Ann Eliza Young was Brigham Young’s 19th wife and the mother of his 14th child. She left him when she found out he had been having an affair with another woman, and then sued him for divorce.
Brigham Young was a polygamist and had 19 wives. His most famous wife, Ann Eliza Young, filed for divorce from him after he married her daughter.
Brigham Young’s 19th wife, Ann Eliza Young. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
He was staring at her, and she could feel his gaze on her. She lowered her head modestly. As he lectured, her gaze kept returning to his, as if captivated. She said, “The steady gaze would always pull mine back.” “At that moment, I felt his strength as I had never felt it before.” This guy was the Lord’s godlike Lion, ruler of the Utah Territory. He was 64 and she was 21 years old. He was the Prophet, and she was a carriage maker’s daughter. He was after her now. “To offer myself to a man older than my father, from whom I recoil in aversion when I think of him as my husband, who is already the husband of many women, the father of children older, by many years, than myself…” she begged. She shook her head. “I can’t, I can’t!” exclaims the mother.
She married him, dear reader.
She then filed a lawsuit against him.
When Brigham Young asked for her hand, Ann Eliza Webb was no schoolgirl. She was a divorcée and mother of two, with chestnut-tressed, clear-complected beauty. Since he dandled her on his knee when he took over the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, her life has been intertwined with Young’s (or LDS). The pair remained married until 1876, when she released her expose Wife No. 19, on which much of this Histrionic History of a Mormon Temple Scandal: Polygamy is based.
Chapter 1: Joseph Smith Receives Revelations and is Assassinated
When Joseph Smith was 14, he was a 14-year-old farm kid in Palmyra, New York, when he had his first religious experience. The region was rife with sects claiming to be the one true religion in the early 1800s. Smith, who was conflicted, prayed for direction, and a vision instructed him to join none of the groups. Smith said that a few years later, an angel named Moroni came in his bedroom and informed him that “the fullness of the eternal Gospel” was inscribed on gold plates hidden under a nearby rock. Smith dictated the Book of Mormon, which was printed in 1830, from beneath a blanket, using two stones, Urim and Thummim, to translate into “reformed Egyptian.” The 275,000-word book described ancient Babylonian and Jerusalemian tribes that inhabited America thousands of years before Christ’s birth and prophesied the Second Coming. The gold plates were shown to a few disciples before being transported to heaven.
There were a lot of skeptics. “Such phenomena had stopped with the Apostles,” one Methodist pastor said when Smith told him about his vision. The Book of Mormon, according to Mark Twain, was “chloroform in print.” If Joseph Smith wrote this book, it was a miracle—at the very least, staying awake while he did it.”
The time period was ripe for charismatic Christianity. Many utopian societies believed in the Second Coming, as well as sex. The Oneida community believed in the Second Coming and practiced “complicated marriage,” which allowed anybody to have intercourse with anyone other. The Shakers, whose leader believed to be the female reincarnation of Christ, were adamantly opposed to sex. The exhortation to “be prolific” was literally taken literally by Joseph Smith. The most reliable method for rival sects to provide a constant supply of believers—and settlers—was to breed them up.
Ann Eliza’s parents, Chauncey and Eliza Webb, met in Smith’s first utopian village in Ohio in 1835. They followed Smith to Missouri in quest of the original Garden of Eden after he was expelled from the state in 1838 due to a financial controversy. They were chased out of Missouri as well, and they recreated the colony in Nauvoo, Illinois.
When Smith received a revelation mandating Mormon males to have numerous wives, Ann Eliza was still a baby in the womb. He married a dozen young converts and encouraged other prominent Saints to do the same. As word of Smith’s polygamy spread, a former church official issued a news sheet accusing him of “abominations and whoredoms.” Smith defied the political establishment by running for president of the United States in 1844. The governor of Illinois accused him of treason. Smith bowed out. The next day, a crowd stormed the prison and shot him to death.
Brigham Young Brings Tears to Ann Eliza’s House in Chapter 2
“The baptism of my mother’s tears dedicated me to sorrow,” wrote Ann Eliza, who was born two months after Smith died. “I came to her just before the worst tragedy of her life was about to strike.” Brigham Young, who had replaced the martyred Smith, paid a visit to the Webb household to inform Chauncey that he needed to marry again. Immediately.
Chauncey, 33, left it up to his loyal wife, Eliza, to decide whether they should quit the church or share their spouse with someone else. Eliza selected their 19-year-old boarder out of fear of defying the Prophet. Eliza considered suicide when her husband put the daughter to bed. Ann Eliza now had two moms, and she would ultimately have five.
Brigham Young University (Library of Congress)
Young married 11 women in less than a month, including many widows of Smith. There were wives and then there were wives, which explains the inconsistencies in Young’s marriage totals. Some spouses were only there for a short period of time—in this life. Some spouses were “celestial,” meaning they were married for the rest of their lives. Others he had intercourse with, and some he didn’t, but it’s difficult to tell which was which until the couplings produced offspring. He married some widows as proxies so that they might be reunited with their deceased spouses in the hereafter. Some of the widows were beyond reproductive age and in need of assistance. His total number of marriages would be 56.
Beginning in 1846, 20,000 Saints left Illinois for the barren desert surrounding Salt Lake, which was then a Mexican possession. The last group of 397 wagons, 1,229 people, 1,275 oxen, 699 cattle, 74 horses, 82 dogs, 37 cats, 5 beehives, and a squirrel came in 1848 with Chauncey in charge of constructing the wagons for the exodus. Young was introduced to them, and Ann Eliza’s fourth birthday was commemorated. “I hardly considered what connection I should one day have to this man,” she sighed.
Chapter 3: The Lion is Captivated by a Bold Beauty
Young, an accomplished businessman and inspiring leader, aided his people in establishing roots and prospering. In 1850, Utah became a United States territory, with Young as its governor. However, federal authorities were concerned about the concentration of power, territory, and money in a group with separatist inclinations, and they tried all they could to subdue Young and his growing Mormon flock, including bringing in soldiers.
The Prophet should have had little energy to keep an eye on our Heroine’s antics. “He appeared to suddenly understand that I had grown to be a young woman, and the first indication he gave of it was by meddling with my beaux,” she recalls at the age of 17. He saw her on the arm of one of his brothers-in-law one day and ordered Ann Eliza’s mother to break the link. “Perhaps Brother Brigham intends to marry you himself,” a girlfriend taunted Ann Eliza when she protested.
Ann Eliza sighed, “I wouldn’t have him if he asked me a thousand times—hateful old thing.”
Young’s carriage arrived on the scene not long after. “I heard you say you wouldn’t marry me if I wanted you to ever so much,” he remarked as he drove her home.
Ann Eliza was a nervous wreck.
Ann Eliza was then chosen for the company at Young’s new Salt Lake City theater. She spent most nights at his Lion House since her family resided out of town. About a dozen of Young’s wives were housed in the dorm-like building. Suites for ladies with children, parlors, and a dining hall for 50 people were available. (Today, the structure houses eateries.) Ann Eliza, a mediocre actress, joined Young’s daughters—he had 31 daughters and 25 sons—in complaining about the poor and monotonous meal, “Bread and butter and peach sauce!”
The Bee Hive, next door, was where Young slept alone in his austere 16-foot-square bedroom and worked in an office that overlooked the Lion House. According to rumor, a chalk mark on a bedroom door identified the selected woman for the night. Young said that all of his guests, from Buffalo Bill to Sinclair Lewis, were curious in who he slept with. “I slept with all that slept, and we slept in one global bed—the bosom of our mother earth,” he informed the inquisitive.
An aside on a short-lived love match (Chapter 4)
James Dee, a Mormon a few years her senior, was Ann Eliza’s first love. Young was unconcerned since he had just married Amelia, who had made it plain from the start that she wanted to be in charge.
Ann Eliza and James stood before their Prophet, who “sealed” their relationship. “I legally and lawfully proclaim you husband and wife for all time and all eternity,” Young said.
The honeymoon period was short-lived. The newlyweds fought. He threatened her with additional spouses, and she scolded him mercilessly. Dee “snatched me by the neck” when Ann Eliza was pregnant with their second son, and Ann Eliza’s father kicked him out. In 1865, Young obtained the annulment of their sealing. Ann Eliza’s mother allegedly told her son, “You get a divorce with Dee, and I’ll get you married to Brigham Young,” according to a son of Dee’s second marriage.
A Prophet’s Proposal Is Accepted in Chapter 5
“You’ve come a long way since you left Mr. Dee,” Young remarked as he escorted Ann Eliza home from the church gathering at the start of this History. “You are a stunning woman.” Ann Eliza said that she would never marry again. “I’ve never done something like that in my life.” Young suggested, “When you do marry, choose a guy who is older than you.” “Respect is always preferable than romance.”
He asked her parents for her hand that day, promising her “a nice home, fully equipped, and $1000 in pocket money every year.” For two years, Ann Eliza turned down her admirer, until a bad business transaction put her elder brother in debt to Young. Ann Eliza’s father, too, was unlikely to wish to support her and her two boys for the remainder of their lives. Her mother, who was never fully resigned to her husband’s previous spouses, may have wished to leave the family home as well. Ann Eliza wrote dramatically, “There was nothing but disaster in store.” “My faith, my parents—everything was pointing me in the direction of my doom.”
Unfortunately, our Romance’s Heroine may not be completely sympathetic—or entirely honest. Young’s daughter Susa subsequently stated, “Father did not want to marry Ann Eliza.” “For many years, she taunted Father via her mother to marry her, implying a fictitious relationship. He objected, saying, “I’m an elderly guy and don’t want any more wives.” A daughter, on the other hand, does not always know her father’s true feelings. Young had not thought he was too old to marry a young Englishwoman six months before—his 18th wife, according to Ann Eliza. Amelia, his 17th and, in recent years, favorite wife, was enraged by that marriage and would not accept another.
Heber C. Kimball, who reportedly told Mormon leader Brigham Young, “Someday there’ll be one new bride who’ll cause you difficulty,” was present with Young, 66, and Ann Eliza, 23. That day was April 7, 1868. Counting others who lived with him in the Beehive and those he had established nearby in the multi-gabled Lion House or other living quarters, Ann Eliza considered herself Young’s 19th living, conjugal wife.
After the wedding ceremony, Young took Ann Eliza home to her father’s house, where he slept alone in his bed.
For Want of a Stove, or Into the Lion’s Den, Chapter 6
Young separated Ann Eliza and her two boys from Chauncey and moved her mother in with them, leaving Chauncey with his other wives. Young demanded that Ann Eliza attend supper and prayers at the Lion House after admitting the marriage to his harem. She was terrified of confronting her “sister wives.” Young’s newest favorite, as is customary, evicted her predecessor, who then went into her own home with her children. Some of the elder women who had been ousted hoped Ann Eliza would irritate Amelia, who was known for smashing furniture.
Amelia slammed the garden gate in her newest adversary’s face and walked away the first time they met in person. Ann Eliza was obviously no match for her. Amelia would keep her position as queen bee for the rest of Young’s life, despite her jealousy of her privileges.
The Prophet seemed to be quite interested in his new wife at first, and he paid her frequent visits. He brought her to balls, and although he enjoyed the quadrille, he forbade the wild waltz. Ann Eliza, on the other hand, was irritated by the fact that he never accompanied her without another wife or two.
Young’s interest with Ann Eliza was fleeting. Her boys were given a hat and a pair of shoes each year, along with a piece of pork, 5 pounds of sugar, a pound of candles, one box of matches, and one bar of soap. The pin money that was promised never arrived. She became sick. He didn’t seem to mind.
Young had promised to build her a home without steps in the parlor, which was her pet peeve. However, he later constructed steps in the parlor. “It was more than a woman’s nature could bear to watch them so petted,” Ann Eliza protested, referring to the furs and gewgaws he lavished on Amelia and other spouses as symbols of his love.
Then he came to the conclusion that he would not be calling any longer.
Boarders were taken in by Ann Eliza. The majority were non-Mormons, including a judge, a Methodist pastor, and a reporter, who were the first non-Mormons she had encountered. They offered her a glimpse of a new world by opening her eyes. “I was starting to lose trust in the religion that he represented,” she added, “in addition to the fear and hate that had built up in my heart for my husband.”
She pleaded with her husband to buy her a new stove. He flatly refused.
Ann Eliza requested her boarders to assist her in getting a divorce after four years of marriage.
Chapter 7: Our Heroine Makes It Out Alive & With Little Else
“My preparations were swiftly set before they could be detected by Mormon spies,” Ann Eliza wrote. Horse-drawn moving trucks arrived at her home before daybreak and hauled her belongings to auction. She took refuge in a motel. She stated, “I truly thought it was going to be my final night on earth.” “I had given up my faith, abandoned my father, mother, home, and friends.”
Young was stung in the pride and the wallet by Ann Eliza. She said he cohabited with her for approximately a year after the marriage in the official complaint. She filed for divorce, claiming “cruel and inhuman treatment” and “desertion,” and asking for $200,000 in addition to legal costs. Young was unconcerned at first since he had already given 10 women divorces, the majority of which were amicable. However, the divorce case soon turned into a worldwide controversy.
The New York Times said, “Polygamy has taken a significant hit.” “Brigham’s 17th [sic] wife, the Prophet, has renounced her allegiance.” The term “Modern Mohammedanism” was already being bandied around by the general public. Salt Lake City had been dubbed “the world’s largest whorehouse” by one of Young’s daughters-in-law. Mormons said that there were no prostitutes, spinsters, or mistresses among them. Young said, “There is a plot afoot to steal our lands and our money.” “It’s really a matter of blackmail, and they’ve managed to obtain my wife’s cooperation.”
The divorce was postponed for two years due to legal disputes. Ann Eliza, on the other hand, was broke. If she returned to Young, a Mormon instructor told her that an angel would whisper in his ear and make her the favorite.
“Well, I don’t want the angel to do anything like that!” she said.
An Angry Woman Becomes a National Sensation (Chapter 8)
Ann Eliza’s door was beaten down by reporters. Major James Burton Pond, a former boarder, was hired to organize a nationwide lecture tour. At first, the idea of becoming a superstar, of “having my name on every filthy lip,” repulsed her. “I hesitated no more when it was revealed to me that I might make myself a force against Mormonism,” he says. Our heroine was taken out of town by her father in the dead of night. She sat down on the train. But she couldn’t get away from her history because she needed it.
Denver, Topeka, Chicago, and Boston are all cities in the United States. In lectures, the titillating story of the 19th wife garnered standing-room-only audiences. The audience was taken aback when they learned that Mormons believe Adam had many wives, one of which was Eve, and that “Jesus’ love for Martha and Mary, her sister, as well as Mary Magdalene, demonstrated that they were his plural wives.” Gasps. Mrs. Young’s lectures were staged, and she even had laugh lines. Young advised her to “marry a nice brother who I could look up to for advice,” she claimed. Pause. “By the way, the only helpful advice I ever got from him was to be as frugal as possible.” Laughter.
She caused quite a stir. When the Chicago Times screamed that Ann Eliza and her manager were having an affair, there was a whiff of scandal. The rumors were attributed to the LDS church, according to the couple. Ann Eliza’s triumphant journey to Washington, D.C. in 1874, when she captivated lawmakers and President Ulysses S. Grant, who came to hear “My Life in Bondage,” was unaffected by her celebrity.
A few weeks later, the president signed one of several laws aimed at ending polygamy and reducing Mormon authority.
With the money she earned on the lecture tour, Ann Eliza was able to support her mother and two boys in New York State. The front seats of Ann Eliza’s speech in Salt Lake City were filled with Young’s daughters and daughters-in-law, ostensibly to frighten her, according to Ann Eliza. Her parents were excommunicated by church leaders for their support of her as an apostate. Chauncey, who stayed in Utah, was rebaptized afterwards.
Another Revelation & the End of Our Romance (Chapter 9)
Brigham Young, known as the Mormon Moses, guided his church through its most perilous time. Young, a visionary who constructed canals, towns, temples, and colleges, including the one that bears his name today, zealously safeguarded his flock, which has thrived and expanded as a result of his efforts. The LDS church now has 6.5 million members in the United States and 14 million globally. Young was not defeated by his errant wife in the end. As the divorce procedures dragged on, he was imprisoned overnight for contempt of court and eventually gave Ann Eliza a pittance in 1876. “Joseph, Joseph, Joseph!” he said as he died in 1877. He had 56 wives, 19 of whom died before him and 23 who survived him. He was divorced from ten of his wives, and the whereabouts of the other four are unknown. His will established a $1 million fund for the 16 conjugal spouses who survived him. Amelia received a beautiful residence as a gift.
In Utah, in 1889, two Mormon men were imprisoned for “bigamous cohabitation.” (From the Church History Library of the LDS Church)
The public continues to oppose multiple marriage. Despite his personal distaste for the practice, one senator predicted that “the passion that exists now against polygamy may exist someday against any religion, against any class in this vast land.” After the Supreme Court declared polygamy illegal in 1878, witch hunts erupted. Some polygamists were evicted from their homes, while others relocated to Mexico or went underground. (Brigham Young University researchers believe that 20,000 to 50,000 conservative Mormons practice multiple marriage illegally today.) President Grover Cleveland struck a deal with Prophet Wilford Woodruff, agreeing to prohibit polygamy in exchange for statehood, amnesty, and the restoration of escheated church property. In 1890, Woodruff assembled the elders and said that multiple marriage must end. Joseph F. Smith, a nephew of the first Prophet, was the last to speak. “I have never ignored a revelation from God,” he stated tearfully. I can’t—I dare not—do it right now.” In 1896, Utah became a state.
Unfortunately for our Heroine, she faded into oblivion once the fight to end polygamy was won. She converted to Methodistism and subsequently to Christian Science. She married a rich Michigan banker, but divorced him after discovering he was having an affair with a housemaid. In 1908, her memoirs were reprinted. However, no trace of her burial, even in the famous Mormon genealogy collection, exists.
Claudia Glenn Dowling worked for People and Life magazines for 25 years.
Brigham Young was a leader of the Latter Day Saint movement, and his 19th wife, Ann Eliza Young, was one of his most prominent followers. Reference: brigham young descendants.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was Brigham Young 19th wife?
Brigham Young was the 19th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and he had 14 wives.
What happened to Ann Eliza?
Ann Eliza is a character from the popular childrens book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
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