Friday, April 29, 2016

Eliza and Caroline Lyman Plead for Child Support

The women who entered plural marriage generally did so out of a firm belief in the Restored Gospel and the prophetic ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith. There were occasional abuses of the system, some women were coerced into the practice, some men were neglectful or vicious, and some men took wives they could not support, but divorce was possible if desired on the part of the woman, and sometimes the system worked okay for some families.

Amasa Lyman, with his many church responsibilities, may barely have had the means to support one family, let alone eight. John Tanner and Sidney Tanner helped care for Amasa's large family when they were able, but John died in 1850 and Sidney was sent to settle in Beaver in 1857 so Amasa's wives were often left to provide for themselves. Many of the women who entered into the practice of plural marriage suffered severe lifelong consequences, and this included Amasa's plural wives including Eliza Maria Partridge Lyman, who had been a plural wife of Joseph Smith, and Caroline Partridge Lyman. 

After Amasa left the Church, most of his wives took their children and lived well away from him, but it was a difficult situation. Eliza and Caroline wrote this letter not long after he was excommunicated, and hopefully he was able to do something to help them, since the two sisters had ten living children, the youngest just four years old, but he was getting on in years himself.

Fillmore         July 31st 1870

Dear Brother Lyman

You will perhaps be somewhat surprised at receiving a letter from us, but we are driven by stern necessity to do something. We cannot sit down quietly and see our children starve.

We are living now by borrowing of one neighbor then another without any prospect of ever paying which I consider not a very creditable way of doing. It seems to me that there is ^no need of all this destitution, that we are not so much worse off than other folks with regard to property, and can you not devise some plan whereby your family can be fed and clothed and have some little chance for an education? I think you can testify that during the last twenty four or five years we have borne poverty and privations of almost every kind without complaint and have done all in our power to make your life as ^happy as possible under the circumstances and be in truth a help to you, and it is not with a desire to add one sorrow to your heart that we write now, but to let you know how we are situated and see if there cannot be something done to relieve our wants a little. I hope you will excuse me if I have said too much, but I feel almost desperate sometimes, my health is gone and old age comes creeping on, and now when I most need some one to lean on, I find myself standing alone, no Husband to lighten my cares, no Father to provide for my children or to help me in rearing them, no home that I can call my own, no means that I can command to support myself and family, all are gone, gone, and I feel that the weight of responsibility that rests upon me is sometimes ^almost more than I can bear, but I put my trust in the Lord knowing that when all others forsake us he is still our Friend

Hoping to hear from you soon we subscribe ourselves your Friends

Eliza M. Lyman

Caroline E. Lyman


  1. What a sad and tragic situation. I had no idea that these women sometimes had to face such circumstances.

  2. It is rather sad. Sometimes the system of plural marriage worked fine, particularly in cases where the wives got along and the husband could provide for multiple families. Plural marriage also was a means to rescue women who would have been left destitute or in service or living single in a relative's home their entire lives. This way they got a home (of a sort) and children and access to what could often be a very strong social and relationship network.

    However, even when plural marriage worked fine, it was a great personal sacrifice for these women to build the vast relationship networks that are still so influential well over a century after the end of plural marriage.

    Since history generally has been male-centric, if someone was familiar with the story of Amasa Lyman (for example; there are many other examples) his wives would have been almost a footnote to the story. It's time to change that! Hopefully everyone who reads this blog is familiar with the She Shall Be an Ensign project and other efforts to make sure history doesn't neglect the contributions of half the population.