We received this question from a reader about Mormon polygamy in our Church’s history:
Hi, I’m currently doing an essay for school on religion. The Church of the Latter Day Saints is one that grabbed my attention. I was wondering what a typical Mormon woman thought of the aspect of polygamy, as it is incredibly difficult to find a comment on the internet which is reliable. There’s been a lot of speculation in the news about the subject and I feel as though it would be a great insight to ask someone who is actually affected by those comments. Thank you for taking the time to read this question.
~Response by Kathryn**
“Does your husband have several wives?” The guide’s question didn’t surprise me; I’d been asked it already that summer.
“No, Mormon polygamy hasn’t been practiced for over one hundred years.”
He rolled his eyes as the eery glow of the bonfire captured the dubious look on his face. “That’s not true. I KNOW some of your men have several wives.”
“No really–we don’t….”
He spoke perfect English; I knew there wasn’t a language barrier. He had been our guide as we wandered through the 100-year-old forest which saddles the Polish/Belorussian border. Our guide was charming and knowledgeable about royalty, trees, mushrooms, and birds; however, he had been misguided by the international media when it came to Mormons.
I was asked other questions about Mormon polygamy that summer; fortunately they were not quite as awkward. I studied at a Polish university and most of my friends were graduate students preparing to do research in the Polish archives. We had long conversations about the Mormon church. They understood that groups who currently practice polygamy who may call themselves Mormons are not part of the thirteen million member Church headquartered in Salt Lake City.
In April of 2008, Elder Quentin L. Cook, an apostle for the Church, asked the news media to make a clear distinction in their reports between the Church and the polygamist FLDS sect in Texas that had made headlines throughout the world. But there is still much confusion. Perhaps it bears repeating here that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discontinued polygamy officially in 1890. Stories in the media about the FLDS polygamous lifestyle do not represent Mormon life. Photos of FLDS women are incorrectly labeled on the internet as Mormon women; they don’t look like me or any of my Mormon neighbors and friends. [Editor’s note: To see what Mormon women do look like, feel free to browse our Portraits of Mormon Women series. Each post in that series include a photo. Other content on our site contains images of Mormon women as well.]
While polygamy has not been part of Mormon life for a long time, some of us are descendants of men who did have several wives. In my family tree, I have several great-great-great-grandfathers who had three or four wives.
For several years I have been researching the lives of all my ancestors, because I’m compiling a book of family stories. Polygamy is part of some of those stories, but it is not what defines who these people are to me. What has impressed me is the courage and faith of my forebears in the challenging times in which they lived. I hope to continue their legacy of love for the Savior and a desire to follow Him and live the gospel through faith, diligence, humility, and service to others.
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**Please note: The answers in “Ask a Mormon Woman” reflect the thoughts, perspectives, and experiences of individuals. Although here at Mormon Women: Who We Are, we strive to have our content consistent with the Church’s doctrine and teachings, we do not speak officially for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For official information about or from the Church, please visit www.mormon.org or www.lds.org.
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Thank you for giving a good explanation of something I am asked often.
It’s nice to have clarification about what we believe and the difference between Mormons and more radical sects. It’s not hugely dissimilar from our Muslim brothers and sisters who worship peacefully and the violent extremists that mistakenly get associated with their religion.
It’s difficult for your religion to be so misunderstood when it is so close to your heart.