Anthropology, Department of



William Volf

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Published in Nebraska Anthropologist Vol. 15 (1999-2000). Copyright © William Volf; published by The University of Nebraska-Lincoln AnthroGroup.


During the nineteenth century, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, encouraged the development of polygamous marriages. The primary rationale for the practice was to bring in as many pre-existing spirits into the present world and to allow all females the chance to be married. The practice of polygamy was the ideal marriage form and each church member was to behave in a manner with polygamy as a goal. It is found that among males, only the wealthy and higher level Church leaders were the members that such a practice benefitted. There is evidence that the additional plural wives, though themselves having a reduced reproductive success rate, had offspring with higher reproductive success than children of monogamous parents did. This may indicate that the choice for females to enter plural marriages was a decision based upon the potential reproductive success of her offspring. From this analysis, it is clear that it was those in the Mormon Church hierarchy who were the most ardent supporters of the principle who were also the primary benefactors of the practice of polygamy. Further, for females who entered into polygamous marriages, there was a profound belief in the church doctrine that such marriages were proper in the eyes of the Lord. The uniqueness of the development and patterns of Mormon polygamy in the nineteenth century are an important contribution to the study of marriage patterns ill relation to the effects of status, wealth, and ideology.

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