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Mormon Family Profiled in New York Press, 1884

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 03, 2011

On 29 February 1884, an article in the New York Daily Graphic profiled the family of Hiram Bradley Clawson (1826-1912). Clawson and his mother were converted to the Church in 1838, moving to Nauvoo in 1841 and to the Salt Lake Valley in 1848. He became a merchant, an actor, manager of the Salt Lake Theater, business manager to Brigham Young, and long-time bishop. He married four times: to Alice and Emily Young (daughters of Brigham Young), to Ellen Curtis Spencer (daughter of early Church leader Orson Spencer), and to Margaret Judd (whose son Rudger Clawson became an apostle). Altogether, there were a reported 42 children in the family (although I have only 33 in my records).

The Graphic article, as its name implies, included some family pictures; unfortunately, my copies are too poor to reproduce.

Typical Mormon Family

The portraits of a Mormon family presented in this number of the Graphic are those of one of the best known and most remarkable polygamous householders in Utah, and perhaps in the world. H.B. Clawson, the husband and father of this family, is of Scandinavian descent, and was one of the early settlers of Utah. he has always been engaged in mercantile pursuits, having been at various times the superintendent of the Mormon co-operative stores, and engaged, as at present, in business for himself. He was always a trusted friend and agent of Brigham Young in matters of business, and has ever been esteemed for his upright character by all classes of the community of Salt Lake, both Mormon and Gentile.

Mr. Clawson was one of the early converts to the polygamy or “plural marriage” platform of the Mormon Church, and a few years after his marriage to his first wife, who was the daughter of one of the most able and learned of the Mormon advocates and apologists, he took as a second wife a devout young Mormon woman by the name of Judd. Some years afterwards he took as a third wife Alice Young, a daughter of the Mormon President by one of his earlier marriages, and after the lapse of a few more years took as a fourth and last wife Emily Young, another daughter of Brigham Young.

The two first have always lived in the same house. Mr. Clawson’s principal residence is in the Twelfth ward of Salt Lake city, and the other two had separate homes. The third wife died a short time ago, but the other three live in perfect harmony, and showing no signs of being discontented with their lot. Of the thirty or more children living there is not one who is in any respect a “black sheep.” The boys who have grown up are independent, enterprising men, good husbands and fathers, good citizens and devout Mormons. The girls who have become women have all married young men who are not, and who probably never will be, polygamists, and are noted for their exemplary lives and their intelligent devotion to their husbands and children. I believe they are strongly in favor of having the love of their husbands undivided, and that their happy lives would be much marred should the shadow of a rival cross their thresholds.

When we contemplate the difficulty of rearing a single family and settling them in suitable life avocations, we can but feel a certain curiosity to know how this Mormon martyr has managed to raise four families, clothe, feed, educate and give them a start in life. Mr. Clawson has not only done this, but he has also been a father and friend to many orphans and other unfortunates to whom he owed nothing, several of whom he has raised and cared for as if they had been his own. His policy was the same as that adopted by Brigham Young and followed by all of the more conscientious Mormons, who went into polygamy in the early days as a religious duty. Each child was early given to understand that it had a duty to perform, and while Mr. Clawson was well-to-do and kept several servants, the boys had cows to feed and milk, horses to attend and other useful employments which they were required to execute promptly and thoroughly. The girls had regular training in all the mysteries of the household, and were expected to do their work methodically and well. As the boys grew up the natural bent of their characters and talents was closely observed, and they were allowed to choose the pursuits for which they were best fitted. Most of them thus far have chosen the profession of their father and become merchants; one has become a first-class dentist of Salt Lake; and one has become an artist and gained the second prize at the New York Academy of Design last year.

What heart burnings and mental tortures these four women may have suffered in their peculiar situation, of course none but the gods and themselves can tell. but certain it is that they always seem to be as happy as other people, sacrificing their natural feelings, perhaps, to their religious faith, which they deem of primary importance. The children were kind and affectionate to one another and shared in all the sports that were provided for them in winter and in summer with scarcely a dispute; they never seemed to realize that they were not own brothers and sisters in all their childish sports and enterprises, and now as grown men and women they are united in an enduring and active fraternal affection.

Considered from a physical, moral and intellectual standpoint, perhaps the family of Mr. Clawson is above the average of Mormon polygamous families, and perhaps also that a greater degree of peace and concord has been enjoyed by this than by many such households that might be named. Suppose that polygamy and the multitudinous families resulting from it were a national institution, Mr. Clawson’s success might be taken as a model for other patriarchal aspirants to copy after. His character is devout to begin with, and from the moment he decided to enter into this extraordinary marital existence he has determined to do his duty to all who shared it with him.

Of course, to the characters of the men who have entered into polygamy may be traced the secret of their happiness or woe, even if their act is viewed as a religious sacrifice. A coarse, brutal man would, no doubt, cause both wives and children to despise him, and could only reap the harvest of sorrow he had sown for them. Some of this class there are, the tale of whose miseries would be tragic enough; but, by cause of the restrictions which the Mormon church put upon the practice, allowing only approved brethren this privilege, far the greater part of the polygamous families resemble the type here presented.



8 Comments »

  1. but certain it is that they always seem to be as happy as other people, sacrificing their natural feelings, perhaps, to their religious faith, which they deem of primary importance.

    Well, yes.

    Interesting that the word “natural” was used in this context: the feelings of the natural woman/man.

    Comment by Ellen — March 3, 2011 @ 8:26 am

  2. Fascinating.

    The son Rudger Clawson, who you noted would later become an apostle, was the missionary companion of Joseph Standing and was there when he was killed. Rudger himself was in the news too, having testified at the trial of the Standing’s killers. I wonder if this is what brought the Clawson family to the attention of the New York Paper.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — March 3, 2011 @ 8:48 am

  3. I love the “the mysteries of the household”!

    Comment by Carol — March 3, 2011 @ 9:02 am

  4. Wasn’t there some study recently on number of kids per husband or something?

    Comment by roger — March 3, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

  5. An extraordinary account! A positive view of a polygamous family. Published in New York City, in 1884!

    Comment by Mark B. — March 3, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

  6. Yeah, the timing (during the anti-polygamy Raid in Utah) and the place combine to make it most unexpected.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 3, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

  7. Nice article, thanks for pointing it out.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — March 3, 2011 @ 3:10 pm

  8. roger, if that study is accurate, plural marriage may have resulted in more children for a polygamous husband than one married monogamously (no surprise), but also in fewer children being born to each wife than if those wives had been married monogamously (e.g., presumably H.B. Clawson had more children by his four wives than he would have had if he had been married to only one of them — duh! — but Alice and Emily and Ellen and Margaret might each have had more children had they been married to four different — and monogamous — husbands than as sister wives all married to Clawson).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 3, 2011 @ 3:16 pm

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