[Click on images to enlarge.]

[Brigham Young]

[Brigham's Wives:
Works, Angell, Decker, Cook]

[Brigham's Wives: Adams, Decker, Ross, Partridge]

[Brigham's Wives: Snively, Free, Pierce, Bowker]

[Brigham's Wives: Huntington, Snow, Bigelow, Carter]

[Brigham's Wives: Cott, Folsom, Webb, Barney]

[Brigham with some of his wives]

[Sample of a divorce certificate from a plural wife (Stenhouse).]

Brigham Young's Wives and
His Divorce From Ann Eliza Webb


    In 1868 Brigham Young, at age sixty-seven, married Ann Eliza Webb, an attractive twenty-four year old divorcee with two children. Young had already married dozens of other women. LDS scholar Jeffery Johnson, writing on Brigham Young and his wives, explained:

    "Sixteen women gave birth to Brigham Young's fifty-seven children; Emmeline Free had ten; six wives had only one child. The oldest child, Elizabeth Young Ellsworth, was fifty-two at Brigham's death and the youngest, Fannie Young Clayton, was seven. Eleven of the sixteen women survived him. None of the women who bore him children canceled their sealings or remarried....

    "The first documented divorce was from Mary Woodward on 13 December 1846, his wife of less than a year. In a brief but warm letter that day, he wrote: "In answer to your letter of yesterday, the 12 inst; I will say, you may consider yourself discharged from me and my counsel" and added that he would be glad to help her if she and her children were ever hungry (Brigham Young papers).

    "Divorce records are sketchy for the emigration period, but two women who had been sealed to him in the Nauvoo Temple left him then to marry other men. ...

    "On 18 June 1851 Mary Ann Clark Powers wrote from Kanesville, Iowa: "I wish you to release me from all engagements with you for time and eternity...." (Brigham Young papers). This request was granted.

    "After the Church began recording divorces in 1851, Mary Ann Turley and Mary Jane Bigelow obtained divorces in 1851, Eliza Babcock in 1853, and Elizabeth Fairchild in 1855 (Divorce Certificates, Brigham Young papers). They were under twenty when they married Brigham Young and had never become part of his household. They all remarried; and Mary Jane, Eliza, and Elizabeth remained in Utah. "Almost twenty years later in 1873, Ann Eliza Webb applied for a civil divorce. The case came to trial in 1875, and the court ordered Brigham to pay $500 per month allowance and $3,000 court costs. When he refused, he was fined $25 and sentenced to a day in prison for contempt of court (Arrington 1985, 373). There is no record of application for a Church divorce, but she was excommunicated 10 October 1874 and devoted much of the rest of her life to publishing her somewhat sensational memoirs and giving anti-Mormon lectures.

    "Twenty-one of Brigham Young's fifty-five wives had never been married, six were separated or divorced from their husbands, sixteen were widows, and six had living husbands from whom divorces had apparently not been obtained. Marital information is unavailable for six.

    "From a twentieth-century perspective, the polyandrous marriages seem most problematic. Three of these women (Mary Ann Clark Powers, Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, and Hannah Tapfield King) were married to non-Mormons, which meant, according to the theological understanding of the times, that their salvation could not be assured. Mary Ann Clark Powers, married to Brigham Young 15 January 1845, later said she had not "bin a wife to" Powers after the sealing and expressed relief when Powers went to California. She received a divorce from Brigham Young in 1851 (Powers toYoung, 18 June 1851, Brigham Young papers)." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, ("Defining 'Wife': The Brigham Young Households," by Jeffrey Johnson, 1987, Vol. 20, No. 3, p.62-63)

    Brigham Young commented at various times about the struggles in a polygamist relationship:

    "A few years ago one of my wives, when talking about wives leaving their husbands said, 'I wish my husband's wives would leave him, every soul of them except myself.' That is the way they all feel, more or less, at times, both old and young." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p.195)

    On another occasion Young claimed:

    "Sisters, do you wish to make yourselves happy? Then what is your duty? It is for you to bear children,...are you tormenting yourselves by thinking that your husbands do not love you? I would not care whether they loved a particle or not; but I would cry out, like one of old, in the joy of my heart, 'I have got a man from the Lord!" 'Hallelujah! I am a mother--..." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p.37)

    Obviously there were problems even in Brigham's home.

    On September 21, 1856, Apostle J.M. Grant preached a fiery sermon rebuking those Mormons who were engaging in all manner of sin. He even called for personal blood atonement and chastised the women for complaining about polygamy:

    "Some have received the Priesthood and a knowledge of the things of God, and still they dishonor the cause of truth, commit adultery, and every other abomination beneath the heavens, and then meet you here or in the street and deny it. ...

    "I say, that there are men and women that I would advise to go to the President immediately, and ask him to appoint a committee to attend to their case; and then let a place be selected, and let that committee shed their blood.

    "We have those amongst us that are full of all manner of abominations, those who need to have their blood shed, for water will not do, their sins are of too deep a dye.

    "You may think that I am not teaching you Bible doctrine, but what says the apostle Paul? I would ask how may covenant breakers there are in this city and in this kingdom. I believe that there are a great many' and if they are covenant breakers we need a place designated, where we can shed their blood. ...

    "And we have women here who like any thing but the celestial law of God; and if they could break asunder the cable of the Church of Christ, there is scarcely a mother in Israel but would do it this day. And they talk it to their husbands, to their daughters, and to their neighbors, and say they have not seen a week's happiness since they became acquainted with that law [plural marriage], or since their husbands took a second wife. ...

    "We have been trying long enough with this people, and I go in for letting the sword of the Almighty be unsheathed, not only in word, but in deed.

    "I go in for letting the wrath of the Almighty burn up the dross and the filth; and if the people will not glorify the Lord by sanctifying themselves, let the wrath of the Almighty God burn against them, and the wrath of Joseph and of Brigham, and of Heber, and of high heaven. ...

    "Brethren and sister, we want you to repent and forsake your sins that cannot be forgiven through baptism, let your blood be shed, and let the smoke ascend, that the incense thereof may come up before God as an atonement for your sins, and that the sinners in Zion may be afraid." (Journal of Discourses, vol.4, pp.49-51)

    This sermon was followed by President Young, who gave similar exhortations. In fact, he went so far as to threaten to set all the women free from their marriages if they didn't shape up and stop complaining:

    "I want all the people to say what they will do, and I know that God wishes all His servants, all His faithful sons and daughters, the men and the women that inhabit this city, to repent of their wickedness, or we will cut them off. ...

    "There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins, whereas, if such is not the case, they will stick to them and remain upon them in the spirit world.

    "I know, when you hear my brethren telling about cutting people off from the earth, that you consider it is strong doctrine; but is to save them, not to destroy them. ...

    "I do know that there are sins committed, of such a nature that if the people did understand the doctrine of salvation, they would tremble because of their situation. And furthermore, I know that there are transgressors, who, if they knew themselves, and the only condition upon which they can obtain forgiveness, would beg of their brethren to shed their blood, that the smoke thereof might ascend to God as an offering to appease the wrath that is kindled against them, and that the law might have its course. I will say further; I have had men come to me and offer their lives to atone for their sins.

    "It is true that the blood of the Son of God was shed for sins through the fall and those committed by men, yet men can commit sins which it can never remit. As it was in ancient days, so it is in our day;...There are sins that can be atoned for...by the blood of the man. That is the reason why men talk to you as they do from this stand; they understand the doctrine and throw out a few words about it. You have been taught that doctrine, but you do not understand it. ...

    "Now for my proposition; it is more particularly for my sisters, as it is frequently happening that women say they are unhappy. Men will say, 'My wife, though a most excellent woman, has not seen a happy day since I took my second wife;' 'No, not a happy day for a year,' says one; and another has not seen a happy day for five years. It is said that women are tied down and abused: that they are misused and have not the liberty they Ought to have; that many of them are wading through a perfect flood of tears, because of the conduct of some men, together with their own folly.

    "I wish my own women to understand that what I am going to say is for them as well as others, and I want those who are here to tell their sisters, yes, all the women of this community, and then write it back to the States, and do as you please with it. I am going to give you from this time to the 6th day of October next, for reflection, that you may determine whether you wish to stay with your husbands or not, and then I am going to set every woman at liberty and say to them, Now go your way, my women with the rest, go your way. And my wives have got to do one of two things; either round up their shoulders to endure the afflictions of this world, and live their religion, or they may leave, for I will not have them about me. I will go into heaven alone, rather than have scratching and fighting around me. I will set all at liberty. 'What, first wife too?' Yes, I will liberate you all.

    "I know what my women will say; they will say, 'You can have as many women as you please, Brigham.' But I want to go somewhere and do something to get rid of the whiners; I do not want them to receive a part of the truth and spurn the rest out of doors.

    "I wish my women, and brother Kimball's and brother Grant's to leave, and every woman in this Territory, or else say in their hearts that they will embrace the Gospel—the whole of it. Tell the Gentiles that I will free every woman in this Territory at our next Conference. 'What, the first wife too?' Yes, there shall not be one held in bondage, all shall be set free. And then let the father be the head of the family, the master of his own household; and let him treat them as an angel would treat them; and let the wives and the children say amen to what he says, and be subject to his dictates, instead of their dictating the man, instead of their trying to govern him.

    "No doubt some are thinking, 'I wish brother Brigham would say what would become of the children.' I will tell you what my feelings are; I will let my wives take the children, and I have property enough to support them, and can educate them, and then give them a good fortune, and I can take a fresh start.

    "I do not desire to keep a particle of my property, except enough to protect me from a state of nudity. And I would say, wives you are welcome to the children, only do not teach them iniquity; for if you do, I will send an Elder, or come myself, to teach them the Gospel. You teach them life and salvation, or I will send Elders to instruct them.

    "Let every man thus treat his wives, keeping raiment enough to clothe his body; and say to your wives, 'Take all that I have and be set at liberty; but if you stay with me you shall comply with the law of God, and that too without any murmuring and whining. You must fulfil the law of God in every respect, and round up your shoulders to walk up to the mark without any grunting.'

    "Now recollect that two weeks from to morrow I am going to set you at liberty. But the first wife will say, 'It is hard, for I have lived with my husband twenty years, or thirty, and have raised a family of children for him, and it is a great trial to me for him to have more women;' then I say it is time that you gave him up to other women who will bear children. If my wife had borne me all the children that she ever would bare, the celestial law would teach me to take young women that would have children. ...

    "This is the reason why the doctrine of plurality of wives was revealed, that the noble spirits which are waiting for tabernacles might be brought forth. ...

    "Sisters, I am not joking, I do not throw out my proposition to banter your feelings, to see whether you will leave your husbands, all or any of you. But I do know that there is no cessation to the everlasting whining of many of the women in this Territory; I am satisfied that this is the case. ... " 'But,' says one, 'I want to have my paradise now.' And says another, 'I did think I should be in paradise if I was sealed to brother Brigham, and I thought I should be happy when I became his wife, or brother Heber's. I loved you so much, that I thought I was going to have a heaven right off, right here on the spot.'

    "What a curious doctrine it is, that we are preparing to enjoy! The only heaven for you is that which you make yourselves. My heaven is here—[laying his hand upon his heart]. I carry it with me. When do I expect it in its perfection? When I come up in the resurrection; then I shall have it, and not till then. ...

    "But the women come and say, 'Really brother John, and brother William, I thought you were going to make a heaven for me,' and they get into trouble because a heaven is not made for them by the men, even though agency is upon women as well as upon men. True there is a curse upon the woman that is not upon the man, namely, that 'her whole affections shall be towards her husband,' and what is the next? 'He shall rule over you.'

    "But how is it now? Your desire is to your husband, but you strive to rule over him, whereas the man should rule over you.

    "Some may ask whether that is the case with me; go to my house and live, and then you will learn that I am very kind, but know how to rule. ...

    "Prepare yourselves for two weeks from to morrow; and I will tell you now, that if you will tarry with your husbands, after I have set you free, you must bow down to it, and submit yourselves to the celestial law. You may go where you please, after two weeks from to-morrow; but, remember, that I will not hear any more of this whining." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, 1856, pp. 55-57)

    Such sermons may have kept the majority of women in line, but there were still those who could not endure a life in polygamy and ended up leaving their husbands.

    In 1873 Ann Eliza filed for a divorce from Brigham Young. The book Zion in the Courts-A Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900 gives an account of this proceeding:

    "In Young v. Young, Ann Eliza Webb Young sued Brigham Young for divorce in 1873, claiming neglect, cruel treatment, and desertion (CHC 5:442-43). ...Claiming that Young was worth $8 million and had a monthly income of $40,000, she asked for $1,000 per month pending the trial, a total of $20,000 for counsel fees, and $200,000 for her maintenance. Brigham Young denied her charges and claimed to have a worth of only $600,000 and a monthly income of $6,000. More fundamentally, he pointed out the inconsistency of granting a divorce and alimony for a marriage that was not legally recognized." (Zion in the Courts-A Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900 by Firmage and Mangrum, 1988, Univ. of Ill. Press, p.249)

    LDS historian Thomas Alexander commented on the peculiar problems of plural marriage and divorce:

    "Several civil cases involving Brigham Young came before McKean's court, but undoubtedly the most celebrated was the attempt of Ann Eliza Webb Dee Young, the Prophet's twenty-seventh wife, to sue for divorce. The facts of the case are well known and need not be reiterated here. Judge Emerson at first referred the case to the probate courts. After the passage of the Poland Act, it was again returned to the Third District Court where McKean heard it. Brigham Young filed a counter petition stating that, though it was unknown to him previously, Ann Eliza was not divorced at the time of the marriage, which was at any rate a 'plural or celestial marriage' and thus not legal. The defendant was, in addition, legally married to Mary Ann Angell.

    "McKean placed the burden of proof on Young and ordered him to pay $500 per month alimony pending the outcome. He rightly pointed out that no matter what sort of marriage his union with Ann Eliza had been, it was a legal marriage, provided both parties were competent to marry, because Utah had no laws governing marriage. In Utah, it was incumbent upon Young to prove, either that Ann Eliza was not divorced from James L. Dee at the time of the plural marriage, or that he was legally married to Mary Ann Angell. If he could do so, McKean said that he would sustain Young's position.

    "This ruling, of course, placed Brigham Young on the horns of a dilemma. It would be impossible to prove that Dee and Ann Eliza were not legally divorced because the Poland Act had legalized all action of probate courts where their divorce had taken place. On the other hand, if he were actually to prove he was legally married to Mary Ann Angell, he would be bringing evidence which might have led to his conviction under the Morrill Act because of his prior admission under oath that he had also married Ann Eliza. Young chose simply to appeal to the territorial supreme court. He failed, however, to follow the proper procedure and on March 11, 1875, McKean sentenced the Prophet to a fine of $25 and one day imprisonment for contempt of court. Later, the divorce suit was thrown out after the intervention of the United States Attorney General on the ground that Ann Eliza could not have been Brigham Young's legal wife.

    "In addition to demonstrating McKean's poor judgment in some matters, the Ann Eliza case served to show that the Mormons never bothered to define any legal status for plural wives. The only sanctions which the Church imposed were moral and religious, and anyone who chose to disregard them could do so with legal, and sometimes even religious, impunity. Brigham Young argued that the marriage could have no validity at law--that it was only an ecclesiastical affair. Yet on other occasions, Mormons argued that plural wives should have the same rights as did legal wives and they complained at the prosecution for adultery with plural wives. On occasion, as when George Q. Cannon was indicted for polygamy, they took the position that each polygamous wife was also a legal wife." (Dialogue:A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol.1, No.3, p.91-92, 'Federal Authority Versus Polygamic Theocracy: James B. McKean and the Mormons 1870-1875,' by Thomas G. Alexander)

    For more information on Brigham Young's divorce see Wife No. 19, or The story of a Life in Bondage, by Ann Eliza Young, chapter 37, 1875.

See also: LDS Leaders Still Believe There Will Be Polygamy in Heaven

Wives of Brigham Young
(See: "Determining and Defining 'Wife': The Brigham Young Households," by Jeffery Ogden Johnson,
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 20, No. 3, p.64)

Marriage Date Name Other Husbands
1. 1824 Oct. 8 Miriam Works, 1806-32
2. 1834 Feb. 10 Mary Ann Angel, 1808-82
Married during Joseph Smith's life
3. 1842 June 14 Lucy Ann Decker, 1822-90 (1) William Seeley
4. 1843 Nov. 2 Augusta Adams, 1802-86 (1) Henry Cobb
5. 1843 Nov. 2 Harriet Cook, 1824-98
6. 1844 May 8 Clarissa Decker, 1828-89

Married before completion of Nauvoo Temple

7. 1844 Sept. Emily Dow Partridge, 1824-99 (1) Joseph Smith
8. 1844 Sept. 10 Clarissa Ross, 1814-57
9. 1844 Sept. 19 Louisa Beaman, 1815-50 (1) Joseph Smith
10. 1844 Oct. 3 Eliza Roxey Snow, 1804-87 (1) Joseph Smith
11. 1844 Oct. 3 Elizabeth Fairchild, 1828-1910 (2) James D. Lyman
(3) Joseph McMurray
(4) James Matthews
(5) W. L. Chastain
12. 1844 Oct. 8 Clarissa Blake, 1796-not known
13. 1844 Oct. 9 Rebecca Holman, 1824-49  
14. 1844 Oct. 10 Diana Chase, 1827-86 (2) William M. Shaw
15. 1844 Oct. 31 Susannah Snively, 1815-92
16. 1844 Nov. 7 Olive Gray Frost, 1816-45
17. 1845 Jan. 15 Mary Ann Clark, 1816-not known (1) Mr. Powers
18. 1845 Jan. 16 Margaret Pierce, 1823-1907 (1) Morris Whitesides
19. 1845 Jan. 16 Mary Pierce, 1821-47
20. 1845 April 30 Emmeline Free, 1826-75
21. 1845 May 22 Mary Elizabeth Rollins, 1818-191 (1) Adam Lightner
(2) Joseph Smith

Married after completion of Nauvoo Temple

22. 1846 Jan. 14 Margaret Alley, 1825-52  
23. 1846 Jan. 15 Olive Andrews, 1818-not known (1) Joseph Smith
24. 1846 Jan. 15 Emily Haws, 1823-not known (1) William Whitmarsh
25. 1846 Jan. 21 Martha Bowker, 1822-90  
26. 1846 Jan. 21 Ellen Rockwood, 1829-66  
27. 1846 Jan. 28 Jemima Angel, 1803-69 (1) Valentine Young
28. 1846 Jan. 28 Abigail Marks, 1781-1846 (1) Asa Works
29. 1846 Jan. 28 Phebe Morton, 1776-1854 (1) James W. Angel
30. 1846 Jan. 28 Cynthia Porter, 1783-not known (1) Mr. Weston
31. 1846 Jan. 31 Mary Eliza Nelson, 1812-85 (1) John P. Greene
(3) Bruce 1. Philips
32. 1846 Jan. 31 Rhoda Richards, 1784-1879 (1) Joseph Smith
33. 1846 Feb. 2 Zina Huntington, 1821-1901 (1) Henry Jacobs
34. 1846 Feb. 3 Amy Cecilia Cooper, 1804-not known not known
35. 1846 Feb. 3 Mary Ellen de la Montague, 1803-not known (1) James B. Woodward
36. 1846 Feb. 3 Julia Foster, 1811-91 (1) Jonathan Hampton
(3) Thomas Cole
37. 1846 Feb. 3 Abigail Harback, 1790-1849 (1) Mr. Hall
38. 1846 Feb. 3 Mary Ann Turley, 1827-1904 (2) John Cook
39. 1846 Feb. 6 Naamah Carter, 1821-1909 (1) John S. Twiss
40. 1846 Feb. 6 Nancy Cressy, 1780-1872 (1) Mr. Walker

Married while crossing the plains

41. 1847 Feb. 10 Jane Terry, 1819-47 (1) George Tarbox
(2) George W. Young
42. 1847 March 20 Lucy Bigelow, 1830-1905  
43. 1847 March 20 Mary Jane Bigelow, 1827-68 (2) Horace Roberts
(3) Philander Bell
44. 1848 April 18 Sarah Malin, 1804-58

Married in Utah: 1850's

45. 1852 Oct. 3 Eliza Burgess, 1827-1915  
46. 1852 Dec. 16 Mary Oldfield, 1793--1875 (1) Eli Kelsey
47. before 1853 Eliza Babcock, 1828-68 (2) Dominucus Carter
(3) John Groves
48. 1855 June 10 Catherine Reese, 1804-60 (1) Zepheniah Clawson
49. 1856 March 14 Harriet Barney, 1830-1911 (1) W.H.H. Sagers

Married in Utah: 1860's

50. 1863 Jan, 24 Amelia Folsom, 1838-1910  
51. 1865 Jan. 8 Mary Van Cott, 1844-84 (1) James T. Cobb
52. 1868 April 7 Ann Eliza Webb, 1844-not known (1) James L. Dee
(3) Moses R. Deming
53. 1869 July 3 Elizabeth Jones, 1814-95 (1) David T. Lewis
(2) Dan Jones

Married in Utah: 1870's

54. 1870 May 8 Lydia Farnsworth, 1808-97 (1) Elijah Mayhew
55. 1872 Dec. 8 Hannah Tapfield, 1807-86 (1) Thomas O. King


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