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The Women of Mormonism

When I look upon the faces of my strong, proud and handsome Mormon great-grandmothers (Lucy Lodica Elmer and Mary Rosetta Patterson), only their eyes tell of their great suffering, loneliness and anguish.  The cause?  The Mormon doctrine of polygamy or “plural marriage” as it is sometimes referred to. 

Lucy Lodicia Elmer - from the collection of Blaine Spencer

Before we start you should probably know that I am not Mormon nor do I have any plans of ever becoming one – in fact, I reject the doctrine completely.  I think it would be advantageous to the reader if I gave a brief history of the Mormon sect and how it came into existence:

This sect was formed in New York in 1827 by self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Smith who claimed that he received a visit from the “angel Moroni,” who gave him some “golden plates inscribed with symbols,” which Smith then translated into the Book of Mormon.  Volumes could be written about Joseph Smith, but suffice it to say, that he was shot to death by an angry mob while in a jail cell in Illinois.  After Joseph Smith’s death, the sect split into two distinct groups – the group that my ancestors were a part of, elected a “new prophet,” Brigham Young, and headed west across the great plains to Utah.  This became known as “the great Mormon migration.”  The practice of polygamy within the Mormon religion once again got it’s start when old Joseph Smith claimed to have received a revelation in July of 1831 that Mormon men could practice “plural marriage.”  This revelation would later be published in the Mormon’s “Doctrine and Covenants.”  Interestingly, the doctrine is still in place and can be found in their canonized scripture to this day.   

Mary Rosetta Patterson

During Joseph Smith’s life, polygamy was practiced, however, it was kept “secret” because, of course, it was illegal.  Not only was it kept secret from the authorities – it was initially kept secret from his first wife and the church breathern as well….hmmmmm.  Once in Utah the sect practiced “open” plural marriage and thus they began to experience life in large “plural” family groups.  Many of the biographies that I have received that pertain to my female Mormon ancestors paint a very inspiring picture – a picture of women that struggled together with their husbands and “sister-wives” to overcome great obstacles and challenges – who lived out their picture perfect lives – and then went on to their celestial reward.  

Even in the best of circumstances, this lifestyle seemingly would have been excruciating.  The struggle must have been constant with polygamous husbands giving great attention to favored wives and disregarding a less favored one; limited access to a husband’s time, resources and emotional support; jealousy among the wives; squabbles among the children; attempts to deal with sexual issues; fighting; and general chaos.  The problems seem too numerous to count.  As my own husband so sweetly stated, “Who could deal with more than one wife.”  In the records and biographies, it has been well-documented that many “plural” wives were very intelligent, resourceful and capable women – I thus find this whole arrangement very distasteful – and it honestly makes my skin crawl.  

Jerusha Kibbe Elmer

Out of my four ggg-grandfathers, two of them practiced polygamy: 

Elias Gardner married:  Harriet Snow; Amy Pitchard (my ggg-grandmother); Betsy Elizabeth Markham; Diantha Hanchett; Ellen Elizabeth Abbott; Ruth Markham; Annie Elizabeth England; Martha Todd; and Annie Ann Abbott – that’s nine wives and about 40 children. 

Alvis Houston Patterson married:  Martha Fillmore (my ggg-grandmother); Pricilla Harding Taylor; and Fannie Maude Carline – that’s three wives and about 20 children. 

Out of my two gg-grandfathers, both practiced polygamy: 

John Henry Spencer married:  Jerusha Kibbe Elmer and Lucy Lodica Elmer (my gg-grandmother) – that’s two wives and about 24 children. 

Henry Erastus Gardner married Emma M. Moesser and Mary Rosetta Patterson (my gg-grandmother) – that two wives and about 24 children. 

Martha Fillmore

Mercifully, and due to the fact that Utah wanted statehood, the Mormons “officially” discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890. 

“What is your opinion of Mormon polygamy as a religious tenant?,” was asked of an eminent divine, upon his return from a visit to Utah, where he had spent several weeks investigating the system, with eyes, ears and heart wide open.  “It may be good enough for a certain class of men,” was the reply, “but for the women, it is a damnable doctrine.  Religion was designed by the Creator to satisfy that longing for infinite good and purity, which exists, in some degree, in every human soul; its mission is to elevate and purify mankind, and a system which tends to degrade any portion of humanity is but a libel upon the sacred name of religion.  The best resources of our language cannot supply me with strong enough terms in which to denounce this infamous doctrine of the Mormon Creed!”  The corner-stone of polygamy is the degradation of woman, and it can flourish only where she is regarded and treated as a slave – and whatever degrades woman, degrades man also.  Excerpts from Women of Mormonism – The Story of Polygamy – as told by the victims themselves and edited by Jeannie Anderson Froiseth – 1886. 

It is not my intention with this post to instigate a discussion on the doctrines of Mormonism.  My focus is the effect that polygamy had on the women and children of these families.  I will write further as I learn more about these courageous, if not misguided, women.  To learn more about polygamy and Mormonism in general – I found this blog very interesting and straightforward –

http://skepticmormon.blogspot.com/2011/02/troubling-facts-about-polygamy.html

 

 

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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Elmer, Fillmore, Patterson, Spencer

 

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George Francis Spencer

George Francis Spencer was my great-grandfather – and one of the 12 children of John Henry Spencer and Lucy Lodica Elmer – born in Payson, Utah County, Utah Territory on 30 Jun 1870.  George’s father was a member of the Mormon sect.  Imagine how puzzled I was when I first started studying the census records of that time period….more wives and children and confusion than I could count.  It finally dawned on me – my great great grandfather was a polygamist!  Accordingly, in the childhood census records of George Francis Spencer, he is always present with his mother and father AND John Spencer’s first wife  Jerusha Kibbe Brunson Elmer and her 14 children, George’s half siblings.  Whew….Now that we’ve got that sorted out…let’s continue ! 

George Francis Spencer from the collection of Blaine Spencer

Sometime around the time George turned 7 years old, his large family relocated to Thistle/Indianola, Sanpete County, Utah.  This is where he met and married my great-grandmother, Sarah Elsie Gardner.  The Mormon records indicate that they married 22 Oct 1987 – when Sarah was only 15 years old.  However, the 1910 census indicates that they had been married only 10 years – putting the marriage closer to 1900.  Sarah was the daughter of Henry Erastus Stanley Gardner and Mary Rosetta Patterson. 

Sarah Elsie Gardner from the collection of Blaine Spencer

 George and Sarah had five children: 

Earl Francis in 1903; married Margaret “Mollie” Mack; died in Utah County, Utah in 1964;

Mary Lodica “Aunt Marie” in 1905; married first James Patrick Hyland and second Paul Allias; died 1999 in Salt Lake City;

Ernest Richard in 1907; married Mary “Honey” and Cleotha Peterson; died 1960 in Utah County, Utah (my father named after him);

Elmer Bert in 1908; married Peggy Marie Barnett; died in Kerrville, Kerr County, Texas in 1999; and

Pearl Eva in 1914 (my grandmother); married Jose Celestino Montoya; lost her life in a car accident at the age of 34 in 1949. 

It appears that the marriage of George and Elsie might have been a rocky one – on again and off again.  In the 1910 census they are together – in 1920 George is alone with the four older children and is indexed as divorced – Elsie is in another county with youngest daughter Pearl Eva and is living with another man (Carl Persow) – later she leaves Pearl with her father and goes to California where she died young in 1925.  It is assumed that George and Sarah were together until at least 1914, when my grandmother, Pearl Eva Spencer was born.  It is not known if the couple actually divorced or only separated.  Her headstone carries the “Spencer” name – and she is listed as “wife” of George Spencer on his death certificate.  The family story states that George Francis Spencer was a sheep herder – and that Elsie wanted a better life than that could afford her.  The 1910 census states that he was a laborer doing “odd jobs”; the 1920 census that he was a laborer working for the “steam railroad”; and the 1930 that he was a laborer working on a farm.

It appears that George Francis Spencer spent the remainder of his years in Indianola.  In his old age, George Francis Spencer, was wheelchair bound.  His death certificate states that he was “an invalid for 27 years prior to his death.”  He lived in the home of one of his sons – probably Earl Francis Spencer – and he had rooms at the back of that house.  He died in the Utah County Infirmary at Provo, Utah at the age of 73 on 22 Apr 1944.  He had been a resident at the Infirmary for ten months prior to his death.  

George Francis Spencer is laid to rest in Payson City Cemetery in Payson, Utah County, Utah. 

George Francis Spencer - Payson City Cemetery

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2011 in Spencer

 

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