Sealings Performed Outside of the Temple: Background and Resources

By March 9, 2015

Today we continue our series about polygamy in LDS history, addressing the following question from a JI reader:

I’ve read that some marriage sealings were performed outside of temples. Where were these ceremonies performed and by whom?

After the main body of Latter-day Saints abandoned Nauvoo and its temple in 1846, for decades both monogamous and polygamous marriage sealings were performed outside of temples. Members of the First Presidency performed sealings in the Council House, the Endowment House, or on the second floor of President Brigham Young’s office, all built in Salt Lake City in the 1850s. With the dedication of Utah’s first temples at St. George (1877), Logan (1884), and Manti (1888), sealings began again to be performed in temples.


The Council House, destroyed by a fire explosion in 1883, sat where the Beneficial Life Tower is located today, on the corner of Salt Lake City’s South Temple and Main Streets.

The Council House, destroyed by a fire explosion in 1883, sat where the Beneficial Life Tower is located today, on the corner of Salt Lake City’s South Temple and Main Streets.

The Endowment House was located on the northwest corner of Salt Lake City’s Temple Square until it was demolished in 1889.

The Endowment House was located on the northwest corner of Salt Lake City’s Temple Square until it was demolished in 1889.


What was once the “President’s Office” of Brigham Young still stands in Salt Lake City today, between the Beehive House and Lion House on the corner of South Temple and Main Streets. Early sealings were performed on the second floor of this structure.

What was once the “President’s Office” of Brigham Young still stands in Salt Lake City today, between the Beehive House and Lion House on the corner of South Temple and Main Streets. Early sealings were performed on the second floor of this structure.

In March 1887, Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act, a move that profoundly impacted the church and its practices. This legislation empowered federal authorities to punish the institutional church, in addition to any of its polygamous members, on the grounds that it fostered polygamy. Among its myriad effects, the act dissolved the church corporation and enabled the government to take possession of church property valued at more than fifty thousand dollars—including the three temples.

Two years later, Wilford Woodruff became the church’s fourth president. Woodruff directed that no plural marriages be performed in the temples under threat of the federal government shutting them down entirely. Monogamous marriage sealings, the endowment, and other religious rites continued to be permitted in the temples. By September 1889 Woodruff also told church leaders that he did not think it proper for plural marriages to be performed anywhere in “the [Utah] territory at the present time,” recorded his first counselor in the First Presidency, George Q. Cannon.  Woodruff intimated, however, that such marriages might be solemnized outside the United States. Church leaders hoped the removal of large numbers of pluralists or would-be pluralists to Anglo Mormon “colonies” in Mexico would free polygamous families from prosecution while absolving federal objections to Utah’s obtaining statehood.

Wilford Woodruff, ca. 1894. Courtesy Moon’s Rare Books.

Wilford Woodruff, ca. 1894. Courtesy Moon’s Rare Books.

Several apostles performed plural marriages outside of temples after the 1890 Manifesto, including George Teasdale, Brigham Young Jr., Matthias F. Cowley, John W. Taylor, and Abraham O. Woodruff. Anthony W. Ivins (who became an apostle in 1907) and Alexander F. Macdonald were local leaders in Mexico who were also authorized by members of the First Presidency to continue to perform monogamous and polygamous marriages after the Manifesto. Ivins was president of the Colonia Juarez stake in Chihuahua, Mexico. Macdonald, who had been a sealer in the temple at St. George, Utah, served as a counselor to apostle George Teasdale in the Mexican Mission presidency, which had jurisdiction over the Mormon colonies. These men performed sealings in their own homes or in the family homes of the couples they sealed. Typically, plural brides who had not yet received their temple endowment then traveled to a Utah temple to receive the endowment rite.

 Anthony Ivins home in Colonia Juarez, Mexico.

Anthony Ivins home in Colonia Juarez, Mexico.


Initially, couples who wished to contract a post-Manifesto plural marriage had to obtain permission from a member of the First Presidency. In granting consent, the First Presidency member—typically Cannon—gave the petitioner a brief form letter addressed to an authorized sealer. Eventually, some apostles and Juarez Stake president Anthony Ivins approved or rejected requests at their own discretion. As a result of the Reed Smoot hearings, in which Congress investigated the church’s continued practice of polygamy, in 1904 church president Joseph F. Smith issued what came to be known as the “Second Manifesto.” The Second Manifesto essentially ended the authorization of polygamous sealings for the living. A small number of “mainstream” Latter-day Saints continued to be sealed in polygamous marriages, though it is not certain whether these sealings were authorized by church authorities.


Bibliography of secondary sources used:

Alexander, Thomas G. Things in Heaven and Earth: The Life and Times of Wilford Woodruff, a Mormon Prophet. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991.

Brown, Barbara Jones. “Manifestos, Mixed Messages, and Mexico: The Demise of ‘Mainstream’ Mormon Polygamy” in Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster, eds., The Persistence of Polygamy: Fundamentalist Mormon Polygamy from 1890 to the Present, vol. III (Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books, forthcoming 2015.

Brown, Barbara Jones. “The Rise and Demise of Mormon Polygamy in Mexico,” in Jason Dormady and Jared Tamez, eds., Just South of Zion: The Mormons in Mexico and Its Borderlands, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, forthcoming 2015.

Daynes, Kathryn. More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

Godfrey, Kenneth B. “The Coming of the Manifesto,” Dialogue 5.3, (Autumn 1970).

Hardy, B. Carmon. Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992.

Hartley, William G., and Alder, Lorna Call.  Anson Bowen Call: The Bishop of Colonia Dublan. Provo, UT: Lorna Call Alder, 2007.

Quinn, D. Michael. “LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890–1904,” Dialogue 18.1 (Spring 1985).


For additional bibliographic sources, readers may also refer to “The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage,” at



Article filed under Polygamy Research Tools


  1. Thanks for this question and its answer. Well done.

    Comment by Terry H — March 9, 2015 @ 9:12 am

  2. Well done, BJB. Top-notch work.

    Comment by J Stuart — March 9, 2015 @ 10:01 am

  3. Nice summary. Thanks, Barbara.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — March 9, 2015 @ 10:24 am

  4. Thanks, Barbara. That was very informative.

    Comment by Saskia — March 9, 2015 @ 2:19 pm

  5. Thanks for the summary. I’m glad you and others continue to work on this topic, Barbara. I’ve been planning to write a bio of my grandmother’s grandmother for a number of years but I was waiting for the mainstream scholarship to catch up since she had a post-Manifesto plural marriage (1903, Cowley). It looks like I won’t have that excuse much longer.

    Comment by Amy T — March 9, 2015 @ 6:54 pm

  6. Very useful. Thanks.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — March 9, 2015 @ 9:10 pm

  7. My study of post-Manifesto polygamy began when I wrote a biography of a woman whose polygamous parents were sealed in Mexico in 1903, Amy T! What were your great-great-grandparents’ names and where were they married? I’d be happy to help you with your project in any way I can.

    Comment by Barbara — March 10, 2015 @ 9:36 am

  8. Nice! I would add the Gospel Topics essay on the Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage as a source. I believe there is at least one source cited in that essay that has not been discussed elsewhere.

    Comment by LisaT — March 10, 2015 @ 4:02 pm

  9. Thanks, Barbara. Morgan-Udall sealing, no children. I’ve seen a variety of locations suggested but haven’t bothered to track down the correct one. I’ll send you a note.

    Comment by Amy T — March 10, 2015 @ 5:08 pm

  10. Nice work, Barbara.

    Comment by WVS — March 10, 2015 @ 5:28 pm

  11. This is great, Barbara. Extra-temple sealings were relatively common far from temples for monogomists until the twentieth century as well. You’d have a visiting Q12 member, in for example Arizona, who might seal folks that couldn’t make it to one of the typical liturgical spaces.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 11, 2015 @ 9:39 am

  12. Good idea, Lisa T. I’ll add a link to the essay as another resource. Look forward to hearing from you, Amy T. Yes, J. Stapley, that’s right about apostles performing monogamous marriages as well polygamous marriages outside the temple, particularly while traveling to areas far from Utah. Thanks for making this clear! And thank you everyone for your feedback.

    Comment by Barbara — March 11, 2015 @ 1:13 pm

  13. What about pre-Nauvoo Temple sealings? My great-great-great grandfather’s journal records his March 24, 1844, wedding:

    “We were married by President Joseph Smith for Time and Eternity (a thing uncommon) on Sunday morning before meeting . . .”

    I presume that this isn’t the only instance of such a wedding–but I don’t know how many such weddings there might have been.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 12, 2015 @ 10:01 am

  14. Mark B.: That’s a really great journal entry. Thanks for sharing!

    I think though, that in Joseph Smith’s lifetime they were referred to sealings rather than marriages. JS never referred to the ordinances as marriages–that was a later development (Apologies for being nitpicky!).

    Comment by J Stuart — March 12, 2015 @ 10:09 am


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