Mormon gender in the age of polygamy

Authored by: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

The Routledge Handbook of Mormonism and Gender

Print publication date:  May  2020
Online publication date:  April  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815395218
eBook ISBN: 9781351181600
Adobe ISBN:


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Did the practice of plural marriage in nineteenth-century Utah change gender roles in any substantial way? This essay suggests that in subtle ways it did, at least for families most fully committed to the practice. It explores four areas in which Latter-day Saints deviated in some way from mainstream ideas about gender: in their approach to divisions of labor within households, in their understanding of sexuality, in their acceptance of divorce, and in their eventual embrace of woman suffrage. Plural marriage not only rearranged relationships between husbands and wives but also between wives and female servants. It loosened contemporary reformist restraints on sexuality by sanctifying reproduction, and in combination with divorce enlarged the principle of consent in marriage. Opposition to plural marriage as well as strong communitarian practice among women eventually thrust polygamist wives into the public sphere and made them earnest advocates for suffrage. Because Latter-day Saints differed among themselves almost as much as they differed from their neighbors, these changes did not apply uniformly.

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