"And I will bless Joseph Smith and multiply him and give unto him an hundredfold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds."
"And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified."
"But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused [to Joseph Smith], shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto Joseph Smith to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfill the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified."
- Doctrine and Covenants Section 132:55, 62-63
Many LDS Church leaders and historians suggest that sexual relations and the marriage of Joseph Smith and his youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball, fourteen at the time, was "approaching eligibility."
There is no documentation to support the idea that marriage at fourteen was "approaching eligibility." Actually, marriages even two years later, at the age of sixteen, occurred occasionally but infrequently in Helen Mar's culture. Thus, girls marrying at fourteen, even fifteen, were very much out of the ordinary. Sixteen was comparatively rare, but not unheard of. American women began to marry in their late teens; around different parts of the United States the average age of marriage varied from nineteen to twenty-three.
In the United States the average age of menarche (first menstruation) dropped from 16.5 in 1840 to 12.9 in 1950. More recent figures indicate that it now occurs on average at 12.8 years of age. The mean age of first marriages in colonial America was between 19.8 years to 23.7, most women were married during the age period of peak fecundity (fertility).
Mean pubertal age has declined by some 3.7 years from the 1840’s.
The psychological sexual maturity of Helen Mar Kimball in today’s average age of menarche (first menstruation) would put her psychological age of sexual maturity at the time of the marriage of Joseph Smith at 9.1 years old. (16.5 years-12.8 years =3.7 years) (12.8 years-3.7 years=9.1 years)
The fact is Helen Mar Kimball's sexual development was still far from complete. Her psychological sexual maturity was not competent for procreation. The coming of puberty is regarded as the termination of childhood; in fact the term child is usually defined as the human being from the time of birth to the on-coming of puberty. Puberty the point of time at which the sexual development is completed. In young women, from the date of the first menstruation to the time at which she has become fitted for marriage, the average lapse of time is assumed by researchers to be two years.
Age of eligibility for women in Joseph Smith’s time-frame would start at a minimum of 19 ½ years old.
This would suggest that Joseph Smith had sexual relations and married several women before the age of eligibility, and some very close to the age of eligibility including:
Fanny Alger 16
Sarah Ann Whitney 17
Lucy Walker 17
Flora Ann Woodworth 16
Emily Dow Partridge 19
Sarah Lawrence 17
Maria Lawrence 19
Helen Mar Kimball 14
Melissa Lott 19
Nancy M. Winchester [14?]
And then we have these testimonies:
"Joseph was very free in his talk about his women. He told me one day of a certain girl and remarked, that she had given him more pleasure than any girl he had ever enjoyed. I told him it was horrible to talk like this."
- Joseph Smith's close confidant and LDS Church First Councilor, William Law, Interview in Salt Lake Tribune, July 31, 1887
When Heber C. Kimball asked Sister Eliza R. Snow the question if she was not a virgin although married to Joseph Smith, she replied, "I thought you knew Joseph Smith better than that."
- Stake President Angus M. Cannon, statement of interview with Joseph III, 23, LDS archives.
Go here to read Short Bios of Smith's wives, and if Smith did have sex with his wives
Whatever the average age of menarche might have been in the mid 19th-century, the average age of marriage was around 20 for women and 22 for men. And a gap of 15 to 20 years or more between partners was very unusual, not typical. Whatever biology might have to say, according to the morals of his time, several of Joseph Smith's wives were still inappropriately young for him.
For example, Laura Ingalls Wilder, from Little House on the Prairie fame, was born in 1867, which puts her later than Joseph Smith but still in the 1800s. She tells of hearing of the marriage of a 13-year-old girl, and being shocked. She also notes that the girl's mother 'takes in laundry,' and is sloppy and unkempt--implying that "nice" people don't marry off their teenaged daughters. Laura, herself, became engaged at 17--but her parents asked her to wait until she was 18 to marry.
You merely need to go to your local courthouse and ask to see the old 19th century marriage books. Take a look at and pay attention to the age at marriage. Sure a very few did, but it was far from the norm. The vast majority of women married after the age of twenty.
In fact, look up the marriage ages in the Smith family before polygamy. You'll find that one of the Smith girls was 19. The rest of them, and their sisters-in-law, were in their early 20s when they married. The Smith boys' first wives were in their 20s. The same pattern was true for the various branches of my family and the rest of American society at the time.
On the extremely rare occasions women younger than 17 married, it was to men close to their same age, not 15 to 20 years older.
The case is even true in pioneer Utah among first marriages. Mormon men in their twenties started out marrying someone their own age. Then later these older men married girls under twenty to be their plural wives. But the first wives were the age of the husband and married over the age of twenty. This is still the case is the rural Utah polygamist communities.
From the RfM board
In our efforts to sort through the wasteland that is Mormon history, (fact vs. fiction) it's worthwhile, at least to me, to have some context within which to make our judgments.
A poster on the other thread derided the notion that the age of sexual maturity among women has changed or is still changing. The statistics are very clear on this however: The age of menarche is dropping in virtually all areas of the world. More on that below.
The other claim being disputed is that Joseph Smith was a pedophile. While it's easy to throw that word around in light of today's problems with child abusing priests in the catholic clergy, the fact remains that pedophilia is defined as: "The act or fantasy on the part of an adult of engaging in sexual activity with a child or children."
Furthermore, the pathology of pedophilia is understood to be an attraction or activity that is limited to prepubescent children. It's been well-established that true pedophiles lose interest almost immediately when a boy or girl exhibits the first signs of sexual maturity.
I don't have access to my library of links on this subject from this computer but a quick Googling of the word pedophilia will take you to the professional community's definitions. They are very clear as to what does and what doesn't constitute pedophilia.
By today's definitions, when it comes to the pathology of pedophilia, Joseph Smith would probably not be considered a true pedophile. That doesn't mean however, that he wasn't a lecherous scumbag who would stop at nothing to bed any young woman who captured his fancy.
About the sexual maturity among women:
As closely as I can tell from investigating the median age of menarche (first menses) in Joseph Smith's time, it is possible that one or two of the girls he married and/or had relations with might not have been sexually mature. All of the research I've been able to find, (and it's not all linked here) indicates that the average age of menarche in the mid 1800s was 17.
What that might tell us about a girl who was 14 or 15 back then is hard to determine because of the nature of averages. In any event, it does make it clear that Joseph Smith was treading a very fine fine when it came to the sexual maturity of the girls he courted and/or married.
There is a lot of research in this arena because of the alarming shift in menarchal age from the 1800s to present day where the median onset of menarche has now dropped to age 12.
In 1840, the average young woman in Europe and the United States menstruated for the first time at the age of 17; her modern counterpart reaches the age of menstruation at about 12. Well known to biological anthropologists as the "secular trend," this crash in the age of sexual maturity has proceeded at the rate of four months per decade, and, in most populations, continues.
See link here
Boys and girls now experience puberty at younger ages than previous generations. In general, girls enter puberty between ages 8 and 13 and reach menarche (first menstruation) several years later, while boys enter puberty between ages 9 and 14 (436, 529). The reasons for earlier menarche in girls are not well understood. Most of the change is attributed to better health and nutrition (160, 185, 529). In North America age at menarche decreased by three to four months each decade after 1850; in 1988 the median age at menarche was 12.5 years among US girls (160, 529). In some developing countries age at menarche appears to be decreasing even faster. For example, in Kenya average age at menarche fell from 14.4 in the late 1970s to 12.9 in the 1980s (185).
See link here
So perhaps more for my own benefit than anyone else's, it helps to understand the context from within which we assess the lecherous scumbag known as Joseph Smith. We don't know if he had sex with prepubescent children, therefore we don't know if he was truly a pedophile. We don't know if the teenaged girls he married and/or had sex with were sexually mature or not.
But regardless of whether they were sexually mature or not, something in us is sickened by the thoughts of them being coerced into any kind of relationship with this lecher who was pretending to use god as his motivator.
Joseph Smith was not the first, nor will he be the last, to prey upon young girls for sexual gratification. And that in no way justifies his actions. But in aiming for accuracy in trying to describe Joseph Smith, there are a lot of words other than pedophile that do the job more saliently and succinctly.
...What one of us as fathers here today, would hesitate for a second to deck a [dirtbag] like J.S. if he so much as glanced in any of our daughter's directions? I know that my response would be visceral and swift.
Makes you wonder what kind of men Smith had around him that they would so willingly hand over their young daughters to him. Therein lies the true pathology of Mormonism.
In 1843 Apostle Heber C. Kimball had an important talk with his only daughter, fourteen-year-old Helen Mar. She wrote: “Without any preliminaries [my Father] asked me if I would believe him if he told me that it was right for married men to take other wives...The first impulse was anger...my sensibilities were painfully touched. I felt such a sense of personal injury and displeasure; for to mention such a thing to me I thought altogether unworthy of my father, and as quick as he spoke, I replied to him, short and emphatically, ‘No I wouldn’t!’...This was the first time that I ever openly manifested anger towards him...Then he commenced talking seriously and reasoned and explained the principle, and why it was again to be established upon the earth. [This] had a similar effect to a sudden shock of a small earthquake.”
Then father “asked me if I would be sealed to Joseph...[and] left me to reflect upon it for the next twenty-four hours...I was sceptical-one minute believed, then doubted. I thought of the love and tenderness that he felt for his only daughter, and I knew that he would not cast her off, and this was the only convincing proof that I had of its being right. I knew that he loved me too well to teach me anything that was not strictly pure, virtuous and exalting in its tendencies; and no one else could have influenced me at that time or brought me to accept of a doctrine so utterly repugnant and so contrary to all of our former ideas and traditions.” Unknown to Helen Mar, Heber and Joseph had already discussed the prospect of Helen Mar becoming one of Joseph’s wives. Heber now sought her agreement. Helen recalls, “Having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet Joseph, he offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet’s own mouth. My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter”
The next morning Joseph visited the Kimball home. "[He explained] the principle of Celestial marrage...After which he said to me, ‘If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household & all of your kindred.[‘] This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward. None but God & his angels could see my mother’s bleeding heart-when Joseph asked her if she was willing...She had witnessed the sufferings of others, who were older & who better understood the step they were taking, & to see her child, who had scarcely seen her fifteenth summer, following in the same thorny path, in her mind she saw the misery which was as sure to come...; but it was all hidden from me.” Helen’s mother reluctantly agreed and in May of 1843, Helen married Joseph Smith.
During the winter of 1843-44, there were weekly parties at Joseph Smith’s Mansion House. Many of Helen’s friends attended, as well as her sixteen-year-old brother William. Disappointed, Helen wrote, “my father had been warned by the Prophet to keep his daughter away...I felt quite sore over it, and thought it a very unkind act in father to allow [William] to go and enjoy the dance unrestrained with others of my companions, and fettered me down, for no girl loved dancing better than I did...and like a wild bird I longed for the freedom that was denied me; and thought myself an abused child, and that it was pardonable if I did murmur.”
In June 1844, Heber was away from home on a mission and wrote to Helen: “MY DEAR DAUGHTER-...be obedient to the counsel you have given to you...If you should be tempted, or having feelings in your heart, tell them to no one but your father and mother; if you do, you will be betrayed and exposed...You are blessed, but you know it not. You have done that which will be for your everlasting good for this world and that which is to come. I will admit there is not much pleasure in this world...Be true to the covenants that you have made...Be a good girl;...your affectionate father.” A few weeks later Joseph Smith was killed in Carthage. After one year of marriage, Helen was a widow.
Helen’s father would eventually marry thirty-nine wives. She wrote, “I had, in hours of temptation when seeing the trials of my mother, felt to rebel. I hated polygamy in my heart.” Helen later fell victim to a prolonged illness: “For three months I lay a portion of the time like one dead...I tasted of the punishment which is prepared for those who reject any of the principles of this Gospel.” Eventually she was converted to polygamy and recovered from her illness, “I fasted for one week, and every day I gained until I had won the victory...I learned that plural marriage is a celestial principle, and saw... the necessity of obedience to those who hold the priesthood, and the danger of rebelling against or speaking lightly of the Lord’s annointed”. Helen later summarized her experience with plural marriage in a poem:
I thought through this life my time will be my own
The step I now am taking’s for eternity alone,
No one need be the wiser, through time I shall be free,
And as the past hath been the future still will be.
To my guileless heart all free from worldly care
And full of blissful hopes and youthful visions rare
The world seamed bright the thret’ning clouds were kept
From sight and all looked fair...
...but pitying angels wept.
They saw my youthful friends grow shy and cold.
And poisonous darts from sland’rous tongues were hurled,
Untutor’d heart in thy gen’rous sacrafise,
Thou dids’t not weigh the cost nor know the bitter price;
Thy happy dreams all o’er thou’st doom’d also to be
Bar’d out from social scenes by this thy destiny,
And o’er thy sad’nd mem’ries of sweet departed joys
Thy sicken’d heart will brood and imagine future woes,
And like a fetter’d bird with wild and longing heart,
Thou’lt dayly pine for freedom and murmor at thy lot;
But could’st thou see the future & view that glorious crown,
Awaiting you in Heaven you would not weep nor mourn.
Pure and exalted was thy father’s aim, he saw
A glory in obeying this high celestial law,
For to thousands who’ve died without the light
I will bring eternal joy & make thy crown more bright.
I’d been taught to reveire the Prophet of God
And receive every word as the word of the Lord,
But had this not come through my dear father’s mouth,
I should ne’r have received it as God’s sacred truth.