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Did some of Joseph Smith’s wives practice Polyandry?

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

Many of Joseph Smith’s wives including Mary Rollins Lightner and Sylvia Session Lyon had living husbands at the time of their marriages to Smith. Some of their husbands were members of the Church, but others were not. Many of these women continued to live with their first husbands after being married to Joseph.

Smith might have been sealed to married and pregnant women for a couple of reasons. First, having sexual relations with a woman who was pregnant was not acceptable behavior in the nineteenth century. Smith may have wanted to avoid having a sexual relationship with these women for his own sake or the sake of appearances. Second, Smith might have wanted to shield his first wife, Emma, from the heartache of regular marital relationships with single women. 

A large amount of information about Smith’s plural wives comes from a court case called the “Temple Lot Case.” During this court case, Lorenzo Snow stated that Smith was censured by an angel for only being sealed to women who were already married. After this rebuke by the angel, Smith began to marry single women. So, the question is for Joseph Smith, how many wives did he have? By 1843, Smith had about 30-40 plural wives.