Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mormon History Association, Part III

When I looked at the progamme for the MHA’s 47th Conference, I used the following criteria to pick out sessions I would attend: was this session about polygamy? If not, were there sessions about Alberta or Canada? Because Rebecca and I wrote a mother-daughter set of papers on the subject of polygamy last year, I thought I would follow up and see what others are saying about it.

There were usually 7 concurrent session at the MHA conference, with 3 papers given in each session – which is about 180 papers in total. Usually I slip in and out of sessions, going from one interesting paper to another, but this conference, I settled down to staying to hear all three papers so that I could listen to the comments, which usually give me idea I hadn’t thought about while listening to the papers.

Yesterday’s first session for me was Session 4G:

1. William Jarmon (1837-1971) Apostate Polygamist and Founder of the British Anti-Mormon Society.
Susan W. Howard, San Jose, CA (a lawyer)

2. Mormons and the Mounties: Mormon Migration and the Canadian Mounties in the Late Nineteenth Century.
Fred Woods, BYU-Provo (his paper was read by someone else)

3. “Playing Lawyer with the Case of Plural Marriage [in Canada].
Brooke Brassard, University of Victoria.

There were few in the room, a handful, less than 10, plus those at the front table presenting. I had a moment where I thought, I have chosen the wrong session, but then remembering that sometimes what is interesting to me is found in the quietest corner of Mormonism. I settled down to listen.

Trying to be succinct – William Jarmon was a polygamist whose wives had a fractious existence with him. He abandoned his attempt at plural marriage in Salt Lake City and returned to England where he spent considerable time preaching and publishing his book, Hell Upon Earth: Uncle Sam’s Abscess, The Mormon Hell on Earth, written by one who suffered twelve years.

Fantastic to have a paper that gave the flavour of what lobbying against polygamy in England must have looked like in the early 20th century!   A direct hit for me on that one.

The Mormons and Mounties paper addressed the fact that John W. Taylor and Apostle Lyman went East to ask John A. MacDonald if, among other things, the Mormons could have land, access to water, and would they be able to practise polygamy. They were denied all of their 9 requests by the government. Still they arrived and practised polygamy. One more piece of the puzzles, the government sent a spy among them to see if they were practising polygamy, determined that they were, and when confronted by the government, the Mormons said no, they were not practising polygamy.

During the question period, one older woman (from Chicago, for I had visited with her during a break) asked of the presenter/reader, “Was it duplicitous for them to be told no, the government would not allow this, then come and practise polygamy and then lie about it.” The reader of the paper gave her a long answer, essentially denying that this would be his reading of the facts as presented. Then he answered some other questions. The woman sought me out later and asked what it was that she didn’t understand in his answer. She still felt it had been duplicitous of the pioneers. I laughed right out loud

When she took me aside and asked me her question in the hall. I told her, well, in my mind she shouldn’t have used the word duplicitous, for that was a little weak. She should have call it lying, just bald-faced lying. I told her I couldn’t figure out why that professor from the BYU couldn’t say that himself. What was he trying to protect us from? She felt better about my explanation than the one given by the reader of the paper and went on her way. Now I am laughing again. I always like to hear an opinion that agrees with mine. Who knows? Maybe he was right and she and I were wrong.

Now, how much fun was it to listen to Brooke’s paper? She was in religious studies, had a paper to do on contemporary religious studies issues, picked up the Bountiful Case to look at, ... and she was doing her essay before Justice Bauwman of the BC Supreme Court gave his judgement. She concluded that perhaps polygamy should be decriminalized, at least from her study of the constitution.

For this conference paper, she decided that what she had written was a weak undergraduate paper, she had read some of Bowman’s judgement for it is available now, and concluded he must have been right. I took her e-mail address and am going to send her Rebecca's paper and mine, for the two of us were writing about the same issues Brooke was addressing.  Collaboration, or at the very least, sharing is fun.

The commentator was Ken Driggs, Attorney at Law, Decatur, Georgia. He has done some work for the U.S. polygamists. When the session was over I heard another man ask the general question, would it be alright to drop by Bountiful on the way home? Would they let him come to visit? Driggs said he didn’t know, but he was going to swing around by Creston as well on his way back to the U.S.

MHA Conference, Part IV coming next.



  1. duplicitous vs. lying. that is fabulous! :-) too bad that Brooke thinks if a judge says it, he must be right! there is so much there that is wrong (both in the judge and the polygamous and non-polygamous communities, of course). hahah

  2. What would the decriminalization of polygamy have over abolishment of the institution of marriage? I am guessing both would be aimed at unpacking an invisible knapsack.

  3. What would the decriminalization of polygamy have over abolishment of the institution of marriage? I am guessing both would be aimed at unpacking an invisible knapsack.