Idea: Make Statues of Polygamous Wives

This is a statue of Bishop David Evans. He’s a founding father of Lehi, Utah, where I’ve lived for 17 years.

Statues of slaveholders and colonizers are coming down left and right these days, and the controversy is intense. I’ve tried to imagine how it would feel to be a slave from the 1800s and see the person who owned me memorialized into a statue, or how it must feel to be the descendant of that slave and see those monuments every time I walk across my college campus or town square. I can only imagine their feelings, but the same thought experiment got me thinking about a statue in my own town – and one whose problems I can identify with more personally.

See, I’ve lived in Lehi, Utah for over 17 years. I built my house here while still a senior at BYU in 2003 and I’ve lived (and loved it) here ever since. 

One part of Lehi that I regularly use is the community recreation center, called the Lehi Legacy Center. My best estimate is that I’ve walked through those front doors about 3,200 times between aerobics classes, swimming pool trips, gymnastics classes and preschool lessons. It feels like my second home. 

In front of the Legacy Center is a statue of a Lehi Founding Father named David Evans. He was the first bishop and second mayor in Lehi, and I even learned recently that my last stake president was the model for the sculptor, as he is a direct descendant of Bishop Evans. 

One morning during the summer of 2018, my aerobics instructor took our class outside because the weather was beautiful that day. We circled around this statue for our group workout. (We even used his leg to wrap our exercise bands around when we were short partners, and made jokes about his “buns of steel”.) The morning was perfect, the workout was great, and many of us paused to read about this man we’d all been walking by for years, yet never stopped to learn about. 

He sounds like a cool enough guy. He was the bishop in Lehi for almost 30 years. He survived the Haun’s Mill Massacre, was part of the Mormon Battalion, the second mayor of Lehi, laid out the grid for the city, got water diverted from American Fork Canyon down to the people, lots of other historical stuff I’m glad he did for my city, and had seven wives and 41 children. One kid was even adopted. He has a very impressive life resume! I guess he earned a statue here. It’s fine. 

But as I left that day, all I could think about were his seven wives and 41 children. To have time to build that impressive resume, he couldn’t have been a very engaged husband or father. It would be hard with only one family, let alone seven of them!

I happen to be an army wife with 4 years of foreign deployments under my belt. I know what it’s like to be the one left at home with the kids while my husband is applauded as he walks through the airport in his uniform and the news interviews him as he returns in glory (and by all means, clap for him, he’s awesome). The very first night of his most recent deployment (right after he appeared on the news), two of my young children became violently ill within a few minutes of each other at the stroke of midnight. There wasn’t a clean towel or sheet in the house by 1 am. I’ve never had such sick kids before or since, and it was almost comical – what universal practical joker made this happen the very first night of another year long deployment, right? I couldn’t even be upset, because it was so absurdly funny.

This is one of the two kids who was happy and cheerful the morning my husband left, only to become disgustingly sick all over my bathroom later  that night.

I’ve thought about that night ever since. Yes, my husband and others like him go into harm’s way and sacrifice to preserve our way of life, but he literally could not dream of doing it without me at home, cleaning his kids’ projectile vomit off the walls. (And nobody applauds for the puke cleaner when she walks through the airport.)

I looked through old deployment airport photos and saw this one. My husband had just returned from a year in Iraq in 2011, and someone snapped this photo of me standing to the side in the pink sweater while the news reporter interviewed my husband holding our two kids. They didn’t even acknowledge I was there, despite the fact that I was the one who actually kept those two children alive the prior 12 months. The reporter was only interested in him.

Over the years I’ve read many histories of early polygamist wives in the church, and they are often excruciating. There are stories of young teenage girls becoming the plural wives of older church leaders, raising their kids essentially as young single mothers on the frontier, never having more than a formal, polite “he’s my priesthood leader and I respect his authority” relationship with their husbands, who spend one or two nights with them a month. When the husband with a future statue survives the Haun’s Mill attack, that means his wife(s) probably did, too. When he marches with the Mormon Battalion, that means she stayed home alone, with all of his children, running things in his absence – all in a place where there are no security systems, 911 operators, or emergency rooms. (Or cars. Or Netflix!) And although he will often have a wife in more than one city he visits or rotates between, she has to remain celibate and faithful and alone for 90 percent of the time. I read these women’s stories, and it feels SO UNFAIR. 

That morning two years ago, I spent an hour circling the statue of Bishop Evans with hand weights doing lunges and bicep curls. His statue has seven cement rectangles with the names of his seven wives radiating from the center where he stands, like the points of a star, with him as the center. Someone raised a halfhearted concern by saying, “It’s not disrespectful to him to do this, is it?”, while no one even noticed that we’d been stepping on the names of the women all hour.

Bishop Evans’ wives are printed in the cement around him.

All I could personally think about as I read his plaque and lunged around his buns of steel was, “How much puke did these women clean up so that he’d be free to make up the grid system for Lehi?” He gets credit at the base of his statue for raising dozens of children that I would be willing to bet he spent significantly less time caring for than the women who were NOT memorialized equally on the monument with him. 

Finally (on my list of frustrations), he was born in 1804. His seventh wife was born in 1843. That last marriage happened in 1861. This means that he was 57 years old with six wives when he married an 18 year old girl. I was 18 once. I was not attracted to 57 year old men at the time. I’m now 39, and they’re still too old for me. An 18 year old (presumably) virgin girl becoming the wife of a much older, very experienced man, in a position of political and ecclesiastical authority over her – it just feels gross. A typical 18 year old girl will have pretty intense desires for love, intimacy and romance, yet she has to funnel all of her passion and hormones and love into one night a month with a silver-haired grandpa who has been her bishop since she was born. 

And sure, things were very different then and I have no idea who was fine with what and maybe this teenage girl was happy with the arrangement. I certainly can’t speak for her, although I can imagine what all of Bishop Evans’ wives might have endured to help him create Lehi city. I do, however, feel confident saying that I want some new statues of the women who made it possible for the men to build our cities, because I’m pretty sure they were just as capable of plotting maps as their husbands. Instead, they were put in charge of the invisible, lonely, supportive work that allowed the men the freedom to do all the awesome stuff we like to read about in history books and on plaques in front of their larger than life bronze statues.

Until then, I’ll keep giving this statue the side eye each time I pass by it on my way into the gym, and think about all the women at home who made his remarkable achievements even possible in the first place. I’ll pretend there are statues for all seven of them in between him and the front doors and give them imaginary high fives, from one army wife to a bunch of polygamous wives. I like to think we get each other. 

My 11 year old daughter and I stopped for a selfie with the backside of David Evans yesterday (because the sun was in our eyes facing the other way). I had to promise to buy her a drink inside because she thought it was weird to pose for a photo with a random statue while people walked by.

The family of Bishop Evans, listed at the base of his statue.

A short bio of his life, on the other side.

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8 Responses

  1. PJ says:

    Love this! I am amazed at for how long I’ve overlooked these types of things, just accepting them for how they are. Thank you for pointing out that women behind the scenes are just as important to the story as the men. We are the backbone. Unfortunately this is an all too common way of thinking and it filters down to marriages and how women are treated today by their husbands, me being one of them. I’m glad women are able to speak out now and are gaining greater rights and are being recognized for their contributions to the family and society.

  2. Anna says:

    I have always thought that the polygamous wives were essentially single women raising babies. And thought it ironic about how the church goes on and on about the horrors of single women raising babies and practically forces unwed mothers to place the baby for adoption so the child will have two parents. Well, the polygamous women had a husband only for the purpose of getting pregnant not and other than that they raised the children with a father who took less interest in them than modern baby daddies do. I have a friend who grew up in the FLDS groups in Southern Utah and he still thinks polygamy is great because a child has multiple moms and he still really loves and respects his moms. But his dad, other than envy for the oldest two or three boys who actually had a relationship with their father, he has nothing but contempt for him.

    Oh, and from a fellow military wife, yes, it is guaranteed that the kids wait till dad leaves to get sick and the washing machine KNOWS when the man who can fix it leaves, and cars, well, they know the mechanic will charge the woman more than the man, so they wait till he gets on that airplane. And they all have to break down/get sick at the same time. And the home teachers feel funny about visiting with the man not home, so they never show up at the time when you could actually use home teachers to do the little jobs around the house that take upper arm strength. And while the ward brings over meals when the woman is gone, they just abandon you like you have something contagious while husbands are deployed. I didn’t know military deployment was contagious until he deployed. If you can’t laugh about it, you are not the kind of wife who survives a military hubby, and I saw a lot of that too.

  3. Em says:

    I want statues of Mom women being heroes. Staying calm while everyone is screaming at her (when I manage this I feel heroic). Women innovating — cookies in the tampon box for secrecy. Teaching a home church lesson while her children actively plug their ears or scream. Any fool can look noble on a plinth. I want statues of the real deal.

    Let’s relabel david Evans’ pedestal “absentee father’s worldly success fails to compensate for failure in the home.”

  4. Feather says:

    Well, I’m not one for statues of any kind, but I’ve long thought that if we have to have statues of people risking their lives or going to war, then maybe we should put up a few statues of women who have died in childbirth bringing LIFE INTO the world. Good article. Thank you for thinking about this!

  5. Feather says:

    I’m also a military wife who knows EXACTLY what you are talking about.

  6. EmilyCC says:

    this is such a great comparison. Thank you for sharing your life and looking back at our forgotten matriarchs.

  7. Hedwig says:

    Yes. Yes. Yes.

  8. Diana Priest Chipello says:

    So interesting to read this article and the comments. On my way from Los Angeles to Yellowstone in Aug 2019 I stopped to see this statue of David Evans. He was my great great grandfather and great grandfather to my Mother Betty Evans Priest. What an amazing family history for me to see!

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