseph Smith will continue to shape and inspire generations of Mormons to come.
Polygamy has always been a controversial topic, and Joseph Smith’s involvement in multiple marriages continues to captivate interest and fuel debates. Throughout this article, we have explored the life of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and his practice of polygamy during the early years of the religion.

From his humble beginnings to his spiritual journey, Smith’s life was marked by religious fervor and a strong belief in divine revelations. The introduction of polygamy as a doctrine within early Mormonism brought both admiration and criticism, with some followers embracing it as a sacred commandment and others viewing it as a betrayal of traditional marriage values.

Delving into the details, we discovered that Joseph Smith had numerous wives, including Emma Smith, Fanny Alger, Lucinda Harris, and Eliza Partridge, among others. These relationships were shrouded in secrecy and controversy, leaving many questions unanswered and sparking ongoing discussions about the nature of these unions.

As we reflect on the complexities surrounding Joseph Smith’s polygamous marriages, it is important to recognize the impact this chapter of history has had on the Mormon community. The legacy of these unions continues to shape the beliefs and practices of Latter-day Saints today.

Regardless of our personal opinions or perspectives, exploring the lives of historical figures like Joseph Smith can provide valuable insights into the human experience and the ever-evolving nature of religious doctrines. It reminds us of the complexity of individuals who shape our collective histories, forcing us to confront uncomfortable realities and challenging us to critically examine our own beliefs and values.

In conclusion, Joseph Smith’s polygamous marriages remain a thought-provoking and contentious subject. By delving into his life and the controversies that surrounded his relationships, we gain a deeper understanding of the intricacies of religious movements and the complex nature of human behavior. As we continue to explore the past, it is essential to approach it with open minds, embracing the opportunity to learn from history while acknowledging the impact it has on our present and future.

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