My little brother got me this book for Christmas. I suspect that it was heavily discounted from the $1.50 price tag that graced its cover. Though I love free books, AND love my little brother for providing so many, it is often hit and miss with his gifts. It was with trepidation that I started this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. Annie Clark Tanner was the oldest daughter of the second wife in a polygamist marriage. For those unfamiliar with polygamy as practiced by early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, here is a good resource. For those uninterested, hopefully this review will give you enough information to understand Tanner’s life and challenges.
Tanner never meant for this autobiography to be published. It was written for her children and grandchildren as a record of her life and perhaps an explanation of certain choices that she made. Born in 1864, she lived during a fascinating time of change and technological development. Tanner writes fondly of her childhood and describes the conditions in each of the three families that her father sired. She speaks of the love between the children, but the respect and authority given to ‘the first wife’. She also talks about the disparity of conditions that sometimes existed, but her father’s fairness in providing all of his children the same opportunities financially and educationally. Tanner was a bright girl, and devoted to her religion. She enjoyed learning, and studying and attending Brigham Academy (which became Brigham Young University, my own alma mater!) under the direction of Karl G. Maeser. It was here that she met her own husband, Joseph Marion Tanner, and became his second wife in a polygamist marriage.
Tanner’s story is tragic. She bore ten children in difficult circumstances, and provided for them financially. She speaks of the heartbreak of seeing her children not given the same educational opportunities that she did, and she expected upon marrying a college professor. After being abandoned by her husband, she works as a cleaner, a nurse, and boards rail-road workers in her home in order to survive. Often she goes hungry so that the children can eat. This story is told bravely, sometimes through letters, sometimes in Tanner’s no nonsense narrative. She draws comparisons, based on her experience, about monogamous and polygamous marriages and family life. She also unapologetically takes responsibility for her own choices. In this age of playing the victim or martyr card, Tanner’s ownership of her story is truly refreshing. This would be a good read for those interested in Utah history, polygamy, or the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.