Help Husband Get a Wife!

By February 29, 2008

An important part of early Mormon culture making was the promotion of polygamy in the ranks. Although Kathy Daynes is correct to note that the brethren had to preach polygamy from the pulpit in order to get the members to enter into polygamous relationships, it is also important to remember that polygamy was promoted in other forms as well, such as in the following song. According to Carmon Hardy, “[t]his verse appeared as part of a ballad sung to the tune of ‘Rosa May’ in the 17th Ward School House in Salt Lake City, on 15 October 1856,” at the height of the Mormon Reformation (which was also, not coincidentally, the time when polygamy was practiced by the highest percentage of Mormons from 1852 to 1890).[1] This verse is part of a longer song entitled “The Reformation,” which was published in the Deseret News.

Now sisters, list to what I say

With trials this world is rife

You can’t expect to miss them all,

 Help husband get a Wife!

Now this advice I freely give,

If exalted you would be,

Remember that your husband must

Be blessed with more than thee.

Then O, let us say

God bless the wife that strives

And aids her husband all she can

T’obtain a dozen wives.


[1] B. Carmon Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy (Norman, Oklahoma: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 2007), 115; see Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 101.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period From the Archives Gender


  1. Thanks for this. I got a much-needed laugh. Do you know how common ballads like this were?

    Comment by Christopher — February 29, 2008 @ 1:36 pm

  2. Wow. This was great, David.

    Comment by Ben — February 29, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

  3. The ballad picks up themes found in the Reformation catechism. Some years back I read a family tradition that the singer (Margetts) was a lifelong monogamist who rebuffed pressure from BY to marry another wife.

    Comment by Justin — February 29, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

  4. Ugh.

    Comment by BHodges — February 29, 2008 @ 2:24 pm

  5. Chris, no clue. But maybe Taysom does, since he’s done some work on the Reformation.

    Justin, that’s a fascinating family tradition. I wonder if we can document that somehow, since I think that puts the ballad in a new context.

    Comment by David G. — February 29, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

  6. I don’t know if he felt the pressure before or after he sang the ballad. Maybe both.

    I found my (secondary) source (Celia R. Baker, “Pioneering Escape Act,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 23, 2004, D1):

    “According to Margetts family lore, Young tried to convince [Margetts] to follow his example in the practice of polygamy, and take a second wife. Philip Margetts, who had 14 children with his one and only wife, demurred.

    ‘I could do that, but I wouldn’t gain anything by it,” Margetts purportedly said. “My first wife would leave me.'”

    Comment by Justin — February 29, 2008 @ 3:04 pm

  7. Reading through the rest of the ballad, I found this gem:

    We ought our bishops to sustain,
    Their counsels to abide,
    And knock down every dwelling
    Where wicked folks reside

    Comment by David G. — February 29, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

  8. Quinn quotes that verse in arguing that the Mormon culture of violence made its way into congregational singing.

    Comment by Justin — February 29, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

  9. Chris,
    I didn’t come across too many of these songs in my work on the Reformation. If my memory serves, I remember seeing the one David included in here and one or two more. I wasn’t looking for them though, so it’s possible that I may have missed them, but my sense is that they weren’t all that common.

    Comment by SC Taysom — February 29, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

  10. Thanks, Taysom.

    On a more serious note, this ballad is quite telling in its marginalization of the woman’s importance and role in society. The other verses in the ballad exhort the men to be diligent in study, prayer, and preaching, but the woman’s only duty is to enter into plural marriage.

    Comment by Christopher — February 29, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

  11. Thanks, Chris, I noticed that disparity as well. I wonder, Steve, if there has ever been a genderic analysis of the Reformation rhetoric, or Mormon rhetoric in general?

    Comment by David G. — February 29, 2008 @ 6:35 pm

  12. I don’t know of any studies that focus on gender issues in connection with the Reformation, although it sounds like a very interesting idea for someone with the background in rhetoric and gender studies to undertake.

    Comment by SC Taysom — February 29, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

  13. Do you think that this song supports the contention that early Mormons believed plural marriage was necessary for exaltation, or is it negated by the possibility that the ballad was satiric?

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — February 29, 2008 @ 10:35 pm

  14. BiV: I’d side with the former option. Since we don’t know who actually wrote the song or their motivations behind it, I’m hesitant to assume that it was a satire, although the person performing it obviously didn’t believe in plural marriage. As Justin said, it reproduces many of the themes in the Reformation Catechism and I have a hard time believing that the DesNews would print a satire of the Reformation at the height of the Reformation.

    Comment by David G. — March 1, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

  15. I think David is right to be skeptical about reading a satirical intent into the writing or publication of the song. It is possible however that some (many?) saints took it as satire, or at least as something to laugh at. A reader’s response study would be useful, but I doubt if the sources exist to conduct one.

    Comment by SC Taysom — March 1, 2008 @ 12:23 pm

  16. Steve, I agree that would be an important and fascinating study. I think you’re right that there likely aren’t sources on this particular song, but I’d imagine that there are sources on what rank and file Mormons thought about the Reformation and its rhetoric as a whole.

    Comment by David G. — March 1, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

  17. You’re right David that there are sources from “regular” Mormons about the Reformation. I found a letter to Joseph F. Smith, who was then on his mission in Hawaii, from his brother in which he describes a Reformation meeting. I know the new trend is to emphasize the forgiveness and repentance elements of the time, but the tone of this letter is best described as scared as hell.

    Comment by SC Taysom — March 1, 2008 @ 6:06 pm

  18. This song is great! I am glad that you guys post stuff like this. I think that it is funny that the only council given to women is to introduce their single friends to their husbands.

    Comment by KVB — March 3, 2008 @ 6:38 am


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