Speed Reads

polygamy in the past

Mormon church opens up, acknowledges founder Joseph Smith's 40 wives

For the first time in its history, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is saying publicly that founder Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and had as many as 40 wives, with a handful already married and one a young teenager.

Mormon church materials have always referred to Smith's first wife, Emma, but essays recently posted online by the church are shedding light on the various wives of the Mormon prophet: Most were between the ages of 20 and 40, but one, the daughter of two close friends, was just 14. Some of the women were married to Smith's friends but "sealed" to him, meaning they would be together in the afterlife.

"There is so much out there on the internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history," historian Steven E. Snow told The New York Times. "We need to be truthful, and we need to understand our history."

The revelation came as a shock to some of the church's faithful. "Joseph Smith was presented to me as a practically perfect prophet, and this is true for a lot of people," blogger and editor Emily Jensen told The Times. Another blogger, Samantha Shelley, said that she was aware of Smith's polygamous history, but "it's so easy for people these days to stumble upon something on the internet, and it rocks their world and they don't know where to turn."