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Who was Joseph Smith’s first polygamous wife?

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

Kevin Prince

Source Expert

Kevin Prince serves as the Source Authority at Mormonism Explained. Mr. Prince is a religious scholar as well as a technology industry CEO and entrepreneur.

Updated July 3, 2024

Although the specific date is unknown, historians believe that Joseph Smith married his first plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio. The marriage likely happened in the mid-1830s. It is unclear whether Joseph’s first wife, Emma Hale Smith, knew about the marriage to Fanny before the event. 

Some critics of Joseph Smith wives believe Smith’s relationship with Alger was adulterous. The evidence they use to make this claim is a letter written by Oliver Cowdery to his brother on January 21, 1838. In this letter, Cowdery states that Smith and Alger’s relationship was “a dirty, nasty, affair.” However, the word “affair,” as defined by Webster’s Dictionary in 1828, meant a matter of business, an event, or a duel. The word “affair” did not connotate an extramarital relationship until at least the early 1900s. 

Smith’s marriage to Alger was short-lived because the Alger family moved to Missouri. While traveling to Missouri, Alger met Solomon Custer, a non-Mormon, and married him. When asked about her relationship with Joseph Smith, Alger said, “That is all a matter of my own.” Fanny Alger appears to be Smith’s first plural wife.

  • References
    1. “Affair,” Webster’s Dictionary (1828), American Dictionary of the English Language, accessed May 3, 2024,
    2. Todd Compton, In sacred loneliness: The plural wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997) 39-41.