The Polygamous Wives Writing Club: From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women

The Polygamous Wives Writing Club: From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women

by Paula Kelly Harline
     
 

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced the practice of plural marriage in 1890. In the mid- to late nineteenth century, however—the heyday of Mormon polygamy—as many as three out of every ten Mormon women became polygamous wives. Paula Kelly Harline delves deep into the diaries and autobiographies of twenty-nine such women, providing a

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Overview

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced the practice of plural marriage in 1890. In the mid- to late nineteenth century, however—the heyday of Mormon polygamy—as many as three out of every ten Mormon women became polygamous wives. Paula Kelly Harline delves deep into the diaries and autobiographies of twenty-nine such women, providing a rare window into the lives they led and revealing their views and experiences of polygamy, including their well-founded belief that their domestic contributions would help to build a foundation for generations of future Mormons.

Polygamous wives were participants in a controversial and very public religious practice that violated most nineteenth-century social and religious rules of a monogamous America. Harline considers the questions: Were these women content with their sacrifice? Did the benefits of polygamous marriage for the Mormons outweigh the human toll it required and the embarrassment it continues to bring? Polygamous wives faced daunting challenges not only imposed by the wider society but within the home, yet those whose writings Harline explores give voice to far more than unhappiness and discontent.

The personal writings of these women, all married to different husbands, are the heart of this remarkable book—they paint a vivid and sometimes disturbing picture of an all but vanished and still controversial way of life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
04/28/2014
Harline excerpts the diaries and autobiographies of 29 Mormon women in polygamous marriages to provide a glimpse into polygamy and early Mormonism. From its founding in the 1820s and through most of the 19th century, Mormons were encouraged to enter polygamous marriages for many reasons, including that it was essential to their salvation. During this period, about 30% of Mormons were in polygamous relationships, including women, men, and their children. While the diaries are interesting, Harline’s approach—not quite an academic treatise, but more than just a collection of primary sources—results in the book feeling shallow and dry. She provides basic information on the history of polygamous Mormon marriages and uses her sources to suggest that, overall, polygamy hurt women. The book is strongest in the images it evokes through anecdotes from the women themselves: the joy of dancing the night away with their husbands, the stress of living with a “sister wife” when neither liked the other, the sorrow of feeling their husbands preferred a new wife over them. Harline allows polygamy to not just exist in stereotypes, exoticism, or distortion; she gives it names and faces and real stories. (June)
From the Publisher
"This book restores an essential chapter in Mormon history. Since the days of our polygamous foremothers, Mormon women have been stereotyped as voiceless victims and dupes. By digging into the 'heart history' of Mormon polygamy through the writings of the women who lived it, Paula Kelly Harline shows that Mormon women have wrestled with the unique demands of our faith with a full range of human motivations and feelings: grace and conflict, acquiescence and resistance, vocal criticism and quiet acceptance, pride and dejection, confidence and frustration. Is polygamy really a core element of Mormon theology? Harline offers both powerful commentary on this unresolved question that still weighs on so many Mormons, as well as a richly detailed history of Mormon women's lives. Intimate and important, this is a Mormon studies must-read." —Joanna Brooks, author of The Book of Mormon Girl

"Paula Harline's treatment is a revealing if painful look into the profoundly rooted contradictions of Mormon plural marriage: she shows it to be a practice wives publicly defended while privately lamenting; one that fostered solidarity with a sisterhood burdened with 'the principle,' even as it fomented rivalries and sorrows within those marriages; and a practice that left a conflicting legacy of pride in the sacrifice polygamists endured, along with a persisting unease with the teachings and practices themselves." —Terryl L. Givens, co-author of The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life

"Harline has done a great service in bringing together these narratives linking the high spiritual aims and the excruciating realities of a practice that cut to the core of women's lives. Harline's clear-eyed and tempered analysis contextualizes the very personal voices of the past." —Claudia L. Bushman, co-editor of Mormon Women Have Their Say, Essays from the Claremont Oral History Collection

"Harline allows polygamy to not just exist in stereotypes, exoticism, or distortion; she gives it names and faces and real stories." —Publishers Weekly

"[C]ompelling, moving, and instructional. Harline has done these women—and us—a great service by calling their written record to our attention, and I am grateful to her for this book." —Feast Upon the Word Blog

"Paula Kelly Harline's The Polygamous Wives' Writing Club is a slim, elegantly composed volume that condenses several decades of history in a remarkably concise fashion. The result is a book that, even to an outsider, proceeds at a pleasant, informative clip and provides illuminative insight into under-examined lives." —Salt Lake City Weekly

"While many titles have been written on the subject, few have made its human face so palpable." —Library Journal

Library Journal
05/01/2014
Cute title aside, the approach that Harline (college writing, Univ. of Idaho; Brigham Young Univ.; Utah Valley Univ.) takes to improving readers' understanding of 19th-century Mormon polygamy is wonderful. The author presents an insider's view of what it was like to be a wife in a polygamous Mormon family. Using first-person accounts in the form of autobiographies, memoirs, and diaries, Harline lets the women speak for themselves; their accounts cover everything from the initial experience of entering "the principle" in a hostile monogamous environment to the collapse of polygamy under prosecution by the federal government in the 1880s and its elimination by the Mormon Church in the 1890s. A brief review cannot begin to convey these documents' richly textured portrayal of the tension and harmony, loneliness and camaraderie polygamy entailed. VERDICT Though the book is aimed at general readers, professional historians will appreciate Harline's nuanced use of primary sources. While many titles have been written on the subject, few have made its human face so palpable.—David Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199346509
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
06/16/2014
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
873,341
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

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