Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Polygamy Review! by Kara

Apparently I am the resident expert at the Book Rack on Polygamy...at least within the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints sects. And so I am here to review some of the books I have been reading on the subject. 

I started my readings with Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall. She was a major player in bringing Warren Jeffs in and in his convictions (Warren Jeffs was the prophet up until recently when he was arrested and jailed.). Elissa was married at 14 to her 18 year old cousin against her will. She left the church at the age of 18 with a jack fundamentalist Mormon that she was in love with. This book talks about her own struggles within the church, growing up with a father that had plural wives and the anger,  jealousy and animosity that came along with that. 

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff is a fictionalized account of two different plural wives. It tells the story of Eliza Young, Brigham Young's "19th" wife and a modern day "19th" wife. Eliza Young actually wrote a pamphlet back in the 1800's about her life as a 19th wife and how she left. David Ebershoff just embellishes and expands on the pamphlet while weaving in the completely fictionalized account of the modern day wife. The interesting thing you learn in this book is that neither of the women are actually the 19th women either man married. Eliza Young was really more like the 48 wife, and no one really knows how many women Brigham married since there is so much secrecy surrounding plural marriages. He referred to Eliza as his 19th wife because when she married him that what number she was within his current rotation. Once a wife is "retired" due to menopause, disinterest, or even the wife leaving, the number changes for everyone. Very confusing! 

Escaped by Carolyn Jessop is just an amazing story in my opinion. Carolyn Jessop was married at 18 to a man in his 50's that already had 3 wives. While she was married to him he married 4 other women. Carolyn herself had 8 children before she left. And the amazing part of her story is that she took all 8 of her kids with her and kept custody of them. Most women when and if they leave the church are not able to take their children, or are only able to take the youngest. The husbands have complete right to the children according to the church. An interesting (and bothersome?) part of Carolyn's story is how she reveals the abuse of our national welfare system. She says it's called "bleeding the beast". Since the women are not legally married they apply as single mothers of sometimes 13 or more children and receive state support. Basically, a lot of the communities and areas with polygamists are using our welfare system to stay afloat. 

Church of Lies by Flora Jessop is a really hard book to read. She was abused sexually growing up, mostly by her father. She also writes about the abuse she saw in her friends families and it's a tough, tough, story. Flora left polygamy early on and has been an activist against it ever since then. She frequently has girls or women living with her that are on their way out on the "underground railroad". Her story is difficult but worth reading because it really opens your eyes to the over sexed mind set of the polygamous males and the lack of knowledge or awareness on the females part. Ignorance is key to polygamy working, the children are brainwashed early on and completely uneducated and the women are told that this life style will bring them salvation. 

I am currently reading Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer. She grew up in a 3rd or 4th generation polygamist family. Her mother left the FLDS along with a number of her kids when Irene was in her early teens. Against her mother's wishes (and even those of her heart-she had fallen in love with a monogamous man) she married a man from a Mexico branch of the FLDS that had already married her half sister. Irene had 13 children while married to Verlan LaBaron. Much of her life was spent down in Mexico and South America in very impoverished situations trying to eek out a living in whatever random town they lived in. Her husband married I think, 6 other wives while married to her. Part of the wedding ceremony includes asking a wife's permission to marry again and even requires the current wife to "give" her husband to the new wife. Irene also talks about all the jealousy and grief experienced in the lives of plural wives. She really tells how hard it is to share a man and all of his love and attentions. Even the finances. It's a fascinating read so far and I like finding out more about polygamy in the 1950's or so, it gives a little bit more of a background and history of the FLDS. 

Overall I think this is a fascinating lifestyle and religion. The idea of plural marriage is just so crazy to me and I think that is why I have become a little bit obsessed with it. It is full of abuse, jealousy, and desperation. 

Feel free to comment or come in to the store and talk with me about this review!


  1. I think it is normal to draw the conclusions that you do, but you might try reading this post over at the blog, "Just Ducky."

    Rericson is hardly what I would call a wacked out religious cultist.

  2. Uh, Kara didn't draw any conclusions from her reviews. She summarized four first-hand accounts of women who suffered tremendous physical and psychological abuse and one fictional account based upon facts gleaned from a firsthand document.

    The argument on your blog suffers from the Ecological Fallacy : you can't argue that your own experiences are those experienced by FLDS women as a whole.

    Don't get me wrong, I think that's wonderful you're a part of a loving family like you described, but several other sources around you paint the experiences of others much differently.

  3. WOW!
    I see that your reading has begun to shape your opinion...you state things not as someone doing a critique, rather, you say things as though they are true...and not just the opinion of the writers...
    These are women who are angry....and anger spurs all sorts of things..
    perhaps, before deciding on their veracity, you might spend some time searching for the truth in more objective ways...either that, or make a conscious effort to not spread rumor, inuendo, and lies, because real people get hurt when an entire country buys into the lies.....
    These women were hurt, and they were angry, and their publishers saw what sells, plays to the desire to read the salacious, in so many of us....and dollar signs all the way to their banks....

  4. Holy cow! People are commenting on my post! Great!
    I think the fascinating thing about each of these women's stories is that they were hurt. Some in terrible ways. No, that is not the entire community behind polygamy. There are hundreds of happy women, children and men. Sometimes it really seems to work, but sometimes it doesn't, as in the case with each of these women and even women they include in their stories. I would love to be able to really know more about the lives of women who are happy in this lifestyle. It fascinates me.
    I know that a number of the authors feel very strongly about ending polygamy. They work as activists and leaders in bringing things into public awareness.
    I don't know the whole truth around this issue because there is not a ton of information coming from the other side. Mostly this review was a sum up of each book that I have read on the topic, I simply wrote about what was already written in each book.
    Thanks for all the comments!

  5. Unfortunately, people hurt people, polygamous or otherwise. Statistically though, the complaints of the women who wrote these books, real though they may be, are not borne out in the FLDS community in general.

    I believe if you check into it, there were less instances of teen pregnancy at young ages at YFZ than for the average Texas teenage girl. Less instances of bone breakage among children. A lot less.

    Arguably, polygamy is good for the relative health of it's participants.

  6. Pharisee, the purported facts you're citing, such as teen pregnancy and bone breakage, may not even exist. From what you've written, they're just your beliefs, not actual facts.

    For instance, you say statistically, the women who wrote the books about the FLDS community do not reflect the community as a whole. All right. What statistics?

    Furthermore, there is no possible correlation you can draw between a teenage girl getting pregnant or bone breakage and cases of physical or worse, mental abuse. None.

    As to your last point, well, arguably the holocaust benefited the world as a whole. People have made and argued such a thing. But I hope we can both agree that there are no facts supporting such a preposterous and vile act, and until you can produce any verifiable, non-biased, non-credulous evidence supporting the benefits of an FLDS community, most people, including myself, are going to continue to view it as a blight.

  7. I was one of the first people to point out the bone breaking statistics, were just boilerplate smears of CPS. They expected to find a certain amount of broken bones, so they simply asserted they had, and implied strongly, that it was due to abuse.

    I was simply trying to appear as neutral as possible. I think a young girls at YFZ was more likely to lead a life of true Chastity than in most other areas of the country. I think we should have left them alone.