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The Polygamous Wives Writing Club: From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  188 ratings  ·  50 reviews
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced the practice of plural marriage in 1890. In the mid- to late nineteenth century, however--the heyday of Mormon polygamy--as many as three out of every ten Mormon women became polygamous wives.

Paula Kelly Harline delves deep into the diaries and autobiographies of twenty-nine such women, providing a rare window into
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Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 16th 2014 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published May 19th 2014)
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Jeanette
Aug 22, 2014 rated it liked it
This was well researched and had excellent photographs of most of the subjects too, both the wives and husbands. But I was disappointed in the omission of original tracts of those diaries in length. From the beginning and introduction, especially, that seemed to be the stated assumption that they would be included. But as much information and thorough history as this author reveals, it is always within her own contrast and comparison style and detailing, with only brief quotes from the diaries. ...more
Christopher
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a collection of mini-biographies of 29 women in 19th century Utah. The author chose polygamous wives who were not connected to the leadership in Salt Lake. It gives a broader picture of what the run-of-the-mill experience, without being an elite, would have been.

And how was it? Lonely. Always lonely. And hard. Nellie Parkinson wrote that "it nearly killed me. ... Since the Church urged it and the family all approved there was nothing to do but make the best of it. ... But for the trial o
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Naomi Young
Nov 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: aclib, 2014
Great use of primary sources to illuminate the ordinary lives of women. This book is definitely academic, and suffers from a little of that dryness, but on the whole is enjoyable.

The diaries and autobiographies quoted here are of women "living polygamy" in the Mormon communities from the mid-1800s through the federal crackdown, statehood, and to the end of their lives.

Most of the women have ambivalence about their situation. They want to follow God, and are convinced that polygamy is God's wil
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KyneWynn
Nov 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book was fascinating. Having polygamous ancestry in both my husband's and my family lines. this topic was interesting to me. What I loved about it was that the bulk of the material came from primary sources woven together in a lyrical narrative which let the reader draw his/her own conclusions about the practice.

The book follows a set of criteria in that the material used was from women who were not married to prominent church leaders, and lived in Utah, rather than during the era of Nauvo
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Chuck
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting glimpse into their world. Her bias against the practice is apparent, but not so much to detract from the book.
It would have been good to compare the sufferings of the polygamist to the monogamists of the same period and culture. Most of the Mormon pioneers had suffered much in the way of poverty and deprivations.
Also her conclusions about what was left out of the diaries seems a bit of a logical leap. All of the people of the era (especially 1870's and 1880's) were terrified of the f
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Chels
Oct 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
I'm giving this book four stars because I think it is a great source for creating awareness of early Mormon polygamists (as opposed to break-off fundamentalist groups), which are sadly under-represented. This author has obviously done a TON of research on the subject and I love that it's drawn from primary sources that she quotes from liberally throughout the book. I took away a star because I didn't like the narrative, and the organization of the text went against my tastes too. I recognize tha ...more
Emily
Jul 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion, non-fiction
Paula Kelly Harline has done something remarkable with The Polygamous Wives Writing Club. She has brought polygamy - a topic that few in the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are truly knowledgeable about or comfortable discussing - in from the "safe" distance provided by keeping it in realm of the theoretical and theological, and grounded it firmly in reality, warts and all.

In all, "Mormon participation in polygamous marriage averaged between 25 and 30 percent if men, women, an
...more
Christine
Jul 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A wonderful read. I had to dock a star only because, as others stated in their reviews, I agree that we should have been given larger blocks of direct text from the diaries/autobiographies, or at least some appendices of excerpts. I also found myself keeping track of the various women with pen and paper because there was a bit of jumping around, but I enjoy doing that. I have no ties to the Mormon church so for me there was no personal connection to the stories, but it served as a phenomenally e ...more
Jenny
Aug 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved reading this book. I learned about the complexities of polygamy in the 19th century mormon culture, and saw the very human reaction various women had to the experience. I grew and was uplifted from reading of their experiences and seeing similar conflicts and struggles in my own modern life.
Melanie
Aug 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
A must-read for Mormons. I was surprised to learn how controversial polygamy was among members, even when it was being practiced by the church. Any inkling of an idea I have ever had about polygamy having some benefits is gone. What a terrible way to live. A book to own.
Chuck Knudsen
Aug 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dnf
Depressing stuff!

These women all believed very strongly in their Mormon faith, and believed in the idea of plural marriage, but they found the actual practice to be incredibly hard.
Aimee
Jan 21, 2017 rated it liked it
I've always been a little curious about the whys and hows of polygamy in those early days in the Church. But even more than that, I have always wondered about the women involved. Did they join up willingly? Was it just a better-than-nothing approach for widows and those enduring the hard times alone? Were these women saints or did they ever have doubts and misgivings?

I haven't done much reading on polygamy because I didn't want to read books out to discredit the church or church leaders. When I
...more
Kim
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Whew....This book is not for the faint of heart (or testimony.) I'm very cautious about the sources I choose when it comes to church history due the vast amount of false information circulating. I would say I'm in the camp of active LDS women who just don't like the fact that saints were asked to live polygamous lives in the 1800's. I blame my distaste to a lack of understanding how there could've been something holy about this commandment. The author is mostly silent as to speculating the purpo ...more
Beth
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Wow! So much to think about while reading this. The title may sound like a work of fiction, but it's misleading as this is non-fiction. I appreciated that this was a research oriented look at polygamy in Utah during the mid 1800's, instead of a religious examination. The hardship, love, grief, sadness and joy the presented women experienced left me in awe. I do wish there had been lengthier, direct quotes from the original diaries and autobiographies, but what was included brought the women and ...more
Sarahsketti
Aug 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I debated giving this book two stars instead of three. Although I enjoyed the stories of the women and their complex attitudes toward polygamy, I felt the author's writing style detracted heavily from the novel. The author indulged heavily in speculation, and she summarized most of the women's experiences rather than drawing from their own words. It was a good reading experience, albeit a very flawed one.
Brooke
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Follows 12 ordinary women who kept journals as polygamous wives to non-famous men. They worked sooooo hard. The happiest wife was the one who only wrote about how well the wives got along, never anything about her husband.
Becca
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was beautifully written. I loved how it showed so many sides of a very complex issue through the writing of the women who lived it. Ms. Harline does a great job giving historical context to the diaries but also looking at the issue through today's eyes.
Karen
Dec 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book. Gives a clear explanation of polygamous marriages from the wives view point. Good information about the Mormon practice of polygamy and how it evolved.
Melissa Legg
Feb 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Polygamous wives were unhappy and the author was surprised.
Karin
Aug 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book was a nice surprise. It was actually quite entertaining which is not what I expected. It is not a rewriting of these women's journals although full of direct quotes it gets to the point of both what these women had to share about their experiences as well as what they curiously left out.

It was full of reality, the nitty gritty of the lived experience and confirmed a lot of what I have suspected about polygamy both past and present.

It brought out a lot of lingering emotions that I have
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Elizabeth Kennedy
Feb 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Maybe 3 1/2 stars

I would have liked this more if the author had included more of the individual women's own words.
The structure was a bit confusing at times because Harline grouped several women together in chapters. I realize she was trying to link related experiences, but it made for added work keeping track of who was who.

I loved that these were the stories of ordinary women rather than just the LDS elite.

One take away:

When I think of pioneers who settled the American west, I often think o
...more
Anna Gallegos
Sep 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: my-reviews
Paula Kelly Harline, the great great grand-daughter of Utah polygamous couples, presents a rather fair history of 1840 to 1890 - the 50 year stretch when the Mormon Church supported plural marriages. Kelly Harline summarizes the diaries/autobiographies of 29 women in polygamous marriages alongside church and American history. The author doesn't conclude whether plural marriage was a good idea or harmed women as a whole since the chosen diaries are from women who were troubled by their husband ha ...more
Lisa-Michele
Dec 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Though there was no real writing club, these are true stories from the diaries of 19th century Mormon polygamous wives. Harline took the approach of finding 29 women who were not particularly famous or widely read, who stayed in the Mormon Church, and who poured out their hearts on paper. I love the idea. “Angelina… and Henrietta… had plenty of opportunities to cross paths…And if the two ever had the chance to meet one afternoon to share their writing, then they would have both had this in commo ...more
Gina
Mar 29, 2016 rated it liked it
I can't even with polygamy. [That is the first time I've ever used that phrase. Just fyi.] It was horrible from beginning to end, riddled with heartbreak and deceit and betrayal on every level, and I'm saying that out loud.

So, this book. It is interesting but frustrating. Harline has the journals and autobiographies of 29 relatively unknown Mormon pioneer polygamist wives, which sounds super exciting! But I feel like she was holding them close to her chest, and just telling us about them. Let u
...more
Kim
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Susan Donk
Recommended to Kim by: Wendy Prince
This book examined polygamy in the 19th century through the lens of women who lived it. Using 29 different diaries and autobiographies of Mormon polygamous wives, the author sought to understand the motivation, considerations, and consequences behind the polygamous lifestyle. The book is divided into 3 major periods, the early 1800s when Utah became a territory, and Mormons sought to populate it. The middle section of the book covers a wide time frame and focuses on how the wives related to each ...more
Sharman Wilson
The diaries of early Mormon women living in polygamy (preferably called celestial or plural marriage) all tell the same story: it was a sore trial for everyone involved. There were few role models and no instruction manuals to follow, and there was a great deal of muddling through going on behind the scenes. Virtually all the women cited wrestled with the doctrine and the practicalities, the hard feelings and the loneliness. Some grew to love their sister wives and their children, others felt mo ...more
Amanda
Jan 19, 2016 rated it liked it
I was disappointed by this book. The concept is fantastic, and I heartily agree with the author's initial directive that if we are to study how polygamy played out in reality, we need to consider the viewpoints of women who actually lived it. But, I felt that rather than composing the book in a way that allowed those women whose journals and autobiographies she studied to really speak, she convoluted their stories and opined over the top of their voices. Her tendency to draw assumptions with lit ...more
Orenda
Dec 23, 2014 rated it liked it
The book is interesting but difficult to read in one sitting. Nothing much really happens. It's a portrait of polygamous wives in the 19th century, and an incredibly sad one at that. I want to finish it because it's not bad, and not boring, but nothing is sucking me into the story either. Perhaps it's because none of the wives have connections to one another other than the ones the author fabricates (ie: if Mary had known Elizabeth, she might have said...) good reading for sitting in a doctor's ...more
Julia
Feb 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, lds
Quite fascinating! It made me respect and appreciate these pioneer women even more in all their suffering, loneliness, and heartache that they went through. It was interesting to read how polygamy probably help the suffrage movement and lead to women's rights. These women were definitely independent and strong willed but they were still faithful. They were constantly in conflict having these negative feelings towards polygamy but knowing that they felt in their hearts that they needed to do it t ...more
Brianne
Feb 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Completely different than I first imagined, but in a good way. An historical and academic treatment of such a emotion-laden subject, and done in a fair way. I agree with other readers that including the original texts would have been appreciated. At times the presentation of the women was confusing due to many names, similarity of situation, and the seamless transition from story to story; however, this was informative and interesting and a great contribution to the discussion of early Mormon po ...more
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