Helen Mar Kimball
|Born||Helen Mar Kimball
August 22, 1828
Mendon, New York, United States
|Died||November 13, 1896
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
|Resting place||Salt Lake City Cemetery
|Mormonism and polygamy|
A Mormon polygamist family in 1888.
|Latter-day Saints portal|
Kimball was born in Mendon, New York as the third of nine children born to Heber C. Kimball and Vilate Murray. She was the only daughter to survive, and grew up being very close to her younger brother William. Being the only daughter, she was somewhat pampered by her parents (Compton 1997, pp. 487–8). Kimball was three years old when her parents were baptized into the Latter Day Saint church in 1832. Kimball's family moved from Mendon to the church headquarters at Kirtland, Ohio in the fall of 1833. When her father was called to be an apostle of the church in 1835, he was required to travel on missions and be away from home for significant lengths of time (Compton 1997, pp. 488–90).
Kimball was baptized by Brigham Young in the Chagrin River during the winter when the river was frozen over. In order for her to be baptized, her father had to cut a hole in the ice. Kimball later wrote that she was not bothered by the cold water because she had “longed for this privilege” and that she “felt no cold or inconvenience from it" (Compton 1997, p. 490).
In 1838 the Kimball family moved from Kirtland to Far West, Missouri to join members of the church who were moving there. Their arrival in Far West occurred soon after the Battle of Crooked River, and tensions between the Mormons and Missourians were beginning to reach a peak. In early 1839, the family was forced to leave Missouri as a result of the Extermination order issued by Governor Lilburn Boggs. Leaving during the middle of winter, Kimball remembered how they had to walk in order to keep from freezing (Compton 1997, p. 491). The family eventually arrived in the town of Commerce, Illinois, which would later become the city of Nauvoo. Kimball's father eventually built a house in Nauvoo near the temple lot. Her father's rising importance within the church leadership made him a very close associate of Joseph Smith, Jr.
Marriage to Joseph Smith Jr.
Todd Compton describes the reason for the marriage:
“The prophet’s marriage to her seems to have been largely dynastic—a union arranged by Joseph and Heber to seal the Kimball family to a seer, church president, and presiding patriarchal figure of the dispensation of the fullness of times" (Compton 1997, p. 486).
In the early summer of 1843, when she was 14 years old, Kimball’s father described the doctrine of plural marriage to her. He then asked if she would consent to be “sealed to Joseph” (Compton 1997, p. 498). Helen describes her reaction to this proposition,
“My father was the first to introduce it to me, which had a similar effect to a sudden shock of a small earthquake. When he found (after the first outburst of displeasure for supposed injury) that I received it meekly, he took the first opportunity to introduce Sarah Ann [Whitney] to me as Joseph's wife" (Whitney 1880-1883).
Kimball took 24 hours to respond to this request, and consented after Smith explained to her that it would ensure her eternal salvation along with that of her family. Helen was ‘’sealed’’ to Smith in May 1843. The marriage was kept secret, and Kimball continued to live with her parents (Anderson & Faulring 1998).
Initially, Kimball despised the concept of polygamy, stating that, "seeing the trials of my mother, felt to rebel. I hated polygamy with my heart." Later in her life, however, she became a vigorous defender of the practice and wrote a number of publications praising it (Brodie 1971, pp. 479–480;Whitney 1884). With regard to her feelings about Smith's implementation of the practice, Kimball states,
“It was a strange doctrine, and very dangerous too, to be introduced at such a time, when in the midst of the greatest trouble Joseph had ever encountered. The Missourians and Illinoisans were ready and determined to destroy him. They could but take his life, and that he considered a small thing when compared with the eternal punishment which he was doomed to suffer if he did not teach and obey this principle. No earthly inducement could be held forth to the women who entered this order. It was to be a life sacrifice for the sake of an everlasting glory and exaltation" (Whitney 1880-1883).
Marriage to Horace Whitney
With the death of Smith in 1844, and by age sixteen, Kimball had formed a relationship with twenty-two-year-old Horace Whitney. After a period of courtship, the two decided to be “married for time” on February 3, 1846 (Compton 1997, pp. 503–504). Shortly before the exodus from Nauvoo, in the Nauvoo Temple, Kimball was married to Whitney for time and again sealed to Joseph Smith, Jr. (deceased) for eternity, with her husband Whitney standing in as proxy for Smith. The following day, Whitney was sealed to Elizabeth Sykes (deceased) for eternity, with Kimball standing in as proxy for Sykes (Brodie 1971, pp. 479–480;Compton 1997, p. 486).
Helen and Horace Whitney began the journey across the plains during the exodus from Nauvoo. They reached Winter Quarters, Nebraska in June 1846. Nineteen-year-old Helen bore her first child in May 1847 while her husband was away on an expedition to Salt Lake Valley. The child was stillborn (Compton 1997, p. 507). In August 1848, while on the plains during the journey west, Helen had another child that died shortly after birth. This birth resulted in complications to Helen's health, which almost resulted in her death. Following a long battle to regain her health, Helen bore her third child, who was born and died in September 1849 (Compton 1997, pp. 510–511).
Controversy regarding Helen's marriage to Smith
The marriage of Helen Mar Kimball and Joseph Smith, Jr. has long been a subject of controversy, most often with regard to her age at the time of the marriage. Jon Krakauer, in his book Under the Banner of Heaven, claims that of the women married to Smith: "Several were still pubescent girls, such as fourteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball" (Krakauer 2003, p. 120). Krakauer stated his opinion more bluntly during an interview in 2003: "They will not like the fact that I point out that Joseph Smith told 14-year-old girls ‘God says you should marry me, if you don’t...’ His way of getting laid doesn’t reflect well on him.”
Responding to Krakauer’s characterization of Kimball’s marriage to Smith, Mormon author Craig Foster states,
Falling into the same trap as many people and even some historians, he places his own modern values onto another place and time and, when their marriage patterns do not conform to his worldview, he looks upon it and writes about it with an open-mouthed, suitably shocked, and offended approach" (Foster 2004, p. 169).
- Kimball explains that her father took the initiative to arrange the marriage: "Having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet Joseph, he offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet's own mouth.”
- During the time that she lived in Nauvoo, Helen and Sarah Ann Whitney, who was also one of Smith’s plural wives, became very close friends. According to Helen, she and Sarah were like “the two halves of one soul.” Sarah’s brother Horace Whitney married Helen Mar Kimball “for time” after the death of Joseph Smith Jr. in 1844. See Compton 1997, p. 342
- Nashawaty, Chris (18 July 2003), Jon Krakauer Gets Religion, Entertainment Weekly: 47
- Foster cites: Michael Gordon, ed., The American Family in Social-Historical Perspective, 3rd ed. (New York: St. Martin’s, 1983), 16, and Fischer, Albion's Seed, 674–75.
- Anderson, Richard Lloyd; Faulring, Scott H (1998), The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives, FARMS Review of Books (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) 10 (2): 67–104, retrieved 2013-12-04.
- Brodie, Fawn M (1971), No Man Knows My History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0-679-73054-0.
- Compton, Todd (December 1997), In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, ISBN 1-56085-085-X.
- Foster, Craig L (2004), Doing Violence to Journalistic Integrity, FARMS Review (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) 16 (1), retrieved 2007-05-08.
- Holzapfel, Jeni Broberg, and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds. (1997), A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, ISBN 1-57008-357-6, retrieved 2009-09-23.
- Krakauer, Jon (2003), Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-50951-0.
- Whitney, Helen Mar Kimball (1880–1883), Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, 1828-1896, Autobiography (c. 1839-1846), "Life Incidents," Woman's Exponent 9-10 (1880-1882) and "Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo," Woman's Exponent 11 (1882-83).
- Whitney, Helen Mar Kimball (1884), Why We Practice Plural Marriage, Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, retrieved 2009-09-23.
- Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard N. Holzapfel, eds., A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History. Provo: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1997.
- Whitney, Helen Mar Kimball (2003), Compton, Todd M.; Hatch, Charles, eds., A Widow's Tale: the 1884-1896 Diaries of Helen Mar Whitney, Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.