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A Gentile and a Guest

June 23, 2014

Okay, this post is longer, but I couldn’t figure out what to cut. Such amazing stuff!

Elizabeth Kane

For today we read A Gentile Account of Life in Utah’s Dixie, 1872-73: Elizabeth Kane’s St. George Journal (Tanner Trust Fund Series), written by–you guessed it–Elizabeth Kane.

Elizabeth Dennistoun Wood Kane

Elizabeth Kane was not a Mormon and was married to General Thomas Kane who was a friend and defender of the Mormons in the Brigham Young era.


Elizabeth was raised back East with all the Victorian sensibilities of a fine lady, and like many other women in the East, she concluded that, given their practice of polygamy, the Mormons must be rather barbaric, and their women must be oppressed. In another of our readings, a lecture Claudia gave, she noted that when the Mormons first came west in the 1850s, they were very separate from the rest of the United States. Way out in the desert, the Mormons were neither in the United States nor very accessible to the United States. All that changed with the transcontinental railroad, however. Suddenly they were connected, with greater access to commercial goods and trading and subject to greater scrutiny from the outside.


That very railroad is what brought Elizabeth and General Kane to the Utah Territory. Due to injuries he sustained in the Civil War, the general and Elizabeth moved out to St. George (in southern Utah) for a brief time 1872, in part for his health. They took the railroad as far as Lehi and then carriages and wagons down to St. George. Elizabeth had a gift for writing, and she recorded what she saw in the kind of detail that makes historians giddy. For example, she described going to visit a wife who had invited her to dinner:

Jan. 10 Friday. Yesterday afternoon Bishop Snow called to invite us to dine with one of his wives. I thought he said the first, so this morning I took the boys, and went to call on her. I was too sheepisto ask MrSnow whicwas the first wife, but Willie [Elizabeth’s son] seems tknow who everybody is, and he volunteered to conduct me to hehouse. It ion thnorth sidof the street; neat story and a halhigh adobe cottage. She [Artemisia Snow] receiveme in pleasant rooopenindirectloff thfronpiazza. As in all thUtah houses the thick wallimpress me with the idea of luxury, for few can afford sucwalls ithEast. I recognized the pretty Mauve tinted papeon the wall as the same thacovers our wood box at Mrs. Elizabeth’s. The windows were neatly draped with whitcurtains; there was nice rag carpeon the floorknitted mats beforthdooand fireplace, a lounge, rocking chair and sewinmachine, whilfrom thnext roocame thsound osomone practising othmelodeon (48).

How’s that for being able to visualize a St. George home in 1873? It’s gold. As I mentioned, Elizabeth certainly had her misgivings about these Mormons. Her journal combines her skepticism with intelligent descriptions such that’s its both delightful and informative to read. For example, she wrote:

A curious difference between the Mormon women and those of an Eastern harem appears in their independence. So many of them seem to have the entire management, not only of their families, but of their households and even outside business affairs, as if they were widows; either because they have houses where their husbands only visit them instead of living day in and day out, or because the husbands are off on Missions and leave the guidance of their business affairs to them (39). 

Although Elizabeth felt vary wary of the Mormons, over time they won over her better opinion, especially as they nursed her husband when his health took a turn for the worse. She concludes her journal hoping that they will survive, even as tensions against them were mounting as the U.S. government worked on more legislation and other measures to quash polygamy. At the end of one section in her journal on Sunday, March 3, 1873, Elizabeth wrote:

I think that, under God I am indebted for his [General Kane’s] recovery to the kind and able nursing of the Mormons. I shall not forget it. We are going to leave St. George as soon as he can travel, but before closing these leaves I write this Memorandum in red ink—-

If I had entries in this diary to make again, they would be written in a kindlier spirit.

E.D. Kane (167-68)


Kathryn Daynes

More Wives Than One

Also, Kathryn Daynes was our guest in class today. We’d read three chapters from her book, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System 1840-1910, a study of the demographics of polygamy in Manti and several of its effects. Professor Daynes was so candid and had that wonderful gift of blending intelligence with graciousness. I want to do that. She told us her story of how she started out her PhD in British history and ended up in Mormon history. Pragmatics were a huge factor, and it was nice to feel permission to let life’s limits play into those decisions and to see that those pragmatically informed decisions can still pay off.

Apparently history as an academic discipline saw a huge boom in quantitative approaches the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s it turned to a more linguistic/descriptive bent. Prof. Daynes took massive amounts of demographic data from Manti, used it to gain new insights into the effects of polygamy, and then wrote it up in a descriptive way in More Wives Than One. It’s an enormous achievement. One of the insights she shows is how polygamy redistributed wealth in early Mormon society. Women in poverty could become plural wives of wealthier men, and the society had another way of taking care of its poor. Daynes’ work suggests that as Utah developed more economically, it pulled out of plural marriage, perhaps in part because this economic was less needed.


Q&A with Kathryn Daynes

Richard asked us to come ready with comments and questions for Prof. Daynes because “every author likes to have a sense of how his or her work is received.” Here are some of the questions and answers that followed. N.B., I took notes as well as I could, but not all of these answers should be construed as direct quotations. In some cases where I’m more confident that I directly transcribed Prof. Daynes’ answers, I’ve placed them in quotation marks.


How did you end up in Mormon studies? [part of the answer] “I thought it would be easy because of who the [polygamous] fathers were. It was a practical consideration of how do I finish the program?” And it was very surprising to me when I couldn’t find the fathers. After the first 10 years, a very distinctive period, I saw many of those daughters of these polygamous fathers and leaders did not go into plural marriages.


Would you say polygamy was more of an economic institution than a religious one?  “At its foundation it was religious. You just wouldn’t have plural marriage without that doctrinal support and considerable support from the pulpit.” As for what would have happened to all those women who came in without fathers, very poor, without plural marriage, it’s a counterfactual and hard to answer… but you would have had much higher inequality of wealth. In terms of land and wealth, Utah was rapidly becoming very unequal. Work available to women paid a pittance. Even though women had access to greater wealth by being a wife, they’re very poor. “You just have to realize Utah is poor.” Before 1869, everyone in Utah was a squatter. It’s the church that’s giving out the land. If you have two wives, you get more land. If you’re a single man, you get very little land. You want to get married. You have to realize how important marriage is–not just for women but for men… In general the religious and political/social elite are one and the same.


What part did divorce play? “I don’t think polygamy could have worked if women could not have gotten out of plural marriage.” Of those who were divorced, 43% go back into another plural marriage at some point. Of those women who were married before, whether divorced or widowed, a slight majority go into plural marriage. So what’s happening is you can have a stable society with a fair amount of divorce because plural marriage gives everyone an opportunity to remarry. “Women had their choices about what kind of marriage to go into.” The only examples I’ve seen of forced marriages were from their families. And both of those ended badly.

Divorces authorized by Brigham Young are temple divorces. There would be a certificate canceling the sealing. To have a plural marriage, up until 1880s, it had to be approved by the president of the church. To cancel that marriage, that would also be approved by the president of the church. Looking at the divorces given by Brigham Young, you see a spike in plural marriages in the reformation, and then you see a spike in the divorces about a year later. Some women just chose to remain single. They were very concerned about what was going to happen to them in the eternities, much more so than now. “They were making arrangements for their eternity.” If you’re already sealed, then there’s much less concern. Those women who were sealed to a man and he dies and then entered into a proxy marriage, those marriages more likely end in a separation or divorce because they already had a sealing.

One third of the men are divorced. In a plural marriage the man has at least twice as many opportunities to get divorced as a woman has. One of greatest problems to come into a marriage is financial, and remember how poor these people were. By and large I didn’t see some kind of alimony. In courts the woman is given maybe a cow, sometimes some land. But they’re poor. If you want to see how poor, look at the agricultural census. It lists how many cows and how many bushels of wheat. In early days, we’re talking about subsistence level. Farms in Utah are the smallest in the United States. You are putting a lot of people on not much arable land. Farms in 1860 are larger than farms in 1870. With influx of people it is really in the interest of the community to share land.

“My own feeling is that leaving plural marriage was more difficult than going into it.” This was especially true closer to the Manifesto. “A lot of those children of plural marriages were teased because the Church as a whole was leaving them behind.” That long period after the Manifesto was very difficult. Especially those who were married in 1880s, these marriages are lasting into the 1940s.


Was there much stigma around divorce? There didn’t seem to be. “The [home] teachers and the bishops were going around trying to get reconciliation, but if a woman said, ‘I’m really unhappy,’ they would get a divorce.”


Was there an expectation that a woman working as a housegirl would become a plural wife?  “A man who was at all wise would have wanted his wives to get along… so sometimes a man would invite a woman to come stay at his house for a month.” They would see if she got along in the household. Sometimes a man would hire a girl, especially an immigrant, and if things worked out really nicely, she would be incorporated into the household. “Certainly not every maid married the master of the household. It goes back to that consent and choice.” There were certainly maids who had no intention of ever going into plural marriages.


More miscellaneous info. Daughters of wealthier men tend not to go into plural marriage although there are certainly some that do. Monogamous marriages go on ten to twenty years before a husband would take on another wife. Women seemed to prefer to be first wives.

One woman in Manti was courted by an apostle and a bachelor and was in a quandary. Brigham Young told her to choose whatever she wanted. She chose the single man and never was in a plural marriage situation. There doesn’t seem to be much stigma attached to monogamous relationships even though plural marriages were glorified as the ideal. After the 1850s, the pressure is on the men to marry. For one bishop, the way he took care of the widows in the ward was to marry them.

Most plural marriages were only one other wife. Many who took on more came from that early frontier period. It was hard. In 1855, they’re hungry. Why would you take on an additional wife if you’re hungry? “My sense is there was disapproval of men who took on many younger women as opposed to those women who needed a home.” When this went to the Utah supreme court, some of these polygamous women testifying made it clear that they were unhappy. It seems there was a way this was supposed to happen, that they were to be looking for the fatherless.

You get short courtships. It was not seemly for an older married man to spend a lot of time courting a young girl. Many of these cultural ideas about how polygamy should be conducted on the ground came from culture and society rather than the pulpit. It seems the came at a time when Brigham Young said he would no longer marry younger wives.


So that’s some of what we talked about today. Can I just say that I find every day in this seminar to be fascinating?


Today’s reading

Elizabeth Kane, A Gentile Account of Life in Utah’s Dixie,, 1872-73.

Claudia Bushman, “Mormon Domestic Life in the 1870s” the 1999 Leonard J. Arrington Mormon History Lecture.

Kathryn Daynes, More Wives Than One, chapters 6 and 7.


Additional recommended reading (from Claudia)

Recollections of a Handcart Pioneer of 1860, Mary Ann Hafen. Could be compared to the Little House series in reading difficulty.

Twelve Mormon Homes, Elizabeth Wood Kane. General and Elizabeth Kane visited 12 Mormon homes on their way to St. George from Lehi via wagon and carriage.

A Mormon Mother, autobiography by Annie Clark Tanner. Married into polygamy late in 1883. Didn’t feel her marital status had changed with Manifesto.

Glimpses of a Mormon Family, Francis Grant Bennett.



Kathryn Daynes on looking for sources to know whether given periods in history were happy or good: “Happiness writes white. It’s bland.”

“Academia, like most things in life, isn’t about brilliance but about hard work and determination.” -Claudia

“A plea to you: Be encouraging to your graduate students. Don’t be mean to them. A lot of people are meaner than they have to be.” -Claudia

Re: the 1870s: “Looking back it was one of their better times.” -Claudia



Prof. Daynes told us that 8% of first wives got divorces, 25% of plural wives got divorces, and 5% of monogamous wives got divorces. These were temple divorces verified by a certificate from Brigham Young.

In 1880 there was one family listed as not Mormon in St. George.

Only one woman was unmarried in Manti during the frontier period.

In the 1880s Salt Lake City had a cash economy, but elsewhere in Utah it was primarily a barter system.

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