***WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Sometime last year, Lifetime aired a movie called The 19th Wife. I think I saw the movie previewed while I was watching another feature, but the sociologist in my was instantly intrigued by the how the plot surrounded a plural Fundamentalist Mormon family. Although the movie was entertaining, I was more fascinated to learn that it was based on a book with the same title, which was based on Ann Eliza Young’s autobiography, Wife No. 19.
Ann Eliza was born in 1844 in Nauvoo, IL and raised as a LDS Mormon; her mother was one of Joseph Smith’s initial followers. Her family was in the initial group of pilgrim’s that headed west to Utah. As a result, Young details a lot of early Mormon history as she recounts her own and her mother’s personal experiences. Not only does she discuss how plural families came to fruition but also the negative emotional and mental aspect of living in polygamy. Young also goes into great detail on expressing her views of Brigham Young and how he controlled the “Saints” in Utah.
Many of the events Young describes were horrific, destroyed families, made people utterly dependent on Brigham Young and also caused the death of hundreds of strangers (Mountain Meadows Massacre, the use of hand-carts and refusing to provide supplies to Gentiles in wagon-trains heading West). In fact, there are not many happy moments that Young mentions.
Young was bitterly disgusted by how Brigham Young presided over the “Saints” and how he directly affected their lives. Thus the perception of her family, specifically her mother’s stoic sufferings, and her own personal experiences married within the church – and how she rebelled against the strict protocols drips with enmity. Young doesn’t speak with malice per se, but you can feel the emotions she wishes to convey as you read the text.
I am not a historian and admit to not knowing a lot about the Mormon faith and their settlement in Utah. So without a lot of research I can not actually verify what Young accounts as truth. Plus, from what I understand, her autobiography is as excommunicated by Mormons as she was.
However, Young does offer a lot of direct quotes in her book. Upon discussing that aspect with a friend, who also read this autobiography, we thought that perhaps Young recorded a lot in journals, and thus was able to retell her story with so many details.
In my 30-seconds of non-academic research (read: Wikipedia), I was able to learn that after the publication of her book, Young married for a 3rd time to a non-Mormon after her divorce from Brigham Young. That marriage too was dissolved by divorce after her husband accused her of being unfaithful. Wikipedia also reports that her own sons eventually wanted nothing to do with her.
One could conjure that the unconventional lifestyle in which she was raised molded her views on marriage and family irreparably. Perhaps, too, she had become so bitter by practically placing herself in self-exile that she no longer could find or know what true happiness was.
Despite the rumors and rumors of rumors of what may have happened to Young, her autobiography is a very descriptive and informative (perhaps enlightening) read. In rating the book, I gave it 5/5 stars and highly recommend it, especially if you have an interest in the sociological aspect of non-monogamous relationships and/or religious history.