During the 1880s the church came under intense pressure from the U.S. government to end the practice of plural marriage. In 1882 the Edmunds Act disenfranchised participants in plural marriage.1 Five years later the Edmunds-Tucker Act disenfranchised all women in Utah Territory and also dissolved the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company and the Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.2 The proposed Cullom-Struble Bill threatened even more difficulties, while a judicial ruling in 1890 denied U.S. citizenship to future Mormon immigrants, and government agents took other steps that “further reduced the ranks of Mormon voters.”3
Church president Wilford Woodruff deliberated for many months about how to respond to these increasingly aggressive federal measures before reaching a decision. He wrote in his journal on September 25, 1890: “After Praying to the Lord & feeling inspired by his spirit I have issued the following proclamation.” The statement included this critical passage: “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.”4
The Manifesto, as Woodruff’s statement was known, was read in the church’s general conference on October 6, 1890, “and accepted by a vote of the whole Conference which Act Created a sensation throughout the whole United States.”5 Joseph H. Dean, recently returned from presiding over the Samoan mission, described the reaction of church members in general conference: “Many of the saints seemed stunned and confused and hardly knew how to vote, feeling that if they endorsed it they would be voting against one of the most sacred and important principles of their religion, and yet, as it had been promulgated by the prophet, seer and revelator and the earthly mouthpiece of the Almighty, they felt it must be proper for some reason or other. There were no opposition votes, but many of the saints refrained from voting either way.” He further noted, “A great many of the sisters weeped silently, and seemed to feel worse than the brethren.”6
Church leaders gave little definitive guidance about what the Manifesto meant regarding the status of current plural wives, but several leaders spoke passionately against men deserting their wives and children. Wilford Woodruff, for example, said, “This manifesto only refers to future marriages, and does not affect past conditions. I did not, could not and would not promise that you would desert your wives and children. This you cannot do in honor.”7 Leaders taught that men should support their wives, but cohabitation was supposed to cease. In general, as historian Kathryn Daynes observed, “each family decided for itself how to react to the new situation.”8
Helen M. Whitney, writing for the Woman’s Exponent, expressed her faith in church leaders but also in the doctrine that the Saints were laying aside. She reported that she had studied the general conference minutes “with a prayerful heart and desire for the right spirit and understanding to judge of its true source. And the testimony, and spirit that came to me was strong enough to convince me that this step was right.” She continued, “Although they have yielded one point to the powers that be, no true saint will renounce a truth or a doctrine of this faith for which Joseph Smith and many more have laid down their lives to establish.”9
Another glimpse into how Mormon women responded to the Manifesto comes from the following report of the Emery Stake Relief Society conference held October 17, 1890, less than two weeks after the Manifesto was read at the general conference. Mormons had settled the Emery area of Castle Valley, in central Utah, in 1877.10 Ane Ungermann Larsen was appointed president when members organized the Emery Stake Relief Society on August 13, 1882. Larsen selected a first counselor, Josie E. Childs, and a secretary, but roughly two years passed before Ann Beers Pulsipher was appointed as her second counselor.11 A history of the stake Relief Society noted that a “striking feature with these three women [the members of the stake Relief Society presidency] was, they all lived the Plurality of Marriage.”12
R. S. REPOTR.
The Semi-annual Conference of the Relief Society of Emery Stake, convened at Orangeville, Oct. 17, 1890. Counselor Annie Pulsifer [Ann Pulsipher] presiding. Choir sang, prayer by Brother E. [Erastus] Curtis,13 singing, Counselor Pulsifer made a few opening remarks and regreted our beloved President Anna Larsen could not be with us her health would not permit, but desired we would have an interesting time, as she felt the Spirit of the Lord to be with us; the Satistical reports were read and accepted, the Representatives of each ward were called to report. President Robinson [Rhoda Robertson]14 of Orangeville felt well in her labors with her sisters, attended Conference in Salt Lake City and felt amply repaid. The feast of spiritual food she recieved gave her strength to go forward in trying to perform the many duties devolving upon her. Counselor Hannah Seeley [Seely] reported the Castle Dale ward, said the sisters were trying to attend to their duties spiritually and financially the meetings were tolerably well attended (but of course it could be better). Sister Jane Woodward of Huntington said the sisters were on hand and willing to go forward in helping in this great work. We live in an eventful period of time and should be united and help to bear each others burdens, prayed for the Lord to give us strength to do right. Ferron, Molen and Emery wards were not represented. Counselor Pulsifer gave some interesting instructions exhorting the sisters to attend to their spiritual duties spoke of the trials the Saints had gone through and were now passing through, refered to the Manifesto that President Woodruff had issued, spoke very interestingly. Sister Sarah Fullmer also refered to the Manifesto and found it already was trying some people, no matter what men or nations may do, she knew that law was from God. we should stand firm and hold on to the principles of the everlasting Gospel. Sister Jane Peterson of Castle Dale felt pleased to meet with the sisters, had been in this Church many years; even in Nauvoo with the saints, quoted many sayings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, exhorted the mothers to teach their children the principles of truth and righteousness, spoke very interestingly on other subjects. Sisters J. [Johanna] P. Curtis and J. [Elizabeth Jane] Johnson each bore their testimony and spoke well, Counselor Andrew Anderson of Orangeville addressed the conference a short time. Choir sang “Do what is right.”15 Adjourned until 2 p. m.
Afternoon services. Singing “O God our help.” Prayer by Bishop Robinson [Jasper Robertson]16 of Orangeville. Singing “Hark ye mortals.”17 Coun- A Pulsifer spoke very encouragingly to the sisters on different subjects. President [Lodema] Cheney of Y. L. M. I. Association made a few remarks and Bishop Robinson of Orangeville occupied [p. 87] a short time speaking interestingly, thought one great failing we had was ingratitude[.] Paul may plant and Apollus water, but God givith the increase.18 We were in possession of all truths if we would give them heed, and those truths would lead us to an exaltation in the kingdom of God, if we would only follow the path marked out for us. Sister [Elizabeth] Reid felt to encourage the sisters in this great and good work, had attended Salt Lake City conference and felt greatly built up in her faith and to go forward in every duty. Sister E. Guyman [Elizabeth Guymon] also spoke well and felt encouraged to perform the work required of her, ask an interest in the prayers of all and strive to speak evil of no one. Other sisters spoke and the remainder of the afternoon was given to the W. S. A. [Woman Suffrage Association] to transact some business. President S- Fulmer19 addressed the meeting in a spirited manner urging the sisters to read and strive to gain all imformation necessary for the advancment of our cause. Several joined and one officer elected. Meettng appointed for Nov. 10th. Conference adjourned for six months.
M. J. [Samantha (Manty) Jane] Shipp, Sec. protem.
Annie U. Larsen, Pres.