Ann Eliza Young

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A lithograph of Ann Eliza Young, sometime between 1869 and 1875

Ann Eliza Young (September 13, 1844 – December 7, 1917) also known as Ann Eliza Webb Dee Young Denning[1] was one of Brigham Young's fifty-five wives and later a critic of polygamy.[2] She spoke out against the suppression of women and was an advocate for women's rights during the 19th century.[3]

Early life[edit]

She was born in 1844 in Nauvoo, Illinois to Chauncey Griswold Webb and his wife, born Eliza Jane Churchill.[1]

First marriage[edit]

Webb married James Dee monogamously on April 4, 1863 in Salt Lake City, Utah. They had two children together and later divorced.[2] According to Ann Eliza's biographer Irving Wallace, "for the rest of her days Ann Eliza would always refer to James Dee as the man who 'blighted' her life."[4]

Brigham Young[edit]

On the advice of her family Webb later married Brigham Young, the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), when he was 67 years old and she was a 24-year-old divorcee.[2]

Although she later called herself Young's "wife no. 19," others have referred to her as his "27th wife." One researcher concluded that she was actually the 52nd woman to marry Young.[5] The discrepancies may be due, in part, to difficulties in defining what constitutes a 'wife' in early Mormon polygamous practices.


Webb filed for divorce from Young in January 1873, an act that attracted much attention. Her bill for divorce alleged neglect, cruel treatment, and desertion, and claimed that her husband had property worth $8,000,000 and an income exceeding $40,000 a month. Young countered that he owned less than $600,000 in property and that his income was less than $6000 per month.[6]


She was excommunicated from the LDS Church on 10 October 1874.[5][7] The divorce was granted in January 1875 and Brigham Young was ordered to pay a $500 per month allowance and $3000 in court fees.[5] When Young initially refused, he was found in contempt of court and sentenced to a day in jail and a $25 fine.[5] The alimony award was later set aside on the grounds that a polygamous marriage was legally invalid, potentially indicting them both for unlawful cohabitation.[5]

Advocacy for Women's Rights[edit]

Ann Eliza Young subsequently traveled the United States and spoke out against polygamy, Mormonism, and Brigham Young himself.[8] She testified before the U.S. Congress in 1875; these remarks were credited, by some,[who?] to have contributed to a passage of the Poland Act (1874)[citation needed] that reorganized the judicial system of Utah Territory and made it easier for the Federal Government to prosecute polygamists.[3]

Wife No. 19[edit]

In 1876, she published an autobiography entitled Wife No. 19. In it she wrote that she had "a desire to impress upon the world what Mormonism really is; to show the pitiable condition of its women, held in a system of bondage that is more cruel than African slavery ever was, since it claims to hold body and soul alike."[3] Her account of the "horrors of polygamy and masonry" is available from various sources.[9][10] It was the basis of Irving Wallace's 1961 biography, The Twenty-Seventh Wife, and of David Ebershoff's 2008 novel, The 19th Wife.

Moses R. Denning[edit]

After her divorce from Brigham Young, she married 53-year-old Moses R. Denning of Manistee, Michigan,[5] a non-Mormon and wealthy logger known to have only one arm.[11][12] Two years prior to her marriage to Denning, Ann Eliza stayed at the home of Denning, who at the time was married with children.[12] Because of Denning's financial stability, Ann Eliza lost interest in her crusade against Mormonism and polygamy and stopped delivering lectures the week she married Denning.[11][13] She eventually became estranged from her family, including her children (a grandson told Wallace that neither of her sons had contact with her after they reached early adulthood). In 1930, her older grandson told Wallace "I hope to hell I never see her again."[14]


Denning later left Ann Eliza after a series of alleged affairs she'd had with local townsmen.[15] According to Wallace, Ann Eliza retaliated on the advice of her attorney by charging large amounts of money to Denning's accounts, as she had previously done in her divorce from Brigham Young.[16]

A 1907 article on the 30th anniversary of Young's death updated the public on his then surviving widows and stated that Ann Eliza was divorced for the third time and living in Lansing, Michigan. The 1900 U.S. census had reported her living in Breckenridge, Summit County, Colorado.[17] Ann Eliza would eventually return to Utah to claim a $2,000 legacy from her first husband, whom she had previously described as the "blight of my life."[18]

Later years[edit]

In 1908, she published a revised version of Wife No. 19 entitled Life in Mormon Bondage, a revision of her previously published work and which excluded the story of her first marriage to Dee, and her third marriage to Denning entirely. By 1910, she had moved to Sparks, Washoe County, Nevada[19] residing at 546 - 16th St. She died on December 7, 1917 at her home in Sparks of pneumonia incident to old age[20] and was buried December 9 in Mountain View Cemetery, Reno, Nevada.[21]

Published works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Orson Pratt Brown - Life, Times, Family". Retrieved 2010-07-10. "
    Ann Eliza Webb Dee Young Denning
    Born: September 13, 1844 at Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois
    Died: 1925 at Rochester, New York
    James Dee married Ann Eliza Webb on April 4, 1863 at Salt Lake City, Utah, ceremony was performed by President Brigham Young. She is the daughter of Chauncey Griswold Webb b. October 24, 1811 and Eliza Jane Churchill Webb b. May 4, 1817."
  2. ^ a b c "Brigham Young's Wives and His Divorce From Ann Eliza Webb". Utah Lighthouse Ministry. Accessed March 10, 2007.[unreliable source?]
  3. ^ a b c Cullen, Jack B. "Ann Eliza Young: A Nineteenth Century Champion of Women's Rights." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Western Speech Communication Association (Albuquerque, New Mexico, February , 1983).[unreliable source?]
  4. ^ Wallace, Irving. The Twenty-Seventh Wife, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961), 150
  5. ^ a b c d e f Johnson, Jeffrey Odgen. "Determining and Defining 'Wife' — The Brigham Young Households", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 20, no. 3 (Fall 1987) pp. 57-70
  6. ^ Linn, William Alexander (1901). The Story of the Mormons: From the Date of their Origin to the Year 1901. New York: McMillan. p. 572. OCLC 621583. 
  7. ^ Young, Ann Eliza Webb. Wife No. 19; Or, the Story of a Life of Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices, and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy, (Hartford, Connecticut: Dustin, Gilman, 1875), 546
  8. ^ Troy Taylor. Forest Farm House at Old Deseret Salt Lake City, Utah. Haunted Utah at Accessed March 10, 2007.[unreliable source?]
  9. ^
  10. ^ Ebershoff, David. "Who Is Ann Eliza Young?" (PDF). Archived from the original on 26 September 2010. Retrieved 11 September 2010. (Warning: PDF is quite large.)
  11. ^ a b Wallace, Irving. The Twenty-Seventh Wife, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961), 396
  12. ^ a b Woodward, Helen B. The Bold Women (New York: Farrar, Straus and Young, 1953), 330
  13. ^ Nibley, Hugh W. Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book Company, 1991), 441
  14. ^ Wallace, Irving. The Twenty Seventh Wife, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961), 427
  15. ^ Wallace, Irving. The Twenty Seventh Wife, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961), 411
  16. ^ Wallace, Irving. The Twenty Seventh Wife, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961), 413: "[S]he bought a thousand dollars worth of groceries and provisions, dry goods, shoes, slippers, furniture and hardware in a couple of days."
  17. ^ NARA roll T623-129, ED 152, p. 4-A, line 16.
  18. ^ Nibley, Hugh W. Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book Company, 1991), 442
  19. ^ NARA roll T624-859, ED 77, p. 13-B, line 82.
  20. ^ Nevada death certificate no. 17-001104 (state index #1052).
  21. ^ Nevada State Journal, 9 Dec 1917, p. 4.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]