Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Women locked in a room

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Stories of women being locked in a room to persuade them to accept plural marriage

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Question: Were women "locked in a room" in order to convince them to accept plural marriage?

While Nancy Rigdon and Martha Brotherton were likely approached about plural marriage in private, it is unlikely that they were locked in rooms or confined against their will

The author of Nauvoo Polygamy:..."but we called it celestial marriage," claims that "…both Nancy [Rigdon] and Martha [Brotherton] were…isolated in a locked room during the...effort" to persuade them to practice plural marriage.[1]

The claims about being "locked in a room," while dramatic, seem unlikely. Much of the evidence hinges on the unreliable and vindictive John C. Bennett, who published the exposé, The History of the Saints, or an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. While Nancy and Martha were likely approached about plural marriage in private, it is unlikely that they were locked in rooms or confined against their will.

Hyrum Smith touched upon this subject during a Conference talk on April 6, 1842:

He [Hyrum Smith] then spoke in contradiction of a report in circulation about Elder Kimball, B. Young, himself, and others of the Twelve, alledging that a sister had been shut in a room for several days, and that they had endeavored to induce her to believe in having two wives...

Pres't. J. Smith spoke upon the subject of the stories respecting Elder Kimball and others, showing the folly and inconsistency of spending any time in conversing about such stories or hearkening to them, for there is no person that is acquainted with our principles would believe such lies, except Sharp the editor of the "Warsaw Signal."[2]

The claim that Martha was locked in a room for "days" is likely an exaggerated rumor: It was more likely "about ten minutes" while Joseph was summoned

RLDS authors Richard and Pamela Price, who firmly believed that Joseph did not practice plural marriage, uses the Times and Seasons account to assert that Martha "changed her story" regarding the length of time during which she was held in the room:

The records show that Martha changed her story. As Hyrum reported to the Conference, at first she had told that she was locked in a room for days. But since that was such a ridiculous, unbelievable story, she changed it in her St. Louis affidavit to read that Brigham locked her in Joseph's office for only "about ten minutes."

However, we have no access to Martha's original story, so the Prices' assumption that Martha originally claimed that she was held in the room for a number of days cannot be verified. The source of the claim that Martha was held in the room for "days" is likely an exaggeration, however, the source of the rumor cannot be determined. The claim that she was locked in the office for "about ten minutes" while Joseph was summoned seems much more plausible.

The Prices provide additional reasoning against the idea that Martha was in the room for a number of days,

It would have been impossible for Martha to have been imprisoned in any room in the Red Brick Store without it being detected. In fact, she could not have gone up and down the stairs and from room to room without being observed by many. The store was a small, two-story building, and Joseph's office was only about ten feet square. Since dozens of people came to the store daily, her calls for help would have been heard. Martha had but one witness—John Bennett, who asserted in the Sangamo Journal for July 15, 1842, "She was locked up ... I saw her taken into the accursed room."

If Martha's story had been true, there would have been many witnesses, because Joseph' s store was the hub of activity in Nauvoo. People came to the store to buy everything from food to footwear. The store building also housed the headquarters for the Church and the city. There, the people paid their tithing and taxes, and conducted banking and real estate business. The store was alive with people by day and by night, for it was also in constant use as a civic and religious center…."[3]

One suspects Bennett's influence in this part of the story, since Bennett would likewise claim Joseph locked him in a room. In Bennett's case, the story is unworkable and contradicted by a non-LDS eyewitnesses.[4]

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here


  1. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 154. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  2. Times and Seasons, April 15, 1842 p. 763.
  3. Richard and Pamela Price, Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy—Vision Articles [Subsequent to Volume 1] (From Vision Magazine, Vol. 32, "The Martha Brotherton Case," off-site. FairMormon's consultants cannot endorse the Prices' contention that Joseph Smith did not practice plural marriage.
  4. Bennett, History of the Saints, 287–288. See affidavit from a non-LDS witness denying that Bennett was locked in a room by Joseph: Daniel H. Wells, "[Affidavit], "Times and Seasons 3/19 (1 August 1842): 873–874.