Church History
Helen Mar Kimball Whitney
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“Helen Mar Kimball Whitney,” Church History Topics

“Helen Mar Kimball Whitney”

Helen Mar Kimball Whitney

Born in 1828 to Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, Helen Mar Kimball witnessed many of the early scenes of the Restoration. When she was three, her parents were baptized alongside close friends in Brigham Young’s family. The two families were “like one,” Helen later recalled. “Uncle Brigham,” in fact, baptized Helen after their two families moved together to Kirtland, Ohio, to gather with the Saints. She enjoyed spending Sunday afternoons in Bible classes in Kirtland’s groves.1

Helen’s father, Heber, was ordained an Apostle in 1835 and often left on missions. During his absence, Helen helped to maintain the household, a routine that continued after the family moved to Far West, Missouri, when Helen was nine. Mob violence drove the Kimballs from the state, and they fled to Illinois and helped settle Nauvoo.2

Joseph Smith, a close friend of the Kimballs, privately taught Heber and Vilate in 1841 about plural marriage, which he was commanded by revelation to introduce.3 In May or June of 1843, Heber introduced Helen to the idea of plural marriage and encouraged her to be sealed to Joseph Smith as a plural wife. She agreed to the sealing and later characterized it as being “for eternity alone,” suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations.4 Helen considered the marriage a sacrifice that could eternally link the Kimball and Smith families in heavenly society.5 After Joseph’s death in 1844, Helen courted and married Horace Kimball Whitney, a brother of her close friend Sarah Ann Whitney and son of Newel K. and Elizabeth Ann Whitney. Helen and Horace were married for time in the Nauvoo Temple on February 3, 1846.6

During the Latter-day Saints’ migration to the Salt Lake Valley, Helen bore two sons. The first was stillborn, and the second died days after birth. Her third child died the same day he was born in the Salt Lake Valley. Helen’s other eight children survived past birth, although her oldest daughter died of tuberculosis at 16, her youngest daughter died of scarlet fever at 4, and a son died at 21. With Helen’s consent, Horace married two plural wives, Lucy Amelia Bloxham and Mary Cravath. Lucy died less than a year after her marriage. Mary lived next door to Helen, and the two helped care for each other’s children.7

Helen participated in the Church and her community in Utah, particularly in charity work and celebrations of the Relief Society.8 At Emmeline B. Wells’s encouragement, Helen wrote reminiscences of the Church’s earliest days that were published in the Woman’s Exponent magazine. She became a prolific writer and diarist.9 When Joseph Smith III publicly declared that his father had not entered or taught plural marriage in Nauvoo, Helen published two pamphlets defending the practice: Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith and Why We Practice Plural Marriage.10

Helen died in 1896 and was mourned by family members and close friends. “I truly rejoice,” she had written, “that I have had the privilege of being numbered with those who have come up through much tribulation and gained a knowledge for myself that this is the work of God.”11

Related Topics: Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage, Relief Society, Plural Marriage in Utah

Notes

  1. Helen Mar Whitney, “Life Incidents,” Woman’s Exponent, vol. 9 (Aug. 1, 1880), 38; (Apr. 15, 1881), 170; (Aug. 15, 1880), 42; vol. 10 (Jun. 15, 1881), 9; Helen Mar Whitney, “Early Reminiscences,” Woman’s Exponent, vol. 9 (Jun. 1, 1880), 5.

  2. Whitney, “Life Incidents”; Whitney, “Early Reminiscences.”

  3. Lyndon W. Cook, Nauvoo Marriages Proxy Sealings, 1843–1846 (Provo, Utah: Grandin Book, 2004), 33, note 3; Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 93; “Joseph Smith Documents from February through November 1841,” in Brent M. Rogers, Mason K. Allred, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, and Brett D. Dowdle, eds., Documents, Volume 8: February–November 1841. Vol. 8 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Ronald K. Esplin, Matthew J. Grow, Matthew C. Godfrey, and R. Eric Smith (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2019), xxxii–xxxiii.

  4. Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” Gospel Topics Essays, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

  5. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, 1997), 481–487; Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Autobiography [2] in Heber C. Kimball Family History (Heber C. Kimball Family Association, 1992), 5; J. Spencer Fluhman, “‘A Subject That Can Bear Investigation’: Anguish, Faith, and Joseph Smith’s Youngest Plural Wife,” Mormon Historical Studies, vol. 11, no. 1 (Spring 2010), 41–51. See also Topic: Sealing.

  6. Holzapfel and Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View, xvi–xviii.

  7. Holzapfel and Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View, xxiv–xxv; “Lucy Amelia Bloxham,” Pioneer Database, history.ChurchofJesusChrist.org. See also Topic: Pioneer Women and Medicine.

  8. Report of Relief Society Jubilee, March 17, 1892,” in Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016), 589–617.

  9. Holzapfel and Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View, ix–xii; Charles M. Hatch and Todd M. Compton, A Widow’s Tale: 1884–1896 Diary of Helen Mar Kimball Whitney (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2003). See also Topics: Emmeline B. Wells, Church Periodicals.

  10. Holzapfel and Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View, xxv–xliii. See also Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith, Editor of the Lamoni (Iowa) “Herald” (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882); Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1884).

  11. Whitney, “Early Reminiscences,” 188.