Images: Forty-Three Long Stockings A-Hangin’ on the Wall

By December 16, 2014

With this post we begin an occasional series entitled ?Images.? We?ll post an image?contemporary photograph, political cartoon, post card, picture of an object, book cover, whatever?briefly describe it, and then invite comment on the image and/or its context. Hopefully we?ll accumulate a small collection of crowd-annotated Mormon-related images. Furthermore, the text descriptions of the images might help researchers find images via text searches.

Since it is Christmas-time, I have chosen to begin in November, 1906, when Church President Joseph F. Smith was fined $300 for continuing to live conjugally with his five wives. The event prompted the following cartoon from ?Bart? (Charles L. Bartholomew) in the Minneapolis Journal (1906 Dec 02 Sun, p 1, courtesy of the Library of Congress):

FortyThreeLongStockingsAHanginOnTheWall MinneapolisJournal 1906Dec02Sun p1 LoRes

The image was picked up by The Literary Digest (1906 Dec 22, Vol 33, no 25, p 925).

The title is ?Forty-three Long Stockings A-Hangin? on the Wall.? The caption reads: ?Isn?t it punishment enough for President Smith of the Mormon church to have forty-three children at Christmas time without fining him $300??

The image shows Joseph F. Smith standing in front of a hearth and fireplace with multiple stockings pinned up in anticipation of Christmas. Smith is dressed in what appears to be a Prince Albert suit accessorized with top-hat and white spats. His beard, reaching to mid-thigh, appears about three times as long in the cartoon as in any photograph of him I?ve ever seen.

He is surrounded by toys: an overflowing box behind reads ?Christmas Presents Wholesale?; he is holding a bag labeled ?Assorted Presents?; there are toys or packages under his arm, in his coat pocket, and on the floor all around him. The visible toys include tops, jack-in-the-box, dolls, balls, and hobby horse; at the bottom left is a partially obscured device with the visible part of the label being ?rover.?

Along the top of the mantle are pictures of women, presumably the wives. Twelve pictures are visible; there might be a thirteenth almost completely obscured by Smith?s face and hat. At the center-top is a placard reading ?What Is Home Without a Dozen Mothers.?

What do you see? What does it mean? What?s the context?

[And? do you have suggestions for the format of the series? Is my description above too long? Too short? Etc?]

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Love the idea for the series; love the image.

    There are interesting things being done here with age and class, but I can’t quite wrap my mind around it yet.

    Also, someone should sell that placard. A wonderful ruse gift.

    Comment by Ben P — December 16, 2014 @ 7:48 am

  2. Hilarious and so informative RE post-manifesto Mormonism. We were so profoundly weird for so long (nowadays I’d rate our eccentricity as average for a world religion), it’s really a miracle the PR rehabilitation the Church has managed. As a child of the late ’70s I never quite understood how much baggage we had. I was raised to feel indignant that everyone thought we were polygamists, but I think that outrage was awfully naive.

    Comment by Owen — December 16, 2014 @ 11:11 am

  3. I wonder what the top hat says. Is that a wealth thing?

    Also, I like the Noah’s ark toy.

    Comment by J Stuart — December 16, 2014 @ 11:42 am

  4. The motto above the fireplace is of course a parody of an 1854 poem, the first verse of which is:

    What is home without a mother,
    What are all the joys we meet?
    When her loving smile no longer
    Greets the coming coming of our feet:
    The days seem long, the nights are drear,
    And time rolls slowly on:
    And oh how few are childhood’s pleasures,
    When her gentle gentle care is gone.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — December 16, 2014 @ 1:18 pm

  5. Of course it is, Ardis. This is precisely why we need crowd sourcing. 🙂

    Great idea, Edje.

    Comment by jjohnson — December 16, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

  6. Great comments, all. Thanks.

    Ardis: Perfect.

    JJohnson: Thanks.

    Owen: I agree that, as you say, the outrage has often been naive.

    J Stuart: Good call on the Noah’s Ark. I don’t know about the hat. Two or three decades later I think suit, hat, and spats in a political cartoon would almost certainly signify great wealth (think the Monopoly game’s Rich Uncle Pennybags, who first appeared [though not by name] in 1936). In 1906, however, I think the case could be made for the hat signifying upper-middle-class respectability rather than the upper crust. I don’t know enough to make a call either way.

    Ben: The pictures of the wives look like they might be arranged in order of increasing age, left to right. I don?t know what to make of it.

    I don?t think it changes the joke much, but? in December 1906 JFS was 68. He had five wives: Julina Lambson (57), Sarah Ellen Richards (56), Edna Lambson (55), Alice Ann Kimball (48), and Mary Taylor Schwartz (41). JFS and his first wife, Levira Annette Clark Smith, had divorced many years earlier without having had any children (and Levira died in 1888).

    I haven?t chased down a precise list (and what I?m putting here I pulled from a Pedigree Resource File that I have not verified, so? caveat lector), but 43 children seems like a reasonably accurate count for 1906. About a fourth of the children were dead. The oldest living was 30 and about a fourth of the total (living and dead) were 12 or under in 1906.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — December 16, 2014 @ 7:33 pm

  7. I mean, it does attempt to make fun of Mormon domesticity through absurdity. It takes the LDS home and turns it into a funhouse in which the fireplace is comically long, the stockings are laughingly plentiful, and the father is humorously overwhelmed. You could even imagine a laugh-track if this were a 1970s television comedy. It plays to the historical analysis that Mormons were introduced to American culture by being placed on stage to provide entertainment for fellow citizens.

    Comment by Ben P — December 16, 2014 @ 7:42 pm

  8. Spot on, Ben.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — December 16, 2014 @ 7:45 pm

  9. This cartoon gives a whole new meaning to this Joseph F. Smith reminiscence published in the Improvement Era in January 1919:

    “One day just before Christmas, I left the old home with feelings I cannot describe.

    “. . . I wanted something to please my chicks and to mark the Christmas day from all other days–but not a cent to do it with! I walked up and down Main Street, looking into the shop windows–into Amussen’s jewelry store, into every store–everywhere–and then slunk out of sight of humanity and sat down and wept like a child, until my poured-out grief relieved my aching heart; and after a while returned home, as empty as when I left, and played with the children, grateful and happy only for them.”

    Comment by blueagleranch — December 16, 2014 @ 8:54 pm

  10. Wow, blueagleranch, that is a great anecdote in general and delightful in this context. Thanks.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — December 16, 2014 @ 9:17 pm

  11. “You could even imagine a laugh-track if this were a 1970s television comedy.”

    You mean a 2014 CBS television comedy, Ben.

    This is great, Edje — both the idea for the series and your first contribution to it. Thanks!

    Comment by Christopher — December 16, 2014 @ 9:31 pm

  12. Awesome as usual, Edje.

    Comment by WVS — December 17, 2014 @ 12:06 am

  13. Every time I see this, I still read it as “forty-three-foot-long stockings.” Those are some long footwear. I guess when my brain sees a number followed by “long,” it expects to see some quantification of length.

    Comment by Left Field — December 17, 2014 @ 6:40 am

  14. Thanks, WVS and Left Field.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — December 17, 2014 @ 5:08 pm

  15. I may be reading too much into the imagery, but it appears that the stylized Santa Jack-in-the-box is sporting a Brother Brigham-style beard.

    Comment by Nate R. — December 18, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

  16. And, reflecting on hats, I can think of only a few photographs in which JFS has headgear, and most of them are not top hats.

    Here’s one from the RSC.

    Here’s another:

    Yet this one, of the First Presidency in 1893, I believe, has all of them wearing top hats:

    Comment by Nate R. — December 18, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

  17. Interesting, Nate.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — December 18, 2014 @ 5:10 pm

  18. The Joseph F. Smith reminiscence about Christmas that I posted earlier came from an anthology on my bookshelf. Something I saw in passing the next day made me wonder if the quote had been cited in full, so I checked the Improvement Era version and found that the quote had been edited. The original Era-version is even more telling within the context of this cartoon.

    The reminiscences were culled from a letter Joseph F. Smith wrote to an unidentified son on Dec. 29, 1914 from Santa Monica, California. The last line actually reads as follows:

    “I walked up and down Main Street, looking into the shop windows?into Amussen?s jewelry store, into every store?everywhere?and then slunk out of sight of humanity and sat down and wept like a child, until my poured-out grief relieved my aching heart; and after a while returned home, as empty as when I left, and played with the children, grateful and happy only for them and their beloved mothers.”

    Although President Smith did not identify when this incident occurred, elsewhere in the letter he refers to “my three God-given mamas, and our precious chicks.” In 1919, no one thought twice about references to polygamy, but by the time my anthology was published, these references were edited out do not jar the modern reader.

    By the way, since I blew it once, I did try to find the original letter in the Joseph F. Smith Papers at the Church History Library to double check. Since it was written in Santa Monica, however, it didn’t end up his letterpress copybooks.

    The published letter can be found in the Improvement Era, January 1919, pp. 266-267.

    Comment by blueagleranch — December 19, 2014 @ 9:32 am

  19. blueagleranch: Thanks very much for chasing that down for us.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — December 19, 2014 @ 11:45 am


Recent Comments

wvs on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “Looking forward to this. Thanks J.”

Daniel Stone on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “Thanks much for posting this, Joey!”

Mel Johnson on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “This JWHA will be outstanding, maybe the best ever. I encourage all Restoration historians and cultural studies people to attend along with their friends. The setting at…”

Gary Bergera on George F. Richards' journals: “I remember reading through the microfilms of the Richards's journals in the mid- to late-1970s. Nothing was redacted. They were amazing.”

Jeff T on George F. Richards' journals: “Thanks, Stapley!”

Hannah Jung on George F. Richards' journals: “That is exciting! I had no idea this was in the works! Any idea when the plan is to release the next twenty years of…”