Everything You Need to Know About Joseph Smith Polygamy

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Joseph Smith’s polygamy, a practice often shrouded in controversy and mystery, has been a topic of extensive discussion and debate throughout history. Among those associated with polygamy is Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Polygamy, also called plural marriage, is one of the most debated aspects of his life. Smith’s involvement in polygamous relationships has been a subject of fascination, scrutiny, and confusion. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the life of Joseph Smith, exploring his encounters with polygamy, its historical context, and the enduring impact it has had on religious discourse.

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith Jr. was born on December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont, in the Northeastern United States. He grew up in a Christian family, and at the age of 14, he claimed to have experienced a divine revelation, where he saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. This marked the beginning of Smith’s revelatory experiences. In 1830, he founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), often referred to as the Mormon Church, which emerged as a significant religious movement in the United States.

Introduction to Polygamy

While the exact Joseph Smith polygamy timeline is debated among historians, evidence suggests that he received revelation about polygamy around 1831. He may have had one plural marriage named Fanny Alger in the mid-1830s, but there is not very much documentation about the relationship. Smith began to practice polygamy in Nauvoo in the 1840s. This is also where he introduced polygamy to a few members, mostly leaders, of the church.

Joseph Smith and Polygamy

Polygamy, the practice of having multiple spouses simultaneously, has been a part of various cultures and religions throughout history. Mormons often point to biblical examples of polygamy practiced by prophets like Abraham, Jacob, and David as evidence that God has accepted this practice in previous generations. Mormons believe that Joseph Smith restored this ancient practice, for a period of time. The Book of Mormon also states that polygamy is not the norm, but sometimes the Lord commands people to practice polygamy to “raise up seed” to Himself. 

Smith’s involvement in polygamy is a complex and controversial aspect of his legacy. Particularly because many of the historical accounts do not chronicle Smith’s polygamous marriages. However, a deep dive into hundreds of records indicates that he probably entered into 30-40 polygamous marriages, some of which included women who were already married to other men (a practice called polyandry). Smith claimed that these marriages were divinely ordained and wrote this revelation down. Today this revelation is in Doctrine and Covenants 132.

Joseph Smith’s Wives

Joseph Smith’s wives’ ages varied greatly. Some women were young, teenagers at the time of the marriage, Fanny Alger (age 18), Flora Ann Woodworth (age 17), Emily Dow Partridge (age 19), Lucy Walker Kimball (age 17), Sarah Lawrence (age 17), Maria Lawrence (age 19), and Malissa Lott (age 19). The oldest woman whom Smith married was Fanny Young (age 56). The motivations behind these marriages are still debated, with explanations ranging from religious duty to allegations of manipulation.

Records from Joseph Smith’s plural wives exist. The majority of them describe Joseph Smith approaching them about becoming his plural wife, to which they responded with skepticism or even revulsion. Smith usually invited the women to pray about the matter and the records show that these women prayed and accepted the practice, claiming that they received spiritual witnesses of its truthfulness. 

The practice of polygamy undoubtedly strained Joseph Smith’s relationship with his first wife, Emma. Records show that Emma accepted plural marriage, even participating in some of the ceremonies. However, the dynamic proved difficult. After Smith died, Emma denied that Smith ever practiced polygamy. 


The practice of polygamy by Joseph Smith and other early leaders of the LDS Church faced considerable opposition from both within and outside the Mormon community. Critics questioned Joseph Smith’s polygamy, specifically, the moral and ethical implications of polygamy, arguing that it contradicted traditional Christian values and undermined the institution of marriage.

Eventually, Mormon’s practice of polygamy led to legal and social repercussions for those who practiced it. Ultimately culminating in the issuance of anti-polygamy laws and the eventual renunciation of the practice by the LDS Church in the late 19th century.

The Mormon Church officially ended the practice of polygamy in 1890. The church maintains that the revelation authorizing polygamy was specific to that time period and no longer applies. However, some splinter groups have broken away from Mormonism and continue to practice polygamy.


Joseph Smith’s polygamy remains a significant aspect of his life and legacy, one that continues to captivate the interest of scholars, historians, and individuals seeking to understand the complexities of religious history. By exploring the historical context, controversies, and enduring impact of Smith’s polygamous relationships, we gain insight into the intricacies of faith, morality, and the human experience. As we navigate the complexities of this topic, let us approach it with empathy, curiosity, and a commitment to understanding the nuances of Joseph Smith’s life and teachings. For more information about Joseph Smith’s wives, polygamy, and other topics, visit Mormonism Explained.

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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