Women of Principle: Female Networking in Contemporary Mormon Polygyny

Women of Principle: Female Networking in Contemporary Mormon Polygyny

Women of Principle: Female Networking in Contemporary Mormon Polygyny

Women of Principle: Female Networking in Contemporary Mormon Polygyny


This book offers an in-depth study of the female experience in one Mormon polygynous community, the Apostolic United Brethren. Women in such rigid, patriarchal religious groups are commonly portrayed as the oppressed, powerless victims of male domination. Janet Bennion shows, however, that the reality is far more complex. Many women converts are attracted to this group, and they are much more likely than male converts to remain there. Often these women are seeking improved socio-economic status for themselves and their children, as well as an escape from their marginalized status in the mainstream Mormon church. In the polygynous group women experience rapid assimilation, autonomy, and upward mobility. Bennion supports her study with narratives from the lives of women now living in the group--narratives that clearly reveal why many mainstream Mormon women are viewing polygyny as a viable alternative to the difficulties to single-motherhood, "spinsterhood," poverty, and emotional deprivation.


I saw this light shining above me in the night. Through it, a young woman of 19 or 20 years walked slowly, dressed all in white. She came toward me and smiled beautifully, saying, "Hello, old friend." We sat in my room, bathed in light, and she held my hand tightly. She had my dark hair, my blue eyes, my full mouth. She told me that I was her only chance--her last chance--to enter this estate [earthlife]. She said I must bear one more child, herself, and then my duties would be finished and my name would be written on the Book of the Lamb in the Last Days.

"Please, Mother," she pleaded, tears in her eyes, "I want my chance on earth, too."

She said her name was Gabriela. She kissed my cheek and vanished. When I awoke, my head ached, and I felt chilled all over. How could I have another child? I already bore 13 children. I was 49 years old. Would my body withstand another birth? And what is Jacob, my husband, going to say? He didn't want the last five children that I persuaded him to help me produce. He is never around at this time of year; always in Oregon or Utah on business or with Sandra, his latest wife. It will be difficult to get a verbal meeting with him, much less a sexual one.... I know Heavenly Father will send Gabriela to me. I will get Sheila, Jacob's second wife, to convince him to sleep with me. She knows how to push his buttons; besides, she is the daughter of the prophet--he has to do as she says. No man can deny me this special gift-child. I will have her. --Victoria, a polygynist's wife

This book was written in response to the lack of understanding about women in patriarchal religious groups, especially groups that are polygynous, illegal, and renowned for their poor treatment of women. So often . . .

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