Expose of Polygamy: A Lady's Life Among the Mormons

Expose of Polygamy: A Lady's Life Among the Mormons

by Fanny Stenhouse

View All Available Formats & Editions

After the 1872 publication of Expose', Fanny Stenhouse became a celebrity in the cultural wars between Mormons and much of America. An English convert, she had grown disillusioned with the Mormon Church and polygamy, which her husband practiced before associating with a circle of dissident Utah intellectuals and merchants. Stenhouse’s critique

…  See more details below


After the 1872 publication of Expose', Fanny Stenhouse became a celebrity in the cultural wars between Mormons and much of America. An English convert, she had grown disillusioned with the Mormon Church and polygamy, which her husband practiced before associating with a circle of dissident Utah intellectuals and merchants. Stenhouse’s critique of plural marriage, Brigham Young, and Mormonism was also a sympathetic look at Utah’s people and honest recounting of her life. Before long, she created a new edition, titled "Tell It All," which ensured her notoriety in Utah and popularity elsewhere but turned her thoughtful memoir into a more polemical, true expose' of Polygamy. Since 1874, it has stayed in print, in multiple, varying editions. The original book, meanwhile, is less known, though more readable. Tracing the literary history of Stenhouse’s important piece of Americana, Linda DeSimone rescues an important autobiographical and historical record from the baggage notoriety brought to it.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This book will take its place alongside Annie Tanner’s A Mormon Mother as the best book-length, firsthand female accounts of polygamy available."

—Claudia L. Bushman, editor of Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah

Product Details

Utah State University Press
Publication date:
Life Writings of Frontier Women Series
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Exposé of Polygamy

A Lady's Life among the Mormons
By Fanny Stenhouse

Utah State University Press

Copyright © 2008 Utah State University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87421-713-1

Chapter One


Early Life and Experience of the Authoress.

I was once a Mormon woman, and for over twenty years I have lived among Mormons. Their faith was once mine as truly as any words can express; their thoughts were the same as mine; their hopes were my hopes; their religious opinions were in sympathy with my own. But that was in the time past. It seems long past, and yet it was, as I may say, only a little while ago-a few months, which I might almost count upon my fingers. Yet now all this is changed, and I have learned to see matters in another light.

When I first listened to the preaching of the Mormon elders, I endeavoured to judge impartially of their doctrines. I thought then that they were right. To me, at the time, they were right. But other views, which I now believe to be purer, better, and more truthful, have dawned upon my soul, and I can, I think, fairly say that I am a free woman-free from the bondage of superstition; and as I write this, I feel the pleasure of the captive who shakes himself free from his chains.

It has been suggested to me that I should, from my own personal experience, write the story of a Mormon woman living in the midst of Mormonism. I shall endeavour, in the following pages, to do so impartially and truthfully. But I wish to tell my story as simply as I can. Others, who are but partially informed, may write critically of what they have seen or heard; but I shall give a record of what I myself have known and felt.

Whatever opinion the reader may form of my life, past or present, is to me of little moment, and to him it can not be of much consequence. Personally, I have no claims to the attention and consideration of the world, nor do I desire that it should be otherwise. But as no woman's experience in Utah, who has been associated with Mormonism and seen its polygamic life, could be very different from my own, the facts set forth in this little work will enable the reader to comprehend the operation of the order of "celestial marriage."

To answer the inquiry, how any woman can submit to the practice of polygamy, I must of necessity give a brief history of my early life. From what I shall there state, the reader will see how I was led on, little by little, from total ignorance of that doctrine, to a firm faith that it was a revelation from God, necessary to salvation.

However strange what I relate may appear to those who are unacquainted with life in Utah, my story is but a shadow of the truth, although my experience was, probably, the same as that of nine tenths of the Mormon women.

My first recollections of life were in St. Helier's, Jersey, one of the islands in the English Channel, where I was born. Through the preferences of my parents, my religious education and associations were with the Baptist denomination, my own disposition and feelings making this connection very agreeable, as I had, probably, for a girl of my age, a more than ordinary interest in religious observances.

When fifteen years of age, I went to Brittany, in France, and entered into a Roman Catholic school as a teacher of English. While there, I had, of course, to conform to the rules of the school, and attend church with the pupils at all times when required to do so. Much as I respected the people with whom I was associated, for their kindness, I could not conscientiously join with them in their devotions. I always took my Bible with me, and read it during the service; and frequently in my loneliness and anxiety for some living religious truth, I would say, "Oh! if there were only a prophet ministering now on earth, that I might go to him and ask, 'What shall I do to be saved?' and thus receive an answer which would satisfy the craving of my soul."

I remained in France six years, and then I obtained two months' vacation, for the purpose of visiting my parents, who had now removed from the island of Jersey to Southampton, (England.)

Chapter Two

Seeking the Truth-First Acquaintance with Mormonism-Favourable Impressions-I become the Wife of a Mormon Elder.

On visiting my birthplace, in the summer of 1849, I went to the house of my brother-in-law, who was an "apostate" Mormon. During my stay in his house, he spoke to me about the Mormons in not very flattering terms. At the same time, he told me that my father, mother, and, in fact, all my family, had adopted that faith. As I knew my parents, particularly my mother, to be sincere and devoted Christians, I began to think that Mormonism must be something different from what he represented it to be, or they never would have accepted it. I therefore determined to investigate this religion, for the purpose of exposing its errors to my parents, for whom I entertained the deepest affection.

I attended my first Mormon meeting at St. Helier's, Jersey. With what I heard that afternoon I could find no fault, although I was very much prejudiced against the new religion. On arriving the following week at my father's home in Southampton, I began to observe very closely every thing that was said and done, to see if I could detect any change in the life of my parents and sisters. I could see no difference in my father and mother; but I certainly saw a change in my sisters, who now forsook all amusements suitable to their age, and thought of nothing but going to church and making clothing for the missionaries who were to be sent out "without purse or scrip."

All this interested me very much; and, at my sisters' request, I went one Sunday morning to their place of worship. The sermon that I then heard perfectly fascinated me. It was delivered by an eloquent and enthusiastic young Mormon "Elder," who felt, or thought he felt, that he was "a servant of God," sent to preach deliverance to the people.

He said that "an angel of God had appeared to Joseph Smith, and had revealed to him the everlasting Gospel." "There were now," he said, "living apostles ordained by the angels, the same as in days of old."

At first I thought, "This is indeed glorious news; but can it be true?" The reflection then came that what the Lord had done already He could certainly do again. We were urged to be "baptized for the remission of our sins," with the promise that "we should receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, to witness unto us that we had done what the Lord had commanded." I knew that all this was according to Scripture, and I dared not reject it. Indeed, I had no desire to do so. I received it gladly. It was life to my soul. It was that which I had been desiring for years; and I firmly believed that the Lord, in His mercy, had answered my prayers. I concluded to be baptized; and I had no sooner made up my mind to do so, than I wanted it done. Two weeks after my arrival in England, I became formally a member of the Mormon Church.

I felt that I had obeyed the commands of God, and was entitled to His blessing; indeed, I felt that I was blessed, for my heart was full of joy and gratitude. This the elders taught me was the Spirit of God. I now believe it was simply the answer of my conscience, which every sincere person enjoys in all religions. I had been taught, and I obeyed.

I felt so happy and satisfied that I was in the right path that I could not make up my mind to return to France and the isolation which I felt there. I therefore determined to resign my position, and make my home among the "Saints."

A few months later, I was married to that same young Mormon Elder; and then, in the joint prosecution of our missionary labours, my troubles began. Some of my friends thought I was risking a great deal by becoming the wife of a man whose life was devoted to the Mormon ministry; while others thought that I was highly honoured in getting a husband who held such a prominent position in the church. I was, however, satisfied, and willingly entered upon my new sphere as a missionary's wife, feeling sure that there were no obstacles so great that I could not overcome them. How little could I imagine then the life that was before me!

Chapter Three

My Husband leaves for Italy-Experiences as the Wife of a Missionary-Privations and Struggles with Poverty in England-Suspicions of Polygamy-The "Privilege" of "Washing the Elders' Feet"-Cheerful Words in Time of Trouble.

I had been married about four months when my husband was called to go on a mission to Italy. What terrible news this was to me, for I was to be left behind! In my grief I exclaimed, "Ah! why could they not have selected some one else?" Then I remembered how that, in my first joy and gratitude after being baptized into the church, I had said that I would do any thing that the Lord required of me; and now I felt that He was going to put me to the test. Thus it was that, when asked by one of the "Twelve Apostles" if I were willing that my husband should go, I answered "Yes," although even at the time I thought that my very heart would break.

As Mormon elders receive no salary, nor any remuneration whatever, my husband was very much troubled about leaving me dependent on others, not being sure how I might be provided for, and knowing better than I did what want I should probably be exposed to. At his request, an old and valued friend was appointed his successor; Mr. S. believing that in doing so I should be provided for and watched over!

In June, 1850, Mr. S. went on his mission, in company with Lorenzo Snow, one of the "Twelve Apostles." Though terribly grieved at his departure, I felt some pride in the fact that my husband was the first of the elders in Britain who was sent on a foreign mission.

For the first few weeks after his departure, my friends gathered around me and provided me with all that I needed. Before long, however, most of the "Saints" with whom I had been on intimate terms began to prepare for emigration to Utah. I soon saw that I should be obliged to break up my home, and be contented with one room. This I did cheerfully; for, after the great trial of separating from my husband for three years-as I then thought-this was comparatively nothing.

I got but little assistance from the church, and the question which now presented itself to my mind most imperatively was, "What can I do?" The reply, mentally returned, was, "Nothing!" I could only teach English. But to whom could I teach English in England? Still, I was not altogether useless or helpless. I could sew very well; but I had as yet no confidence in myself, never having done any thing of the kind before as a matter of business. I was in the greatest trouble. I had neither food nor fire. I could not venture to write to my husband about this, for fear of unfitting him for carrying out fully his mission, which I then believed would be a sin.

I then resolved that I would go round and visit some of my lady acquaintances, who had frequently invited me to come to their houses. I wished, if possible, to see whether, through their influence and introduction, I could do any thing to earn a little money. Besides which I had another reason: I thought that possibly some one would ask me to dine with them. I was hungry enough, but I walked about the city, afraid to carry out my resolution, until I was quite worn out; for I feared in my pride that they might suspect that I came purposely for something to eat. Of this I was perfectly ashamed. No one who has not personally passed through such an ordeal can have any idea of what my feelings were.

The shame I felt was only equalled by my necessities, innocent as I was of any fault which could have placed me in this position. I was utterly miserable, and did not venture to call upon any one, but turned my steps toward my dreary home-only to fast and pray. The fasting, however, was not in my programme at that time. I had no inclination for it, although I was utterly unable to prevent it. I then earnestly prayed to the Lord to help me, and at the same time I thanked Him that I was counted worthy to suffer for His sake.

The time was fast approaching when I knew that I should be compelled to have fire and other necessaries; but where to get them I knew not.

One evening I was asked to dine at the house of a friend where some of the elders from Salt Lake were visiting, and I accepted the invitation with a great deal of pleasure, for more than one reason. It was thought a great privilege at that time to meet with American elders. Some of these gentlemen assumed such authority that they impressed the "Saints" with the idea that they were little gods. We had not then seen them at home!

I went to dine with these brethren, and as it is a Mormon woman's "privilege" [?] to sit and "listen" to the "lords of creation," without joining in the conversation at all, I had then, of course, that same privilege of listening while dinner was preparing.

I can not tell the horror of what I then heard. They were talking among themselves about Polygamy, but in such a covert way that it was evident that they thought I could not understand what was said. Neither should I have understood it had it not been that I had heard some whisperings of this kind once, before my husband went away, though then I did not believe it. I had asked him about the new doctrine, and he had reassured me by stating that there was "no truth in it;" that it was a slander, promulgated by some evil-tongued people to injure "the cause." I heard, however, something that day which troubled me very much, and I resolved to ask these "brethren" now present to tell me the honest truth-whether Polygamy really existed in Utah, or did not.

They positively denied its existence, and though I did believe then that what they said was true, I afterwards discovered much which troubled and worried me, and being constantly anxious to learn the truth, there was not much that escaped my notice.

I became wretchedly suspicious. At times, I even fancied that my husband had deceived me; and that thought was to me madness. I said-whatever other men may do, my husband will not deceive me. O dear! no. That I could not believe.

I now felt more inclined for fasting than for praying. In fact, just then it would have been utterly impossible for me to pray, I was so wretched. Doubts and fears had begun to creep into my mind, and it appeared to me (if I may say so) that the Lord, like a hard task-master, was exacting from me more than I had bargained to do or suffer when I embraced Mormonism. These troubled thoughts were not calculated to make me feel happy in my relations with the church, and I tried to overcome my feelings, and attain to a better state of mind, trusting sincerely in God that all would yet be well.

But to return to my difficulty in earning a living.

After some time I finally got a little plain sewing to do. This enabled me to win my daily bread and to pay the rent of my room, as well as to make a few scanty preparations for the little stranger which I now daily expected. The reader may suppose that it was, after all, a very hard struggle.

Now began the arduous task of endeavouring to support myself and my babe. In this dear little one there was to me another strong incentive to exertion. But how and where I was to get work, and what I was to do-and, in fact, what I could do-I did not know. There was nothing for me as far as I could see. I was willing to do any work, if only I could get it to do-that was now the difficulty. Yet I determined not to be foiled. I managed to live; but how? Sometimes, for two weeks together, I had nothing but dry bread. I became pale and thin, and so weak that I could scarcely walk.


Excerpted from Exposé of Polygamy by Fanny Stenhouse Copyright © 2008 by Utah State University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >