In this regular Cornucopia column, Curt Bench, owner and operator of Benchmark Books (BenchmarkBooks.com), a specialty bookstore in Salt Lake City that focuses primarily on used and rare Mormon books, tells stories—both humorous and appalling—from his 35-plus years in the LDS book business.
Being a Mormon bookseller may not mean I get regular paychecks, paid vacations, or a company-sponsored retirement plan, but I do get the benefit of seeing some fascinating pieces of LDS history. Some of the most interesting of these involve the period of Mormon history when polygamy was practiced openly.
As you may recall, in 1852 the LDS Church publicly announced what many already knew: that the Church taught and practiced what it called the principle of “plural marriage,” or simply “the Principle.” This announcement generated a great deal of political and religious fallout, but not all was grim. “Far away, in the West” the Saints were at a relatively safe distance from their detractors and enemies (for a while, anyway) and were thus able to practice their religion and customs without outside interference. They carried on a fairly normal existence, with a robust social life—dances, balls, plays, picnics, parties, and socials. For the more formal affairs, the organizers would print and send out invitations, which often contained a unique feature: In addition to inviting a man and wife, they usually included wording such as: “Yourself and ladies are invited . . . ,” or “___________ and Ladies are invited to . . . ,” or “Tickets—$2.50 per Couple, Each Additional Lady, $1.00.”
One of the examples shown here was for a “Relief Society Party” in the Fifteenth Ward Hall in 1869. Admission was $1.50 per couple, “additional lady, 75 cents”—a bargain. The other example shows an invitation to a “Grand Calico Ball” addressed to “yourself and ladies” in 1894, four years after the Manifesto. To be fair, the “ladies” mentioned here could have included daughters or women other than the man’s plural wives, but speculating about what it meant is all part of the fun. I know of similar invitations issued outside of Utah to a gentleman and “ladies,” but most read “and lady.”
One invitation (not pictured here) for a Mormon Battalion Anniversary Ball held in 1867 cost $5.00 per couple, with each additional lady being $1.00. The committee consisted of such polygamous luminaries as Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, and Wilford Woodruff. The document advertises “refreshment saloons” that would be set up to furnish “tea, coffee, sandwiches, ice cream, pastry, &c, &c. to the guests.” Now there’s a Church party!