How Polygamy Enabled Women’s Rights

Polygamy Mormon
Often seen as detrimental to women, one historian argues that polygamy actually enabled women's rights movements within Mormonism.


Polygamy MormonPolygamy is an issue we continue to struggle to understand, whether as Latter-day Saints or non-members of the LDS Church. It was complex and controversial in its time and remains so today.

On a recent episode of NPR’s Fresh Air, Terry Gross sat down with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor at Harvard, to discuss her new book, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism.

The 30-minute interview covers a wide range of subtopics, but perhaps most interesting is Ulrich explaining that while bigamous relationships existed across the United States, divorce was difficult and nearly impossible in situations of abuse. On the other side, divorce laws in Utah were comparatively liberal, and women who were formerly outcasts after leaving an abusing husband were welcomed as members of a community and family within the plural marriage confines of Utah.

Also, Utah was second only to Wyoming in giving women the right to vote—a right that Utah women pushed for themselves, not as something given them by men.

Gross also couldn’t help but ask whether polygamous wives used polygamy as an excuse to be closet lesbians, which sure, might have been a thing.

Either way, it’s a very interesting segment. Stream it below.

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