How Many Wives Did Joseph Smith Really Have?

Many religions are associated with one name — for better or for worse. Sometimes, the religion bears the name of the central figure, such as in the case of Christianity, named for Jesus Christ, or the Rastafari movement, named for Ras Tafari Makonnen, the birth name of Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, per Black History Month UK. Other religions are also associated with a central figure even though their name doesn't appear in its title, such as Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science.

In the case of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or more colloquially, Mormonism (a word that the church and its members generally eschew), one man is the religion's focal point: New York state farmer Joseph Smith. Smith claimed to have received a divine revelation, and what he wrote down eventually coalesced into the Book of Mormon, which itself led to a religious movement that is still active to this day.

In the early days of the movement, it was associated with polygamy — a fact that the church itself admits on its website. Though the practice has been officially banned for over a century, the church cannot escape the fact that many of its founders openly, nay proudly, practiced polygamy. But did Smith himself have multiple wives? As it turns out, that depends on whom you ask.

Joseph Smith likely had 40 wives

Officially, Joseph Smith had exactly one wife: Emma Hale, his first. "Officially" is used there because polygamy has never been legal in the United States. As such, regardless of how many other women he claimed were his wives, Smith could not have legally married them as long as he was married to Emma.

On the subject of Emma, she, too, insisted that she was his one and only wife up until the day she died. According to testimony she allegedly gave near the end of her life, Hale claimed her husband never took on additional wives, per Faithful Answers, Informed Response. Indeed, she disliked polygamy and openly opposed it, as The Guardian reports. Elsewhere, Smith biographer Fawn Brodie claims that Hale was well aware of her husband's other wives and only disavowed polygamy out of jealously towards the other women in his life, as Faithful Answers, Informed Response claimed in another article.

Indeed, according to The New York Times, the Church of Latter-day Saints owned up to Smith having practiced plural marriage in 2014 by acknowledging that he actually had 40 wives, not one. Some were married to other men at the time, and one was a solid four years away from celebrating her 18th birthday.

"We need to be truthful, and we need to understand our history," church Elder Steven E. Snow said at the time.