Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Review: "More Wives Than One" by Kathryn M. Daynes

For years I've had in mind the goal of getting my hands on a few good books about pre-1890, Utah Mormon pioneer polygamy. (1890 is the year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints formally discontinued the practice of plural marriages.) I'm a faithful Mormon myself, so I wasn't interested in anything with an antagonistic bias toward the Church. I also wanted something objective and academic, rather than a book of faith-promoting tales. Eventually, I decided what I wanted was a publication critically acclaimed by both LDS and non-LDS scholars.

Over the past few months I've discovered and read several books that fit the bill! This blog post is the first in my series of reviews of scholarly books on Utah Mormon polygamy.

Here's today's recommended read:

More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System 1840-1910 
by Kathryn M. Daynes, University of Illinois Press, 2001

Kathryn M. Daynes
Daynes is a professor of history at Brigham Young University, and served as president of the Mormon History Association 2008-2009. This book started as Daynes's graduate dissertation, funded by a grant from Indiana University. My favorite thing about the book is its meticulous primary and secondary source citation. More Wives Than One contains 816 end notes, and a 14-page-long selected bibliography. It's a fairly short read, only 214 pages, if you don't count the appendix.

More Wives Than One cover image
The first chapter of the book is an excellent summary of the beginnings of polygamy among the Latter-Day Saints in Kirtland (Ohio), and Nauvoo (Illinois). The remainder of the book is a historical and demographic analysis of one specific community, the city of Manti, Utah from its settlement in 1849 to 1910. Daynes goes into a detailed study of the plural marriage customs, complex doctrines, state marriage laws and other cultural phenomena that serve to thoroughly illustrate the nature of Mormon society in 19th Century Utah. She then presents quantitative sociological data gathered from marriage records, censuses, and other historical documents pertaining to Manti, Utah. With this data she analyzes
  • The Marriage Market (Ch.5) (Daynes surveys the ratios of men to women over time. She also discusses the departure of unmarried men from Manti in search of work and marriage prospects, and the influx of new immigrants, both male and female.)
  • Women Who Became Plural Wives (Ch. 6). (In this chapter, Daynes shares demographic information about polygamous women across time. This info set includes facts about common ages for new brides, the difference in social status between first wives and plural wives, among other family life details.)
  • Economics and Plural Marriage (Ch. 7) (Here, Daynes concludes that polygamy actually solved some societal economic problems in Manti. For example, wealthy men commonly took women from lower-class families as plural wives, which meant a pattern of wealth redistribution from the rich to the poor.)
  • Civil and Ecclesiastical Divorce (Ch. 8) and  
  • Incidence of Divorce and Remarriage (Ch. 8-9)
Throughout the book, Daynes puts Mormon polygamous culture into context by contrasting it with Victorian American customs and values. By doing so, she thoughtfully reveals the less-obvious reasons behind main-stream 19th century America's violent vilification of Mormons.

For those who don't mind the academic lingo, it's an awesome read!

No comments:

Post a Comment