How Mormon Polygamy In The 19th Century Fueled Women’s Activism


Source: NPR

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich says that for Mormon women living in 19th century Utah, “plural marriages” were empowering in complicated ways.


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. What was it like to be a Mormon woman in a polygamist marriage in 19th-century America? That’s what historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich explores in her new book “A House Full Of Females: Plural Marriage And Women’s Rights In Early Mormonism.” She says plural marriage, as it was called, could have been described as an experiment in co-operative housekeeping and an incubator of female activism. The founder of the faith, Joseph Smith, took his first Mormon plural wife in 1841. In 1890, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wilford Woodruff issued a manifesto that led to the end of plural marriage.

Ulrich’s book is based on diaries, letters, minutes of meetings and other day-to-day documents written by Mormons during the period. Ulrich won a Pulitzer Prize for her nonfiction book “A Midwife’s Tale” which told the story of a midwife and mother in Maine after the Revolutionary War and was based on the midwife’s journal. The book was adapted into a PBS film.

Ulrich is a professor at Harvard and past president of the American Historical Association and the Mormon History Association. All eight of her great grandparents and four of her great, great grandparents were Mormons who migrated to Utah before 1860. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, welcome to FRESH AIR.


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