Some researchers say that 1911 is the year that the Church finally became 100% committed to ending polygamy. Some critics go as far as to ask church members why they think that the top GAs aren't secretly practicing polygamy now? During Joseph's day, they did while denying it publicly, loudly and often. After the manifesto they did also, so what makes them so sure they aren't doing it now? What's different now that wasn't different when Joseph F. Smith authorized secret plural marriages AFTER the 1904 "Second Manifesto?"
Critics say that the manifesto was written "to beat the devil at his own game." The point was to mollify the U. S. Government that was coming down very hard on the Mormons over polygamy. Polygamy continued with a lot of secrecy even among the General Authorities in order to preserve plausible deniability. After 13 1/2 years, with the government still breathing down the Church's neck with the Smoot hearings in full swing, Joseph F. Smith issued the so-called "Second Manifesto" which supposedly did what the first one was supposed to do anyway.
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The saints of the last days have witnessed the outgoings and incomings of so many apostates that nothing but truth has any effect upon them. In the present instance, after the sham quotations of Sidney and his clique, from the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants, to skulk off, under the "dreadful splendor" of "spiritual wifery," which is brought into the account as graciously as if the law of the land allowed a man a plurality of wives, is fiendish, and like the rest of Sidney's revelation, just because he wanted "to go to Pittsburg and live." Wo to the man or men who will thus wilfully lie to injure an innocent people! The law of the land and the rules of the church do not allow one man to have more than one wife alive at once, but if any man's wife die, he has a right to marry another, and to be sealed to both for eternity; to the living and the dead! there is no law of God or man against it! This is all the spiritual wife system that was ever tolerated in the church, and they know it
Many women practiced it because they believed the church was true and somehow this was commanded by God. Others likely had little choice if their husband said he had to do it and was going to practice this commandment with or without their support. The first wife was supposed to give her consent, but many, like Emma Smith, protested against it and their husbands did it anyway. Others, like Helen Kimball, were coerced by their parents into polygamous marriages - often to much older men. Some were promised great eternal blessings for them or their families.
When I think about that, I just think that the Islamic women are being brainwashed into thinking it's okay to subject the women to restrictions such as always having to put a veil on in public in 100 degree weather, to be subservient to men and never have any real civil rights to speak of. Perhaps the Mormon women who accept polygamy believe that polygamy is okay for similar reasoning.
I spoke with a Muslim woman once, years ago via chat. She said that (paraphrasing) "women in Islam are treated so well, it is a misconception that we are treated unfairly" and then to the effect, "I couldn't imagine how tough it would be to live as women outside of this".
We haven't really been able to, as of yet, find much information on the rally reportedly attended by hundreds of polygamous wives in Salt Lake City in support of polygamy in the 1800s. As women had very little say (in and out of the church), it's quite possible that they were told to be there by their husbands. Brigham Young controlled the territory with an iron fist and if he wanted something, it happened.
Emma was very much against polygamy. Her story is told in the pro-LDS book: . When asked where the doctrine of 'spiritual wifery' came from she responded 'straight from the devil'. After Joseph died, she remarried a non-Mormon and had nothing whatsoever to do with polygamy again. Mormon Enigma can be .
Many women stayed in polygamous marriages for the same reason many battered women stay in bad marriages today - for the sake of their children and limited means to support themselves. This would be far worse for a woman in the 1800s to be on her own with children than it is today. In that society, they had no one to turn to for help out of a heartbreaking situation. They either lived with it or tried to survive in a man's world on their own.
"I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it."
-Helen Mar Kimball
Mormon Polygamy: A History, p. 53
"Here was my husband," she said, "gray headed, taking to his bed young girls in mockery of marriage. Of course there could be no joy for him in such an intercourse except the indulgence of his fanaticism and of something else, perhaps, which I hesitate to mention."
-Sarah Pratt speaking of her husband, the apostle Orson Pratt who dated a 16-year-old girl (and then married her) when he was 57. (Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 92)