The Mormon church's big revelations didn't stop with its sacred undergarments: In an online essay titled "Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo," the church for the first time declares that founder Joseph Smith was a polygamist, with a footnote stating that "careful estimates" put his tally of wives at between 30 and 40. The essay explains that Smith was ordered to take multiple wives by an angel who visited him three times between 1834 and 1842; in the last instance, the angel was armed with a sword and threatened a reluctant Smith. The leader, then married to first wife Emma, took his first plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio. Smith and Alger ultimately separated, and the church relocated to Nauvoo, Ill., where he married many more women.
The oldest was 56, and the youngest was 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball; some were already married, a revelation the New York Times describes as the "biggest bombshell for some." The essay explains that a number of marriages, including that with Kimball, were sealed "for eternity alone," suggesting sexual relations weren't involved (the ones that did involve sex were "for time and eternity"). What did Emma think of all this? Per the essay, she was none too pleased, though at one time she did accept four of Smith's wives into their home. And what was the reasoning behind what the essay describes as the "wrenching trial" of polygamy? Kimball said Smith told her that "the practice of this principle would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith." Two more essays discuss plural marriage in the church's later years; they're part of an effort the church is making to share "reliable, faith-promoting" info about its past, the church's historian tells the Times. (Part of that effort: an explanation of its undergarments.)