In Memoriam: B. Carmon Hardy, 1934-2016

By December 28, 2016

Word is spreading that B. Carmon Hardy, one of the stalwarts of the Mormon History Association, passed away on December 21st. (Details are still forthcoming; I will provide a link to an obituary when one becomes available.) This caps off a rough year for the world of Mormon history, as we’ve already lost Ronald WalkerMilton Backman, William (Bert) Wilson, Marvin Hill, Melissa Proctor, and Edward Kimball. Professor Hardy received his PhD in history from Wayne State University in Detroit and, after a brief stint at Brigham Young University, spent a productive career at California State University, Fullerton. Like most Mormon historians of his generation, Hardy built his reputation on non-Mormon topics—including co-authoring a well-received textbook on world history—before turning his attention to Mormonism later in his career. While his earliest work was on Mormon colonies in Mexico (see this overlooked Pacific History Review article on the topic), he made his biggest mark on the history of Mormon polygamy.

Hardy is best known for his two books, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (University of Illinois Press, 1992) and Doing the Works of Abraham, Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise (Arthur H. Clark Company, 2007), the latter being part of the Kingdom in the West Series. Solemn Covenant explored how Mormons handled the end of polygamy, and he used historical, social, and psychological tools to do so; it was multi-disciplinary before multi-disciplinary became the buzzword of Mormon studies. Two decades later, Solemn Covenant has yet to be surpassed in covering post-manifesto polygamy. His other major work, Doing the Works of Abraham, is an excellent example of a documentary history that blends helpful primary sources with incisive analysis; the wide-sweeping book is a blend of a monograph and a document collection. Historians who deal with Mormon polygamy would be foolish not to engage its contents. It remains not only the best documentary history of the topic, but also one of the five most important books on polygamy overall.

If you do not have the time or resources to dig into either books, there are plenty of articles that capture his arguments. His 1980 Utah Historical Quarterly article on John Taylor Jr. and Matthias Cowley (co-authored with Victor Jorgensen), “The Taylor-Cowley Affair and the Watershed of Mormon History,” shares some of the historical arguments of Solemn Covenant, while his 1991 Dialogue essay, “Self Blame and the Manifesto,” demonstrates his careful psychological considerations. For the earlier historical period, Hardy’s 1994 Journal of Mormon History article, Lords of Creation: Polygamy, the Abrahamic Household, and Mormon Patriarchy,” is a very powerful and exhaustive engagement with Mormonism’s polygamous and patriarchal theology and its cultural implications. It is one of the first articles I recommend to people who are interested in a deeper examination of the topic. And in his Dialogue personal essay, “Polygamy, Mormonism, and Me,” Hardy confesses his personal struggle with studying polygamy and how it fit into his own faith journey.

I never had the privilege to meet Carmon Hardy, which I regret. But his work has been very influential for a generation of scholars. I don’t agree with a lot of his conclusions, but I constantly find myself engaging with his ideas. For instance, his essay “Lying for the Lord,” which appears as an appendix in Solemn Covenant and mixes ethical and historical analyses, is one that I still struggle with. (We dissected it in a graduate-level Mormon history course at BYU, and I am still haunted by its arguments.) He wasn’t provocative for the sake of provocation, but provocative for the cause of further dialogue. He was an exhaustive researcher, careful thinker, and forceful writer. The Mormon history community was blessed by his contributions.

Article filed under Announcements and Events Historiography In Memoriam Polygamy


  1. Thanks for the news, Ben. Carmon was really a great historian, both as a generous, kind person, and as a honest, brilliant writer of history. I happened to live in southern California while I was writing In Sacred Loneliness, so got to know him a little, and he shared key sources with me as I did my research. Of course, Solemn Covenant was a major inspiration for me as I was starting to learn about Mormon history. And everyone should read “Polygamy, Mormonism and Me” to understand the price he paid for writing that book.

    You’re right that Doing the Works of Abraham is also a great book. I always tell people that it is the first general book you should read about polygamy, and it may be the best book on polygamy that has been been written. I remember a reader of the In Sacred Loneliness manuscript took me to task for not writing with Carmon’s stylistic elegance. I openly admit to that failing. One of the pleasures of reading Carmon’s work is that it is beautifully written. Another pleasure of his work is that it is exhaustively researched and documented. He was a historian who really spent time in the archives.

    Another great aspect of Carmon was his deep sympathy for the Mormons who practiced polygamy — even though he didn’t feel that it was justified, from his humanistic point of view. He could write about “Lying for the Lord” and he showed the ultimate damage that policy caused, but he wrote with an insightful sympathy for why these actions and policies occurred.

    But this is a great loss. On a purely personal level, I’ll miss talking with him at those banquets at MHA . . .

    Comment by Todd Compton — December 28, 2016 @ 9:01 am

  2. Thanks so much Ben for this post, for someone fairly new to Mormon history and trying to get up to speed reading books, this is very helpful.

    Comment by Cameron Stringham — December 28, 2016 @ 10:33 am

  3. Thank, Ben. Surely a great loss for the Mormon history community and those of us who like to read their work.

    Comment by Wally — December 28, 2016 @ 10:42 am

  4. I never had a chance to meet Carmon Hardy in person, but I’ve owned both his books for years and refer to them frequently. I think I’ve read all of his articles, but I appreciate your list so I can check them out. Thank you so much for this post, Ben.

    In the last few months I’ve reread “Lying for the Lord” several times. Have you ever done a post on the topic? If not, would you do one some time? I would love to read and join in a discussion of this topic.

    Thanks also to Todd for your thoughtful comment. You and Ben and other JI posters reminiscing about Carmon Hardy is a great post-Christmas travel reentry despite the sad occasion.

    Comment by Susan W H — December 28, 2016 @ 5:52 pm

  5. In addition to being a first-rate and pioneering scholar, Carmon was a beloved teacher, a kind and generous colleague, and a concerned and interested friend. He was indeed a great soul who will be sorely missed.

    Comment by Dave Hall — December 30, 2016 @ 10:36 am

  6. Occasionally I do a search to find out how Carmon is doing. Today I was saddened to read of his passing.
    It was a pleasure spending time with him and his wife in their home. He was very kind and helpful when I produced a documentary about the Mormon Colonies 10 years ago. His insight and knowledge added so much to the project. I am very grateful for his openness in sharing his own story and in being apart of the doc.
    Thank you Carmon. Your presence in my life left a lasting impression. The world will miss you.

    Comment by Pamela Bowman — December 31, 2016 @ 8:34 am

  7. Just received notice from CSUF History Department that a memorial service will be held for Carmon on January 21, from 10 to noon at the Fullerton Marriott, adjacent to the CSUF campus.

    Comment by Dave Hall — December 31, 2016 @ 1:38 pm

  8. Thank you for such a wonderful tribute to Carmon’s scholarly life. Yes, I would like to echo Dave’s comments about Carmon’s generosity of spirit as one of his junior colleagues at CSUF. He had a unique gift and dedication as a teacher and mentor and will be missed greatly.

    Comment by Kristine Dennehy — December 31, 2016 @ 2:11 pm

  9. I was fortunate to have known Dr. Hardy for almost half a century. He was my first history professor at Cal State Fullerton in the fall of 1968, and had a major impact on my own historical work and teaching style. He became a both a mentor and a role model – he will be greatly missed.

    Comment by John Stahler — January 2, 2017 @ 6:37 pm

  10. I had the privilege and pleasure of being one of Professor Hardy’s students in the mid 1990s. He was a true intellectual and a fascinating lecturer. I am saddened at the news of his passing.

    Comment by Bill Holstein — January 4, 2017 @ 12:45 am


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