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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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Lydia Alveretta Spencer

Lydia Alveretta Spencer was the fifth child born to John Henry Spencer and Lucy Lodica Elmer, and she was my great grand aunt.  Lydia was born in Payson, Utah on 21 May 1873.  Sometime around the time that Lydia turned four years old, the family relocated to Sanpete County, where she spent her childhood.  On 1 Jan 1899, at the age of 25, Lydia married John Wesley Tidwell. 

Lydia Alveretta Spencer Tidwell - from the collection of Blaine Spencer

 John Tidwell was born 22 January 1861 in Pleasant Grove, Utah County, Utah to William Nelson Tidwell and Mary Elizabeth Reynolds.  John had previously been married to Mary Rosetta Gardner, another of my great grand aunts from the Gardner family line, who died in 1892. 

John Wesley Tidwell - from the collection of Blaine Spencer

By the time the 1900 census had been enumerated, both of Lydia’s parents were dead.  She was with her husband in Sanpete County, and their first daughter Bertha had been born.  Her younger brother Elmer Bert Spencer is living with the family.  Lydia’s father’s “other” wife, Jerusia Spencer is living nearby with her minor children. 

 When we find Lydia and John in the 1910 census, we see that they have relocated their family to Marysville, Freemont County, Idaho.  Lydia tells the enumerator that she has given birth five times and that three of the children are living: 

1.   Bertha Tidwell (1900-1989 – married Howard Lawson White Craven);
2.   Teresa (1906 – ?);
3.   Lydia Lodica (1909-1998 – did not marry);
4.   Thomas Elmer Tidwell was born 1903 in Utah and died 1909 in Idaho; and
5.   Vera Tidwell was born 16 Jan 1908 in Idaho and died that same day; and

By 1920 the couple has added another daughter, Effie (1911 – ?). 

Lydia and John owned their own farm – and we can always find John Tidwell listed as “farmer” on the census records.   

By the time the 1930 census rolls around – John Tidwell continues to have a house full of women!  The family is still present in Marysville, Idaho.  Lydia is 56 years old; John is 69.  They state that they own their own home worth $500 – and that it is not a farm.  John lists his occupation as farm laborer.  Also in the home are Bertha, age 30 and Teresa, age 25 – both state they are married – but no husbands are with them in the census.  Younger daughters Lydia Lodica,, 20 and Effie, 18 are also in the home. 

John Wesley Tidwell died seven years later at the age of 76.  He is laid to rest in the Pineview Cemetery in Ashton, Freemont County, Idaho. 

Lydia Alveretta Spencer Tidwell lived another 25 years.  She died at the age of 89 on 18 Dec. 1962 in Ashton, Freemont County, Idaho.   She is also laid to rest in Pineview Cemetery.

Lydia Alveretta Spencer Tidwell - Pineview Cemetery

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2011 in Spencer

 

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Cynthia Alice Spencer Hutchison

Cynthia Alice Spencer Hutchison was my great grand aunt and the oldest daughter born to John Henry Spencer and Lucy Lodicia Elmer.  She was born in Payson, Utah County, Utah on 15 Apr 1867.  Cynthia grew up with her family in Utah and Sanpete Counties. 

Cynthia Alice Spencer Hutchison

 On 11 Dec. 1885, when she was 18 years old, she married William Greenville Hutchison in Logan, Cache County, Utah.  The couple raised a very large family:  John Henry was born in 1886; Sarah Lodica in 1888; Ethel Eva in 1890; Lydia Ann in 1892; William Richard in 1893; Alice Maida in 1896; Zettie Delora in 1899; Diean Lucy in 1900; George Earl in 1903; Lloyd L in 1905; and Lorin Spencer in 1908.

By 1920 the family has relocated to Marysville, Freemont County, Idaho.  According to the census record, her husband William was a farmer, and they owned their own home. 

William Greenville Hutchison

Cynthia died at the age of 79 on 23 Dec 1946 in Blackfoot, Bingham County, Idaho.  She is laid to rest there in the Grove City Cemetery. 

Cynthia Alice Spencer Hutchison - Grove City Cemetery

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2011 in Spencer

 

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