A Thing for the Elders

By July 28, 2009

As a follow up to Mary Ann Jeffries’s letter that I posted, here is a comment in a letter form Caroline Grant Smith to her brother Jedediah Grant. Grant had been the presiding elder in Philadelphia but was back in Nauvoo.

?You must know the Church one and all are vary ancious to see you. The first inquery when any of the sisters come in is when do you think Brother Grant will come? Have your had any news? What no letter yet and sutch like expressions.? [1]

So have the women just always had a thing for the elders? Again, HCK married one or both of the women that were so eager to hear from him in the area.

[1] Caroline G. Smith, Letter to Jedediah Grant, 5 May 1844, in Gene Sessions, Mormon Thunder: A Documentary History of Jedidiah Morgan Grant (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 39.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Origins


  1. I’ll play along.

    Sure, why not? Today it may be the lure of the unattainable, or even the feminine admiration for a man in uniform.

    But since Heber C. Kimball was probably not wearing a standard Mr. Mac suit with a spotless white shirt and a conservative-yet-personality-expressing silk tie, and since he wasn’t exactly unattainable no matter how many wives he had at home, I can’t guess what the attraction was to the ladies of the 1840s.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 28, 2009 @ 8:11 am

  2. Kimball did end up with the most wives, right? Any indication that he was particularly good looking?

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 28, 2009 @ 8:39 am

  3. The only picture I know of him doesn’t show him as especially attractive, but maybe he was when he was younger. If you can believe the anti-Mormon reports — which are so consistent as to be either truth or plagiarized, take your pick — HCK had more of the barnyard in his speech than anyone else who is regularly quoted. HCK had the most children; I don’t know about the most wives. He also seems to have had wives leaving him at a greater rate than some of the other well-known patriarchs.

    But maybe we’re on the wrong path. Maybe he was attractive to all these ladies because he had such a powerful and noble spirit that the women were mostly just hoping he’d write them a sermon … yeah, that’s it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 28, 2009 @ 9:00 am

  4. Plus his chest was as big front to back as it was side to side. Or so I’ve read.

    Comment by SC Taysom — July 28, 2009 @ 9:38 am

  5. Jedediah was even worse at hell-fire than Brigham, I heard.

    “I would ask how many covenant breakers there are in this city and in this kingdom? I believe that there are a great many; and if they are covenant breakers, we need a place designated where we can shed their blood…. If any of you ask, do I mean you, I answer yes. If any woman asks, do I mean her, I answer yes…. We have been trying long enough with these people, and I go in for letting the sword of the Almighty be unsheathed, not only in word but in deed.” – From sermon by Jedediah M. Grant, second counselor to Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. IV., pp. 49-50.

    Don’t know that I’d have been so anxious for the return of Brother Jeddy.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — July 28, 2009 @ 10:27 am

  6. This is interesting stuff, Steve. I know it’s an oversimplification of a very complex issue, but perhaps the power and authority these men (Kimball and Grant) was appealing to these apparently prospective wives in Philadelphia. Did any other leaders of their status maintain regular contact with the Philadelphia Saints? Is it possible these women were hoping to be sealed to a high-ranking church authority, and these men represented the most viable options because of their close contact with members there?

    Comment by Christopher — July 28, 2009 @ 10:51 am

  7. Thanks Steve, I think this is really interesting because it (the possibility of being sealed to a married man) seems so public. I mean, this is private correspondence, but people are talking about it way out in Philadelphia. Maybe I’m misreading something, but what are the implications for the secrecy of Nauvoo polygamy?

    Comment by Jared T — July 28, 2009 @ 11:38 am

  8. BiV, Grant was the master of the hell-fire and brimstone sermons and the prime mover in the rhetoric of the Mormon Reformation. That’s how he caught pneumonia and died–rebaptising people outside in December.

    Comment by SC Taysom — July 28, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

  9. This is what I know about the teaching of polygamy in the area. Whispers may have gotten out there early on. In 1843, J. H. Newton, a traveling elder from the area, told a Mormon branch in Mount Holly, New Jersey, about it. The whole branch apostasised over it until Jedediah Grant went there and got about half the people to come back. I don’t know what he said.

    William Smith (Caroline’s husband) started doing his spiritual wife thing about that time and apparently was after the wife of the branch president in another New Jersey branch in 1843.

    Kimball showed up in Philadelphia in June 1844 and was apparently courting. Stanley Kimball has a quote that he “roomed with a ‘Sister McMinn and daughter’ in Philadelphia and ‘took a ride with sister McMinn’s daughter.'” Kimball was in the area with Lyman Wight and were combating rumors that Joseph Smith and the Twelve “were in transgression.”

    By September 1844, Benjamin Winchester had split with the Twelve and told everyone in the branch about polygamy. So in case anybody hadn’t know, they all did by that point. Jedediah Grant was in charge of the branch, and I don’t know what he did to combat Winchester, but though lots of the members left, most stayed with Young.

    So my question is, if everybody knew about it, how is it that Thomas Kane, who befriended the saints shortly after, didn’t? Apparently they were able to keep secrets from some people.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 28, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

  10. Chris, most of Twelve just passed through and didn’t spend a lot of time them. Kimball didn’t spend a lot of time there either. The exceptions were William Smith and John E. Page, who hung our there a lot and caused a lot of problems. Would-be apostle Erastus Snow did spend a lot of time there.

    Adris, I thought I had heard that Kimball had the most wives, Stan Kimball put his count at 42, though, as you indicated, 16 left him. Both the women mentioned in the last post left him.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 28, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

  11. That’s very interesting, Steve. Thanks for the detailed response. I look forward to more on this.

    Comment by Jared T — July 28, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

  12. Okay, if you’re all going to take this seriously, I’ll have to take back my joking early comments.

    Thomas Kane seems to have relied on Brigham Young’s personal assurance that rumors about polygamy were untrue. He was very much disappointed after the public announcement.

    HCK had, I think, 65 children to BY’s 45, which is why I always think of him as being ahead in the race. But I’m still not sure about the count of wives — it probably matters to some degree on how you define “wife,” as Jeff Johnson has written in his study of BY wives. Stan Kimball probably took the broadest possible view of a wife being anyone sealed to you, no matter when (do posthumous sealings count?) or for how long (does a sealing at the last minute in Nauvoo count, if the wife never came west and you never saw her again?)

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — July 28, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

  13. I didn’t mean to get technical, Ardis, just checking for the accuracy of my half-baked internet comments. Kimball says that Kimball had a “core” of 12 wives who had most of the children; 17 wives in total had children.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 28, 2009 @ 2:30 pm

  14. How much of the “missionary effect”—if it was a pattern that early—was just a consequence of aggressive endogamy and small congregations? In early-1900s southeastern Texas, marrying missionaries—and later, servicemen from the West—was an important, and not uncommon, aspect of early growth. It became even more so as the idea of marrying a cousin fell out of favor while large family clans continued to dominate church units.

    While we’re on the topic… my favorite “missionary effect” quote comes from N Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter in reference to Reverend Dimmesdale:

    The virgins of his church grew pale around him, victims of a passion so imbued with religious sentiment that they imagined it to be all religion, and brought it openly, in their white bosoms, as their most acceptable sacrifice before the altar.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — July 28, 2009 @ 2:53 pm

  15. Edje, FTW — again.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — July 28, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

  16. Edje, I’m not sure that you would have had the same dynamic in Philadelphia as in the communities you study. The branch was pretty big (over 300), relatively new (started in 1840) and always in flux (lots of people coming and going).

    Great quote.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 28, 2009 @ 6:48 pm

  17. My comment will certainly lower the academic quality of this discussion, but I noticed on my mission than even some homely elders, if they had the flirting spirit, could attract the attention of many a young woman at church.

    Comment by Bret — July 29, 2009 @ 11:08 am

  18. Bret, that’s funny. In Delta, Utah some father basically offered my companion and I his daughter, in a very round about way. We joked afterward that he was like King Lamoni.

    Very interesting insight on this “missionary effect”, Edje.

    Comment by Jared T — July 29, 2009 @ 11:32 am

  19. Steve: the Philadelphia Branch definitely does not sound like the early-20C SETexas branches.

    Bret: I observed a similar pattern, but I chalked it up to blue eyes and blue passports. One contact asked Sisters in one of my districts, “Are you from the church of the tall, beautiful Germans?”

    Jared: our occasional King/Queen Lamonis were more direct: “Elder, you should marry my [15/-yr old !] daughter. [Daughter], stand up. Turn around. See, she’s very pretty. Look at her eyes….” Awkward. For us. And, though we didn’t stick around to ask, probably far worse for the daughters.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — July 29, 2009 @ 12:17 pm

  20. Wow, yea, not quite that direct, but definitely pre-legal age. (You know, they were thinking ahead!)

    Comment by Jared T — July 29, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

  21. Looking at some later counsel from George Q. Cannon (to European mission leadership, given at a ?Council? in Birmingham on 6 Jan. 1862), Elders using their position for courtship was present, if not prevalent, later on:

    I wish to make some remarks relative to the conduct of the Elders with females….Have you ever reflected upon the subject at all, or sought for a reason for [the] standing still on the part of men whose prospects years ago were of the brightest character, seemingly indicating a rapid growth of influence and greatness? We have, and we have found this fact in our experience?that the men who have gone on missions and sought to secure wives for themselves?who have sought to gain an influence over the minds of females?are the men who are stunted in their growth to-day, while their brethren are passing by them in power and influence….If [a man] does nothing more than lay his plans to gain an influence over females or secure wives, he is stunting his growth in the kingdom of God. If he does worse, he is effectually destroying himself….Let us shun this and act the part of wise servants, so that we may not lose any blessing we desire to obtain.[Millenial Star vol. 24, no. 13 (29 March 1862): 199]

    This came, of course, a decade after the ?official? announcement of the polygamy doctrine?and does not even necessarily refer to polygamous relationships, but it appears that a number of missionaries had still not yet separated the ideas of building the kingdom and building their own families.

    (Incidentally, the already-married-to-his-first-wife Joseph F. Smith, who was in attendance at the ?council,? thought this counsel important enough to record or transcribe a portion of it in his journal after hearing it?he himself took an occasional ?walk? with young ladies during his first British mission, in addition to attending church parties and dances. See JFS Diary, Church History Library, 6 Jan. 1862 for his account of GQC?s address; 20 July 1861 for taking a walk with a young sister. He received in Feb. 1862?just a month after Cannon?s counsel?a valentine from an Elizabeth Story of Bradford, England, ?a young lady out of the church, of my acquaintance.? JFS Diary, 17 Feb. 1862. He does not seem to have responded in kind.)

    Sorry, this turned into a longer comment than I expected. I?m an occasional follower of JI, and firsttime commenter. Anyone know of any research on how missionaries dealt with preaching polygamy after having kept it an open secret?

    Comment by Nate R — July 30, 2009 @ 7:34 am

  22. I don’t know what it was like in England. I don’t have good data on Mormon proselytizing from 1848 until 1856 in Philadelphia. At that point, people are expressing a lot of interest in polygamy.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 30, 2009 @ 9:48 am

  23. Nate R: That’s an interesting quote. I don’t know how missionaries dealt with polygamy.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — July 30, 2009 @ 3:08 pm


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