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Plural Wife: The Life Story of Mabel Finlayson Allred

Plural Wife: The Life Story of Mabel Finlayson Allred

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Plural Wife: The Life Story of Mabel Finlayson Allred

5/5 (1 évaluation)
324 pages
5 heures
May 17, 2012


Mabel Finlayson Allred was a wife of Rulon Allred, leader of the Apostolic United Brethren, one of the major groups of fundamentalist Mormons who, since about the 1930s, have practiced plural marriage as separatists from the mainstream Latter-day Saints Church.
   Mabel’s autobiography maintains a mood of everyday normalcy strikingly in contrast with the stress of the ostracized life she was living. Her cheerful tone, expressive of her wish to live simply and gracefully in this world, is tempered by more somber descriptions of her personal struggle with clinical depression, of Rulon Allred’s inner struggles, of tensions with the law and with Allred’s fundamentalist colleagues, and ultimately by her forthright account of his assassination.
    Emerging from this unique narrative is the portrait of a woman buoyed by faith in both her religion and her husband, a window into the interior life of a woman seeking a resilient simplicity in an uncommonly challenging life.
    Plural Wife, conntextualized by Martha Bradley’s introduction, gives us insight into Mabel’s experience of history during an important period of the 20th century and advances our understanding of life ways of 20th century polygamy and the growth of the fundamentalist movement.

May 17, 2012

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Plural Wife - Mabel Finlayson Allred



Martha Bradley-Evans

Importance of the Document

I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah in the 1950s in a subdivision of ranch style homes at the foothill of Mount Olympus. Our family had one father and one mother, three brothers and myself, the sole and lonely sister. We were Mormons. We read the Bible and the Book of Mormon. We sang the hymns, The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning and Come, Come Ye Saints with all the fervor of the righteously indignant. The persecution narrative of our pioneer forefathers and mothers inscribed our memory. Their story was in us, their journey our journey.

On the other side of the valley, a Mormon girl of similar age—Dorothy Allred—grew up in a very different household. Although our parents and teachers would have taught us much of the same wisdom and we might have testified to the same beliefs, our familial structure could not have been more disparate. For my three brothers, she had four; but her half brothers and sisters numbered forty-four more. Although her mother’s only daughter, a position I shared, Dorothy was one of many to her father in a family of towheaded blondes with blue eyes that mirrored the sky. Her mother, Mabel Finlayson Allred, was the fourth wife to Rulon C. Allred, the head of a group of Mormon Fundamentalists who lived subterranean lives just beneath the surface of respectable mainstream culture. Their lives were rich and full, but lived where outsiders could not observe. They were private, inclusive and dedicated to God.

Editorial Policies

This text contains a remarkable consistency of voice and allows the reader to experience a rich sense of Mabel Finlayson Allred’s personality. One can almost hear Mabel speak as words are read.

The provenance of the document itself is complex and layered with the soft touch of family. Mabel began thinking about her autobiography soon after her twin sister Melba’s death in 1998. The first volume she produced is dated both 2000 and 2001. The second volume is dated 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. When she completed her writing in 2004, she gave the hand written document to her daughter-in-law Bonnie Allred who typed it, made some adjustments in grammar, style, language and even added some new stories, dates and names for clarification. Mabel edited that version, made changes and wrote editorial notes—inserts that she wanted included in the final draft. A second typed version included subheadings. These inserts and comments are included in this version of the text of the autobiography.

The document itself provides another kind of evidence about Mabel Allred. It was written on simple lined paper in pencil, the kind a child would take to school in a notebook. Her daughter Dorothy recalled, She had lovely handwriting. And even at her age, she was very meticulous.¹ Mabel talked with Dorothy about the changes she wanted made in the first typed version and urged her to ensure that the final version reflected Mabel’s own words, expressive spirit and intent. After these conversations and understanding her mother’s desire to get it right, Dorothy and her brother, Jerry, edited the document and inserted the changes that Mabel requested. The result was a typed third version that again included a combination of original text, editorial changes and elaborations, and the handwritten changes Mabel had requested.

After considering the original hand written copy, the various typed versions including the third with Dorothy and Jerry’s editorial changes, I made the editorial decision to return to the original and to include the changes Mabel penciled in on the first typed version which provided clarification to her original document. I have made only occasional and minor changes in punctuation. The original handwritten document, and the penciled in comments on the typed draft produced by her children, are Mabel’s own words and form the content of this autobiography rather than interpretations or edits of the autobiography by others. My decision was complicated by the fact that at least three individuals, possibly four, worked on the document after Mabel produced it, resulting in a manuscript quite different from the one initially envisioned. In the spirit of capturing her own authentic voice, rhythm and style, I have tried to peel back those layers of change and return to her original choice of words, emphases and intent. At points, I add words in brackets to help the flow of language and create greater clarity. Footnotes provide additional explanatory information to help the reader understand the context or meaning of a coded word or event.

Mabel’s language is embellished with punctuation that brings a type of musical quality to her work. She used commas extravagantly and italics for emphasis in most paragraphs. I do not correct or delete these choices as they are extremely important in terms of capturing the cadence of her speech or the dramatic flare she might have used to tell her story. They help us imagine her speaking, perhaps holding one of her precious grandchildren on her lap, stroking her hair as she let her memories engulf her, or sitting at a family dinner table recounting the familiar narrative of her courtship and marriage, the 1944 raid, or her return to the LDS Church. Occasionally, Mabel left out a critical word, or left a word incomplete. In these instances, brackets enclose words that help clarify or signal changes made based on perceived intent. Other editorial comments are biographical or explanatory in nature, or supply dates to the narrative.

Mabel’s love of music, her ebullient and optimistic spirit ring through her words and I respect the integrity of the language she chose to use. Hers is a unique story, one she wanted preserved for her grandchildren and their children. It is laced with a strong sense of heaven and earth, a love of God and human beings, and Mabel’s joy in her everyday life. Her gratitude for the time spent with her family was immense, and she comments that she wrote the story in part out of thankfulness to her Heavenly Father, expressing her gratitude for blessing me so abundantly as He has throughout my life! Without Him. I would have been, or felt, lost! So, I praise His name, and will try my best to be worthy of His goodness to me (p. 98).²

Mabel Finlayson Allred was a woman of faith. Her life as a plural wife was driven by a desire for righteousness and a life in sync with God. Indeed, she was grateful for the chance to demonstrate her belief, and wrote, Heavenly Father continued blessing us in so many ways and we expressed our gratitude to Him daily (p. 110). According to her son, Joe Allred, She always believed that she was doing what she felt was right in the eyes of God.³

Mabel’s love affair with music began early in life. The Finlayson home was a musical home. Mabel remembered listening to music often, even when they cleaned the house! When they lived in the privation of Short Creek, they held musical evenings, singing and playing musical instruments long into the warm night air of the desert. As a girl, she sang a duet at her high school graduation entitled Dream of Love; sang trios with her sisters, Birdie and Melba; took voice lessons and learned to play the piano. Known best for the elegance of her piano music, Mabel played in the Village Romantics for proms and special dances. Throughout her life, her signature and frequently requested piece was Somewhere in Time.

As was true for many other fundamentalist Mormons, and despite the choice she made to live in a plural marriage and family, Mabel participated in LDS wards on and off for much of her life. Raised as a Latter-day Saint, her core body of beliefs connected her spiritually to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. As a fundamentalist Mormon she associated with the Group, praying to Jesus Christ, attending sacrament meetings and testimony meetings as would LDS women. During the last years of her life, she worshipped in many of the same ways but in the context of a Mormon ward. Perhaps the greatest irony of her life was that after a lifetime of playing the piano in the worship services of the Allred polygamous group, and dedicating her life to the Principle and its people, she was re-baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after she had turned eighty-four-years-old.

History of Mormon Fundamentalism: The Work

The narrative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always included the story of groups that separated from the mainstream church. Men who opposed certain doctrines taught by the church prophet or hierarchy or who claimed alternative priesthood authority or who, like dissenter William Law, impacted the course of church history and challenged priesthood and organizational authority centered in the church president himself. After the Manifesto of 1890 beginning the end of officially sanctioned plural marriages and decades of prosecution and persecution on the part of the federal government, those who chose to continue in the practice moved into the margins. After the 1920s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints excommunicated them.

In what began as dissent and evolved into a movement that historians and sociologists have described as, Mormon fundamentalism, individuals and small groups of individuals began meeting in private homes to share their religious beliefs, particularly their faith that the Principle was still required of them as righteous persons. They lived lives beneath the surface in towns throughout the West in a subterranean practice that had its cultural DNA in the 19th century church.

The antecedent of the fundamentalists’ history and religious identity begins with the Manifesto of 1890 issued by President Wilford Woodruff that initiated the cessation of official church mandated plurality. It reads in part:

Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise. … And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.

The Manifesto ended plurality as a commandment, but secret plural marriages continued through the next two decades.

The ambiguity of the Manifesto left considerable room for interpretation and caused some to doubt the intent of Woodruff in this official ending of the practice. Many Latter-day Saints who in the 1920s would choose to continue the practice and leave the LDS Church, thought the Latter-day Saint prophet, Wilford Woodruff, had been pressured to issue this statement to secure statehood for Utah, and the termination of federal prosecution of polygamists. The 1890 Manifesto came in the wake of decades of federal prosecution and persecution of the church. The Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 had essentially shut down the corporate church—calling for the escheatment of church properties, and making polygamy a felony. Virtually all of the LDS Church’s General Authorities went on the underground to avoid arrest by Federal Marshals, making it nearly impossible to conduct church business or to run the operations necessary to serve the members throughout the region. The Manifesto was in part a response to the perception that the church’s future was in peril.

Even still, in the view of historian, Jan Shipps, the Saints had to be converted away from polygamy. …Plural marriage was introduced to the Saints who, ever so slowly, converted to it in the early years and the Saints gave it up in a comparably slow process that often involved ‘conversion’ away from the practice. With remarkable symmetry, life was given to the practice and taken away from it.

Despite the Manifesto, plural marriage continued in the shadows, particularly in Mexico and Canada.⁷ Indeed, LDS communities such as Colonia Juarez, Mexico and Cardston, Canada created safe havens for polygamists outside the confines of the United States. More than a decade after Woodruff’s Manifesto, the Utah legislature elected monogamist Latter-day Saint and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Reed Smoot, to the United States Senate. Between January 1904 and February 1907, the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections probed the appropriateness of giving Senator Smoot his seat in the senate, questioned his integrity, and examined his allegiance to his church. Their investigation probed larger questions than the appropriateness of the appointment of Reed Smoot himself, but also whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints produced members whose principal loyalty was to the president of the church rather than the president of the country and its people.

The Senate asked president of the LDS Church, Joseph F. Smith, to testify three months after the hearing began. Their questions probed the issue of post-Manifesto plural marriages and questioned whether offenders had been excommunicated or punished in any way. Within a month of his appearance at the Senate hearing, President Smith issued the Second Manifesto in April 1904 at General Conference, adding the threat of excommunication to the prohibition of new plural marriages.

Inasmuch as there are numerous reports in circulation that plural marriages have been entered into contrary to the official declaration of President Woodruff, of September 26, 1890, commonly called the Manifesto, which was issued by President Woodruff and adopted by the Church at its general conference, October 6, 1890, which forbade any marriage violative of the law of the land … I hereby announce that all such marriages are prohibited, and if any officers or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage he will be deemed in transgression against the Church and will be liable to be dealt with, according to the rules and regulations thereof, and excommunicated therefore.

The Manifesto of 1904 drew a line between those who continued in the practice and those who did not, a division now linked to church membership. Over time, in the context of Mormonism, the term fundamentalist described those who continued to practice plural marriage and believed that they followed the more pure doctrines, now surrendered as the Church responded to the federal government’s pressure to conform to national mores and religious standards.

Men whose pedigree was similar to that of a mainstream member of the church led the fundamentalist Mormons. Their spiritual roots stretched back to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young; the religious tenets at the core of their belief were first preached from the stand near the temple in Nauvoo or beneath the bowery at Temple Square. Rather than referring to their practice of a plurality of wives as polygamy, they called it the Principle, emphasizing its centrality to their identity and the sacrifices they made to shape their lives around its particular obligations. Despite the LDS church’s campaign between 1890 and the 1910’s to distance itself from both the doctrine and practice, the fundamentalists chose to continue in the lifestyle beyond public view. Important for the boundaries it created between insiders and outsiders, the Principle, defined belief and measured faith, proscribed behavior, and gave sacred significance to their lives. Their prophet, Joseph Smith, wove a persecution narrative for the early church, defining the religious importance of the conflict with Missouri, the exodus from Illinois into the Rocky Mountains. In the same way, persecution against the fundamentalists helped them understand their lives as religious martyrs and gave them meaning that ran deep.

Plurality was patriarchal at its core in the way it organized multiple wives around a central husband, but also in the way priesthood authority made it possible and valid. The Principle or what was sometimes called Celestial Marriage, or the New and Everlasting Covenant, made it possible for men and women to enter the Celestial Kingdom, the highest degree of glory in the afterlife and have the potential of becoming priests and priestesses, kings and queens, even Gods presiding over worlds of their own. The Principle was a type of gatekeeper, the key that opened up immense possibilities for those who lived righteously.

Among themselves, the fundamentalists sometimes called the Principle, the work, or the Priesthood, referring to the way it consumed their lives in a holistic way. It was the single most important doctrine underpinning the practice of their lives, imbued with priesthood authority or the power of God. The prophet who led the fundamentalists living in Short Creek, Arizona (eventually incorporated as the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) during the 1950s at the time of the governmental raids on the polygamist community, Leroy Johnson, helped his followers interpret the fundamentals of their faith.

Some people think because we speak of the everlasting Gospel and the law of Plural Marriage, that we have pulled away and left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that we have hung on to one principle of the Gospel, namely, plural marriage, and discarded everything else. This is not true. For we believe that no man can receive the Celestial Law without first coming in at the door of Baptism for the remission of sins and keeping himself clean and pure from the sins of the generation in which we live.

Like the men around him in the fundamentalist movement, Leroy Johnson’s worldview and the body of beliefs that directed his behavior were those of his spiritual ancestors—of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young who wove a religious narrative from the pulpit or drafted epistles that carried revelations from God. They are just as binding upon the people today as they were in the days of the Prophet Joseph. He told an audience of his followers, We have heard from time to time how men have tried to tell us that ‘these revelations were all right in the days of the Prophet Joseph and Brigham Young and those men, but today we are living in a new age, and they do not fit our condition, so they are not for us today.’¹⁰

Even before the 1890 Manifesto, familial relations under the Principle were endlessly complicated. The nineteenth century Latter-day Saints emerged from monogamous marriage traditions and learned about what was required to make plurality work by living it. The uncertainty of the message of the Manifesto was confusing at best: What were the obligations of men to their multiple wives and families? Were marriages to be terminated or abruptly ended or was the prohibition on new marriages, or even new children born into polygamous families. Over the next two and half decades, the church itself evolved in its understanding of such questions about policy and practice. At first a period of consideration ambiguity resulted and limited number new post-1890 marriages were authorized in both Mexico and Canada as well as in certain locations in Utah, challenging the official message conveyed in the Manifesto. Byron Harvey Allred remembered being bewildered, and thrown into the whirlpool of argument, contention, and division relative to the purpose and effect of that manifesto. We had been deceived. Someone had been mistaken, or (could such a thought be permitted to enter our minds) someone had life.¹¹

The fundamentalists locate their claims to continued priesthood authority to perform plural marriages in the story of an alleged visit of Joseph Smith to President John Taylor as he hid from federal officials in September 1886 at his home in Centerville, Utah to the north of Salt Lake City. During the underground period of the 1880s, federal marshals hotly pursued prominent LDS officials who were polygamists, on charges of cohabitation. The story of Taylor’s visitation became a sort of defining myth, an organizational narrative key to the identity of those who decided to continue in the Principle, providing the impetus to establish a priesthood council in 1886 charged with preserving the doctrine and practice.

The story was supported in a variety of informal and formal ways. John Taylor’s son, Apostle John W. Taylor, confided privately that his father’s papers included a revelation … that the principle of plural marriage would never be overcome.¹² Oral variations on the narrative were shared in private settings, and, some wrote the story down.

As the fundamentalists started to organize and cluster together for meetings separate from the LDS Church, their version of the story evolved. As one of the men who claimed to be present for the event along with his father John W. Wooley, Lorin C. Woolley’s 1912 account held particular importance. Woolley described the way Taylor explained the night’s events, saying that he had been all night with the Prophet Joseph and would suffer my right hand to be cut off before he would participate with the extinction of the doctrine and practice.

A decade later, Joseph Musser gathered additional accounts from Lorin C. Woolley and Daniel Bateman, who was also allegedly at the Centerville home and produced his own consolidated version in 1929. In the Musser account, this experience occurred on September 26-27, 1886. First, Joseph Smith visited John Taylor. Next, Taylor put the men who were with him in the home under covenant to continue the practice of plural marriage despite the significant and daunting efforts to prohibit the practice. According to the Musser version of the narrative, he ordained the nine men present with priesthood authority to perform plural marriages: George Q. Cannon, L. John Nuttall, John W. Woolley, Samuel Bateman, Daniel R. Bateman, Charles H. Wilcken, Charles Birrell, George Earl, and Lorin C. Woolley, and encouraged them all, as well as two women, Julia E. Woolley and Amy Woolley, who were also at the home to protect the Principle.

Loren C. Woolley’s 1912 account of the events at the Centerville farm defined the parameters of the narrative and was quietly received. Joseph Musser, on the other hand, began in 1929 to weave the story into a larger religious narrative that seized the attention of those who still believed the doctrine to be the word of God and essential to their salvation. Ambiguity about the two manifestos still lingered in the air, and many who had practiced the Principle were confused about both their future and the meaning of their past. As the church moved away from the practice and the teaching, the question about the overriding issue of who had the priesthood keys to perform plural marriages was questioned, creating new divisions between family members, neighbors and friends. In some ways this story launched a new church, an offshoot of Mormonism itself that stubbornly continued in the practice of a plurality of wives.

Although it would not be true that all of the men who were purported to have been with John Taylor that night would associate with or lead the fundamentalist movement, Lorin C. Woolley would. His participation in this key event, validated his leadership and attracted followers who also believed the account. Ten years after his father, John C. Woolley had been excluded from church membership, the LDS Church excommunicated Lorin C. Woolley in 1924.¹³ Similar to Utah in the 1880s and the period known as the underground, the criminalization of the polygamous lifestyle and religious persecution from the LDS Church itself pushed the community beyond public view and members of the group became more suspicious of interactions with outsiders, more isolated and secretive in its distinctive lifestyle.

Entrance into Plurality

Mabel Finlayson Allred’s life spans the distance between the age of prohibition to that of Ipods and the internet, but more important for this volume, the history of the growth of Mormon Fundamentalism. The child of Reginald Patrick Finlayson and Ettie Josephine Hanson, Mabel Finlayson was raised in a monogamous Latter-day Saint family with her siblings: Birdie (Covington); Carol (Lloyd Sullivan); Melba; and, David Reginald. Born on January 1, 1919, she was what was called at the time a blue baby. Her birth was so precipitous that her mother had to put her in an oven for a few minutes to warm up. Of greater significance, the defining characteristic of the rest of her life, she was born a twin to Melba

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