Historian says many 1800s plural marriages worked

Elizabeth Kane had married for love, and expected to see nothing resembling her ideal when she visited Utah in 1872.

But she was surprised at what she found.

Kathleen Flake likewise has her "own monogamous biases." She acknowledges the documented failure of some 19th century plural marriages and the criticisms of this social structure, but her curiosity is piqued by "the fact that some people did thrive under this form of human relationship."

"These plural hearts, it seemed, could beat in one breast," she said.

Flake, an assistant professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University, spoke to a large crowd at the Logan Tabernacle on Thursday, Oct. 1, at the 2009 Leonard J. Arrington Mormon History Lecture Series. Her talk was titled "The Emotional and Priestly Logic of Plural Marriage."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890. As a historian, Flake has sought to understand what early Mormons "thought they were doing" within a social context of "high romance and low tolerance for Mormonism."

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