In light of my ongoing observations on living in a religious theme park aka Salt Lake City, Hubby and I had an interesting experience Friday evening. We were invited to join a group of people for dinner at the historic Lion House (Lions House Pantry), built in 1856 by Brigham Young. (The name comes from the stone statue of a lion over the front entrance.) It’s locally known for its traditional “pioneer dishes” for some, or “comfort food” for the rest of us, and makes the best homemade rolls and pies of all description that are all worthy of mention. Most of the city guidelines refer to it as the one-time residence of the Brigham Young family, but those more intimate with the city will tell you that it was actually home for many of his “spiritual” wives. He and his first wife, Miriam, lived next door, and there were other wives living in other sections of the city as well. Although he is technically known to have had 27 wives, one of whom divorced him and went on to lecture widely against polygamy, Mormon documents apparently account for 55 or possibly 57 wives total. Here are some notable facts about Brigham Young’s wives:
- At his death there were 23 surviving wives
- There were 57 children birthed by 16 women
- Nineteen wives predeceased him
- Ten divorced him
- Four are unaccounted for
- Of the 23 surviving wives, 16 received a share of his estate (might this be the 16 women who bore him children?)
- Six apparently had non-conjugal roles
- In 1844 after Joseph Smith was assassinated, he married between 7 and 9 of Smith’s widows.
Oh, you may be interested to know what Brigham Young thought about polygamy, since he apparently didn’t think much of it when Joseph Smith first decreed it:
“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)
I remember reading a book once that attempted to describe the different rooms and some of the politics concerned with living in a house with so many different women and children, but it could not convey quite the feeling of actually being in the house with its stone walls and low ceilings, a hallway dividing countless numbers of rooms to the right and left, so it was a very interesting experience.
After dinner, our group walked through the Temple Square enjoying the luscious summer gardens while one of the long-time residents pointed out the different historical buildings on all sides. Particularly noteworthy was the building that houses the Ladies Aid Relief Society (I think that’s what it’s called). It was notably smaller and less ostentatious than the others. (I suspect LDS women are quite used to “less than” the men, but that will have to be a different post.)
Our destination was the concert temple for a concert of the Bells on Temple Square. It’s a lesser known LDS musical venue than the famous Choir. Officially formed in 2005, it draws its 28 volunteer members from a 90 musician-callback out of 200 applicants who originally applied for the honor. Of course most Americans know about the Mormon Tablenacle Choir, but did you know there’s also an Orchestra at Temple Square, and a Temple Square Chorale in addition to the Bells? All I can say is, there’s an impressive number of musicians among the membership. The full evening’s program touted 21 notable musical arrangements that ran the gamet from Bach (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring) and Stravinsky’s Finale from The Firebird, the African-American spiritual Free at Last, to The Washington Post March by John Philip Sousa. It ended with Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance which I could not even imagine being played with anything but violins. But they did it, and it was really nice.
What I came away with after the evening ended was this: there is a lot of good, and good people in the Latter Day Saint membership. But even though polygamy ended at the turn of the 19th century, they still do a real disservice to their women by not allowing any to become a part of the hierarchy of the church. As I learn more, I hope to expound on that subject later.