** A House Full of Females by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 is a fascinating, detailed account of women’s lives during the early years of the Mormon Church. The author painstakingly combed through diaries and other original documents, even quilts, to find stories of real women, some famous and others not. The ignorant reader, like me, will learn a lot about the painful start of the church and the violent attacks that inspired the move to Utah. And about the very busy, very hard lives of frontier women.

Then, there is the history of plural marriage, and although the author faithfully transcribes the thoughts of the women, who certainly had a wide variety of opinions on the matter, she often seems to represent that women “in favor” of plural marriage just loved the idea. Methinks that she ought to consider a bit more in-depth the social environment of these women. Sure, they could say they were against plural marriage (they could vote, after all, at a time when most American women could not), but in a society when unmarried women were quite vulnerable, and in a church where it was presented as dogma, opposition must have been hazardous. And while the Mormon Church did have some progressive policies towards divorce that was favorable to women, it’s clear that the wonderful benefits of plural marriage were accorded to men: no women-led, multi-husband family was dreamed of…

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