Clements Center Evening Lecture Series

Sarah Pearsall, Senior Fellow for the Study of Southwestern America

Defence of Polygamy by a Lady

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 |  Texana  Room, Fondren Library, 6404 Robert S. Hyer Lane, SMU   |  5:30 reception followed by 6 pm lecture  



To register, click here, call 214-768-3684 or email 

Why did women ever choose polygamy?  How did a woman, Belinda Pratt, who by all accounts seemed a conventional wife of the early nineteenth century, become a plural wife to another man in a domestic arrangement that would shock Americans?  How in fact did she become such an ardent defender of this system that she would become the first American woman to defend polygamy in print?  A “Defence of Polygamy by a Lady,” published by Belinda Pratt in 1854, shows how women’s voices were unleashed in novel ways with awesome power.  Plural wives such as Belinda Pratt have too often been treated as dupes or at best patient martyrs to the oppressive system of polygamy.  So much more can be said, about the long history of women and polygamy in North America.  Professor Sarah Pearsall will use Pratt’s discomfiting writings on polygamy to start to answer two questions.  First, why were some women willing to adopt polygamy as preached by Joseph Smith and his followers, when it seemed so outrageous? Second, why did other Americans worry about this form of marriage so much?  

This year’s Bill and Rita Clements Senior Fellow for the Study of Southwestern America is Sarah M. S. Pearsall, an early American historian.  For the last five years, she has taught in the History Faculty at Cambridge University, where she is University Senior Lecturer in Early American and Atlantic History and a Fellow at Robinson College.  At the Clements Center, she will be completing the larger book project, “The Violence of our Passions”: Polygamy and Power in Early America, which is forthcoming with Yale University Press in 2019. 

Image: "The Elders' happy Home" Political cartoon. New York: Illus. in: Chic. New York. April 18, 1881. From The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog Collection

Maps and directions to SMU.


Use the Moody Parking Center at the southeast corner of SMU Boulevard and Airline Road. The garage is located at 3063 SMU Blvd., less than half a mile from U.S. Highway 75 (North Central Expressway). All-day parking is $5, payable by credit card.

Visitors may also use the Binkley Parking Center at the corner of Binkley Avenue and Airline Road. The visitor entrance is on Binkley Avenue, and visitors may park anywhere on Level 2 or above. Payment by credit card is made before exiting the garage; the rate is $1 per hour.

Metered parking is available as indicated on the campus map. Meters allow for a maximum of three hours at 25 cents per 15 minutes.