How Many Wives Did Brigham Young Have?

If you're from Utah, the name "Brigham Young" might be as well-known to you as "Abraham Lincoln." But if you live outside of the state, you might only be vaguely familiar with the famous figure. Brigham Young was a religious leader and politician who lived from 1801 to 1877, according to History. Though Young was the governor of Utah, he's best known for his role as the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon church. Young lived a colorful life: after converting to the LDS faith, he led the church parishioners to Utah, according to Britannica. He was also involved in several controversial events in his life, including the Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1857.

But the controversies don't stop there. Young's personal life was also unique, as Young practiced polygamy, also known as plural marriage in which a man can have multiple wives at once (via The Huffington Post). And Young didn't stop at two or three wives. In fact, he married dozens of women. 

Brigham Young's involvement with the church

Brigham Young first became involved with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around 1830, according to PBS, very soon after the religion was created by Joseph Smith. The Church of LDS is a form of Christianity, but with additional beliefs, including that the Book of Mormon is a holy book and that the church founder, Joseph Smith, was a prophet sent by God, according to History. Brigham Young became the leader of the church after Joseph Smith died in 1844, having been murdered in jail.

Young would go on to lead the church for 33 years and was instrumental in shaping it into the organization it is today. For instance, before Smith died, many church members lived in Illinois, but after his murder, Young led the church all the way west to the area that would come to be called Utah (via PBS). And Young helped to promote certain aspects of the LDS faith even those which would gain them a reputation as a controversial organization, including his steadfast dedication to the practice of polygamy (via Huffington Post).

Young's decision to embrace polygamy

When Young first joined the LDS church –- and, indeed, for many years afterward -– he had no desire to take on multiple wives, according to the Huffington Post. In fact, he at one point "felt that he would rather die" than take another wife, according to PBS.

But over time, Young's perspective shifted. Eventually, he decided to embrace the practice of his mentor, Joseph Smith, and he married as many as 56 women, according to But these weren't necessarily traditional partnerships: two of the women Young married were his mothers-in-law from previous weddings and some of his wives already had other husbands, according to the Huffington Post. Moreover, many of those he married were much older than him, some widows, and not necessarily expected to perform as "wives," according to but were "sealed" to Young more because he wanted to give them "the protection of his name." All told, around 10 of the women he married would eventually go on to divorce him.

Compared to modern standards, it's certainly a complicated situation with plenty of opportunities for heartbreak. It even got Young in a spot of legal hot water when he was prosecuted for polygamy in the early 1870s, though he never served any sentence, according to PBS. The LDS church has not recommended polygamy since 1890, according to History.