Academic journal article Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers

Post-Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899-1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen, and Avery Woodruff

Academic journal article Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers

Post-Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899-1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen, and Avery Woodruff

Article excerpt

Post-Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899-1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen, and Avery Woodruff. Edited by Lu Ann Faylor Snyder and Phillip A. Snyder. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2009. XlV + 280 pp. $34.95 cloth.

Post-Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899-1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen, and Avery Woodruff, edited by Lu Ann Faylor Snyder and Phillip A. Snyder, illuminates a unique moment of crisis for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) through the personal writings of three late-nineteenth-century church members. Their correspondence spans the years of the church's transition out of the official practice of plurality (plural marriage), which resulted in an ungraceful and complicated shift that is well demonstrated by these letters and the accompanying autobiographical sketch. The original documents published in this volume--eighty-five letters and Avery Woodruff's autobiographical recollections--are housed in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University. They are contextualized here with a helpful introduction that frames the lives of the three Woodruffs in historical context.

During the fifty years following Joseph Smith's introduction of the doctrine of a plurality of wives to a select group of his followers, the practice became increasingly central to the Mormon concept of heaven and was tied to an individual's personal salvation. Despite the doctrinal importance of the concept, decades of conflict with the federal government and a series of increasingly punitive bills outlawing the practice proved to be fatal obstacles to its unhindered continuance. In 1890, LDS Church president Wilford Woodruff issued his first Manifesto, which ended the official sanction of plural marriage. Yet the practice continued, in part because of varied interpretations of the language of the Manifesto itself. Historian B. Carmon Hardy, for example, lists 262 post-Manifesto marriages, numbers that include the relationship of Helen, Owen, and Avery Woodruff (183).

These letters were written during a particularly difficult five-year period in the church's history, ending the year of the Second Manifesto of 1904, when the church began to excommunicate polygamists. These are also years spanning of the marriage of Owen Woodruff and Helen May Winters, and, four years later, of Owen Woodruff and Eliza Avery Clark, who joined the family as Owen's plural wife.' Depicting the same moment in Mormon history as Annie Clark Tanner's classic memoir, A Mormon Mother, Post-Manifesto Polygamy chronicles the years when the Latter-day Saints moved away from the doctrine of a plurality of wives and documents the immense personal consequences for those who continued in the practice.

This volume is part of the Utah State University Press series Life Writings of Frontier Women, which makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the lives of western women in religious communities.' The letters in this volume provide an exceptional look into the triumvirate formed by a single patriarch and two plural wives. They were written during what is called the "underground period," a time when the federal government was actively pursuing those who continued to practice polygamy despite the 1890 Manifesto. We see how Owen Woodruff broached the subject of a second marriage, how his first wife adjusted to the idea and eventually cheerfully embraced it, and finally, how his new wife occupied a secondary position and led a shadow life. This poignant reminder demonstrates that the doctrine of a plurality of wives was at the center of nineteenth-century Mormon theology; it also illustrates how the concept and practice significantly affected the lives of those who lived it, compounding the sacrifices required to make it work. The social practice of religion gives the concept new meaning and interpretation, as human beings struggled to figure ways to fulfill their religious obligations and thrive in their marriage and family. …

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