By Board Member Kevin Barney, cross-posted at By Common Consent
Now that the Church has released its treatment of Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah, many of our people are going to be learning of the phenomenon of post-Manifesto polygamy for the first time. To get up to speed one can read, for example, Quinn, Hardy and Hales, but I would like to point folks to a more intimate account, from a woman’s perspective, as to why one might have entered into such a post-Manifesto marriage. The article I would like to suggest that you read is Julie Hemming Savage, “Hannah Grover Hegsted and Post-Manifesto Plural Marriage,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26/3 (Fall 1993): 100-117. I recommend this article not only because it is terrific, but the subject of the piece happens to be a relative of mine. My most famous Mormon ancestor was Thomas Grover through his wife Hannah Tupper. Their son, Thomas Grover III married Elizabeth Heiner. My great-grondmother was their first daughter and second child, Evelyn Maria Grover, born September 3, 1868. Hannah was her younger sister, born November 26, 1870. So Hannah was my Grandpa’s aunt.
Hannah Grover married Bishop Victor Hegsted on May 1, 1904, which was 14 years after the original Manifesto and a month after the second Manifesto. So why would a good Mormon woman enter plurality in 1904? The short answer is that she came to believe that marrying Victor fit into God’s plan for her life. But why? Well, you really need to read the article, but I’ll try to summarize some of the factors involved in the hope that it will intrigue you enough to click on over there and read the actual article.
Religious and Cultural Comfort with Polygamy. Hannah was steeped in the Mormon polygamous tradition. Her paternal grandfather, Thomas Grover, eventually had six wives, and her own father (who was born in 1845 and would have been one of the first sons born to Mormon polygamy) had two of his three wives alive at the same time. She wrote often of visiting her “aunts,” many of whom were her grandfather’s plural wives. Her Aunt Lucy once told her that “had she her life to repeat she would again enter plural marriage.” Polygamy was all around her, and during the first 20 years of her life the Church defended the practice vigorously.
Intense Feelings of Loneliness. When Hannah was 11 her mother died in childbirth, leaving six small children. Hannah helped to take care of the family, and her home was with her siblings. But as they grew and married, one by one they left, leaving her alone, a loss that she felt deeply.
Patriarchal Blessings. Over the course of her life, Hannah received not one, not two, but seven (!) patriarchal belssings. As one might guess, these routinely gave divine promises of marriage and children, promises she took to heart.
Love of Children. It is evident from her journals that Hannah enjoyed the presence of children, especially her nieces and nephews. She was so pleased when she went to visit her sister and the kids would yell “Aunt Hannah has come!” She was also active serving in the Primary organization.
Monogamous Suitors Didn’t Work Out. In 1891 she promised to be the wife of Marcus Taggart, but nearly five years later she stated that “the ties between Marcus and me were severed because of another girl.” Shortly after this relationship ended, Hannah began to spend time with Tom Condie. On June 9, 1897 she wrote that “Bro. Condie . . . declared his love for me and the desire that I should be his wife. Received testimony in answer to my prayers.” But eight days later he left to serve in the Southern States mission. When he returned in 1899 they began to spend time together again, but then he was called on an M.I.A. mission to Arizona. As it turned out, before the winter’s mission was over he fell in love with and married another woman, which Hannah wrote “blighted the hopes of a devoted heart.” After this she wrote again and again of a deep loneliness. She had taken a position as a teacher at Ricks Academy and bought a house in Rexburg. On the ride there she bemoaned going “alone to live in a lone house.” She was under a heavy cloud of despondency.
Opportunities to Enter Plural Marriage. It was during this time of intense loneliness that she first begins to record opportunities to enter plural marriage. Within six months of her break up with Tom Condie, she reports that a brother E.W. Hunter and his wife expressed an interest in her. She reported this proposition matter-of-factly and does not seem to have given it much thought, but it did open her mind to the possibility. In 1902 she was offered two other chances to enter plurality: one from a Martin Randall of Centerville, and the other from Bishop Victor Hegsted of Salem, Idaho. Having two such propositions forced her to a period of deep introspection.
She spent the summer away from both men, taking classes at the University of Utah, where she had an emotionally devastating experience. She attended an evening stake conference, only to see Tom Condie and his wife. “He was loving and fondling the baby and the sight pierced me to the quick.” Just then she was called up to the stand to speak extemporaneously, as they did in those days. She tried to beg off, but they insisted. She managed a few sentences before breaking down. (I’m glad we don’t do that anymore!)
Hannah fasted and prayed and consulted with her father, who advised her to accept Victor. It was not until she met with Brother Randall that she felt confirmed in her decision to accept Victor. In January of 1903 she finally was able to meet privately with Victor, and the meetings went very well; from this point her language concerning him becomes adoring and intimate, referring to him as “sweetheart,” something she had not done in any other relationship. That July she called on Ada Hegsted, Victor’s second and only living wife. Ada gave her consent and approval to the match, and told her that so long as she had a home Hannah would always be welcome in it.
Victor and Hannah sought approval from church leaders at the April 1903 conference, which they received. (At this point some apostles were trying to discontinue the practice and others were trying to keep it alive, so this was a matter of going to the right apostle.) After the marriage, Hannah never lived with Victor on a continuous basis until Ada died in 1912. She would end up having four children with Victor.
Although not formally excommunicated, she seems to have experienced some sort of informal censure, as in 1911 she writes that she “once again became identified with the church in regular order.” After Ada died she and Victor were able to marry civilly, which they did, and which procured a place for Hannah in mainstream Mormon society. She began to run a large household and accept positions of responsibility in the Church.
The piece concludes as follows:
While Hannah may have had her lonely times, there is no evidence that she wished she had taken a different path. She made her decision to marry with integrity. Using her family life and church leaders as examples, and believing in blessings that promised her a husband and a posterity, she prayed to God and married Victor Hegsted. As with other experiences in her life, she met the challenges of being a post-Manifesto plural wife with strength and dedication to the church. Whether her experience with post-Manifesto plural marriage is typical is a question for future historians.