The Forgotten Wives of Joseph Smith

Leslie O. Peterson spoke in St. George yesterday. She learned to paint in her 50’s when her daughter convinced her to take a painting course. The course was primarily for the benefit of Peterson’s son-in-law who had suffered a stroke.

3 of the at least 34 wives of Joseph Smith

Peterson said she hasn’t stopped painting since taking that course four years ago. She quickly found a subject matter that fascinated her: the forgotten wives of Joseph Smith. Smith is the founding prophet of Mormonism, and he married at least 34 women during his short life.

Her whimsical interpretations of these women immediately caught my eye when I read about them in the NYT. A few details stood out during her presentation:

  1. She was raised Mormon but wasn’t familiar with Smith’s polygamy until the church released an essay on the topic.
  2. She painted the women from start to finish over the course of three months.
  3. She was angry that her church leaders and instructors never told her about Smith’s polygamy. She was aware that Brigham Young practiced polygamy.
  4. She hopes her paintings will force the Mormon church to acknowledge these women.

I enjoyed listening to her talk about a number of these women. Her retelling of Zina Huntington Jacobs’ experience with polygamy is stomach-churning. Zina turned down Smith’s attempt to make her one of his wives during the time she was being courted by a man named Henry Jacobs. They would eventually wed.

While 7-months pregnant, Smith approached Zina again and told her that an angel told him she should marry him or he would be harmed. It’s a sickening story of how Smith used his position of power to manipulate dozens of women. Some women were already married and others were as young as 14-years old.

For many years I too believed that Smith was a prophet of God. Like Peterson, I no longer believe that and have ceased believing the truth claims of the Mormon church. I no longer have to justify the abomination that is polygamy.

Peterson sells a number of prints at her Etsy shop. I purchased the poster and book. The book includes a short explanation of each woman married to Smith.