02-03 Joseph F Smith

President Joseph F. Smith

The 1904 “official statement” represents a watershed with respect to plural marriages authorized by the President of the Church, then Joseph F. Smith. Nevertheless, it did not stop new plural marriages from being performed by both Church members and dissenters. To bypass President Joseph F. Smith’s refusals to authorize new plural marriages, after 1904, individuals adopted other strategies to ostensibly access valid sealing authority.

While most participants recognized during the years immediately after 1904 that without sealing authority from the “one” man mentioned in D&C 132:7, who was the President of the Church, their plural marriages were “not valid, neither of force” in the next life (D&C 132:18), their claims later expanded to include more novel descriptions of how the sealing keys came into their possession.

Unauthorized Apostles, Patriarchs, and Temple Sealers

Alleged sources of priesthood authorizations implemented in the years after 1904 included apostles John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley who, on their own account, permitted several new plural marriages. As a consequence, they were dropped from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1906 and experienced further discipline in 1911. In addition, several unauthorized temple sealers feigned authority for new plural sealings.

One interesting source of sealing authority adopted after 1904 was found in the calling of stake patriarchs. The Doctrine and Covenants specifies that the Church patriarch “shall hold the keys of the patriarchal blessings upon the heads of all my people, That whoever he blesses shall be blessed, and whoever he curses shall be cursed; that whatsoever he shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever he shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven . . . [the Church Patriarch holds] the sealing blessings of my church, even the Holy Spirit of promise, whereby ye are sealed up unto the day of redemption” (D&C 124: 92–93, 124; italics added). If these three verses were all the instructions available to Latter-day Saints on the subject of sealing authority or the duties of patriarchs, they might possibly assume that a patriarch did indeed have the ability to seal a marriage. However, Church leaders have explained that patriarchs hold “sealing authority” to seal patriarchal blessings upon the heads of Church members.

The problem with patriarchs assuming sealing authority caused President Heber J. Grant to announce in 1921: “We have excommunicated several patriarchs because they arrogated unto themselves, the right, or pretended right, to perform these ceremonies, and after our having excommunicated several patriarchs, another one, so I am informed, has committed the same offense. I announce to all Israel that no living man has the right to perform plural marriages. I announce that no patriarch has the right to perform any marriages at all in the Church.”[1]

Importantly, historical records from the 1904 to 1920s period demonstrate conclusively that the scattered plural marriages occurring after the second manifesto were freelanced by the individuals involved. No evidence has been located to support the existence of a formal organization dedicated to the perpetuation of plural marriage during that time. Most significantly, no individuals asserted themselves as leaders, presiding over the sealing activities or claiming special authority in or out of the Church.


President Heber J. Grant

President Joseph F. Smith died on November 19, 1918. Just prior to his passing, he encouraged his successor, Heber J. Grant, saying: “Always remember this is the Lord’s work, and not man’s. The Lord is greater than any man. He knows who He wants to lead His Church, and never makes any mistakes.”[2] Heber J. Grant would be left with the responsibility of confronting the “fundamentalist” groups that would form during the next two decades.

Polygamous dissenters from the LDS Church underwent a huge transformation in the 1920s. They then began congregating to share their feelings and testimonies, united by a conviction that plural marriage needed to be continued. No identifiable leaders would emerge for another decade, but several individuals became prominent within the informal gatherings, either because of their testimonies, stories, publications, or financial successes, or because of their claims to priesthood authority. Foremost among them was Lorin C. Woolley.

Lorin C. Woolley, a Kind, Gentle Storyteller

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on October 23, 1856, to John Wickersham Woolley and Julia Searles Ensign, Lorin C. woolley was baptized by his father at age thirteen. Church records show that he was ordained an elder on March 10, 1873, by John Lyon.[3] On January 5, 1883, Lorin married Sarah Ann Roberts in the Endowment House on Temple Square and together they had nine children.

04-01 Lorin C Woolley

Lorin C. Woolley

Lorin C. Woolley was a kind, gentle storyteller. Beginning in 1921, he related many remarkable tales, most of which placed him squarely in the limelight. For example, he taught that he was a “thirty-third degree Mason of the Scottish Rites Lodge, Washington, D.C. [and] only one of eight thirty-third degree Masons in all of New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and St. Louis.”[4]

Lorin appears to have had a fancy for governmental leaders. He asserted that he personally converted Teddy Roosevelt to the gospel[5] and that the U.S. President was also a polygamist saying: “Theodore Roosevelt joined Church, received endowments shortly after ascending to Presidency after death of McKinley.”[6] Woolley also claimed: “Hoover apparently leans to Catholicism, while Theodore Roosevelt… entered the Patriarchal Order of Marriage (i.e. polygamy).”[7] “He received his endowments under the hands of [John W.] Woolley and Joseph F. Smith in the Black Hills of Wyoming.”[8]

Lorin also taught that President Coolidge: “held the Priesthood.”[9] Regarding a later president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Woolley explained: “He believes in religious liberty and those who live the Patriarchal Order of Marriage as a religious rite he claims cannot be interfered with under the constitution. He has been consulted and promised to do the right thing if elected.”[10] One listener recalled:

Lorin C. Woolley was asked in October of 1932, “Whom would you advise us to vote for?” He replied that he should not tell people how to vote, that he had promised F.D. Roosevelt personally that he would give him his vote, but,” said Bro. Woolley, “I had my reasons for promising that, but I’m not advising you to vote for him. I’ll tell you this much, if he is elected he will bring things to a head quicker.” We plainly understood this statement presaged evil, and yet we knew it had to come to fulfill prophecy. (Italics added.)[11]        

Another witness remembered: “Lorin told me never to say anything against [Mahatma Gandhi]. He turned to me and said…‘I tell you, Mahatma Gandhi is a prophet of God. Don’t you ever say anything against him. I am personally acquainted with him. The world does not know he is a prophet of God.’”[12]

Woolley taught in 1922 that he “had been a government official and as such had learned many things about the brethren who are now so pronounced against the principle of plural marriage.”[13] Specifically, Lorin taught that he had learned of post-manifesto plural marriages of Church leaders through his activities as an agent of the Secret Service of the United States of America, having been commissioned in 1890 to spy upon them and monitor their activities.

One follower recalled: “Porter Rockwell, who was also working on the underground for the Kingdom of God, died June 9, 1878. Lorin C. Woolley then took his place.”[14] And: “Lorin was selected when a young man to join the Secret Service of the United States, and became before his death, one of the greatest mortal detectives in modern times. He told me while working for him and living with him of many dangerous exploits he had.”[15] Another supporter remembered that “Lorin Woolley explained that he was brought into the Secret Service by President Theodore Roosevelt and worked up to the position of Major.”[16]

A review of Lorin’s life fails to reveal any occasion when he might have participated in Masonry as he reported, and the Secret Service denied that he was ever an agent or employee. His claims that U.S. Presidents were Church members or polygamists are contradicted by plain historical facts. Lorin Woolley’s reported interactions with U.S. Presidents greatly contrast Joseph Smith’s own encounter with President Martin Van Buren in November 1839. Van Buren treated Joseph “very insolently” telling him, “your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.”[17]

Lorin C. Woolley also professed many interactions with resurrected beings. He told of a vision he had received when on his mission to the Indian Territory at the age of about thirty. He had then become seriously ill and was visited by Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, and John Taylor. Ultimately, John Taylor blessed Lorin, and he was healed. Lorin claimed to have met the Savior many times, as well as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Heber C. Kimball, all as resurrected beings.

One listener recalled Lorin’s teachings regarding Moroni, son of Mormon: “He told me he had seen him. He said he is a little larger man than either Joseph Smith or the Savior. He said, he had almost a straight nose and blue eyes. He was a little broader shouldered. All three men, Joseph, the Savior and Moroni—all were blue eyed men. Lorin said, ‘The Savior’s hair was a deep auburn. Joseph’s hair was a dark auburn.’”[18] On another occasion “Lorin C. Woolley said to some friends that the remark about Jesus never laughing was not true, ‘For, I have seen him laugh.’”[19]

Most of the men and women who listened to Lorin Woolley teach in the 1920s and 1930s remember him sharing stories about his visits to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. Reportedly, one such visit occurred the night of April 7, 1932. Joseph Musser, a follower of Woolley, recorded the following account the morning after the alleged visit occurred:

During last night, [Lorin Woolley] at home of J. Leslie Broadbent, claims to have been visited and conversed one-half or three-quarters of an hour with one of the three Nephite Apostles and was by him conducted to a temple in Yucatan, South America, [sic], that was built shortly after the days of the Savior in mortality. Its about the size and architectural design as the Salt Lake Temple. No ordinance work is being done in it, but apparently three Lamanite chiefs have charge of it. It is miraculously kept clean. Its location is not known by the nations generally. One of the chiefs spoke of having seven wives and one five. . . . While there [Lorin] was introduced to a congregation of about 300 people—who were awaiting instructions on the gospel. . . . [Lorin] was previously taken there and introduced to the leaders by the Prophet Joseph Smith under the direction of our Lord. These people at Yucatan are white, having Nephite blood predominating in them. They are intelligent and fine people.[20]

As with Lorin’s other claims, no substantiating evidence has been located. Extensive geographic mapping and exploration of the Yucatan peninsula has been undertaken. Nevertheless, no temple or Indian people remotely matching Lorin’s narrative have been found. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint dedicated the Mérida Mexico Temple on July 8, 2000.

Lorin also made a number of prophesies and many fantastic declarations on a variety of subjects. As can be imagined, His teachings greatly impressed his audiences in the 1920s. Unfortunately for believers today, none of Lorin’s prophecies came true and his other assertions remain unconfirmed and generally contradicted by all available research.

Over the past few decades, Mormon fundamentalist leaders have been reticent to publish Lorin’s instructions as recorded by Joseph Musser and others. Censored versions have been made available, but full transcripts of known documents have been shared with very few.

Of all of Lorin Woolley’s recollections and claims, none was more significant than the one that asserted priesthood authority to perform eternal polygamous sealings.

For a detailed review of many of Lorin’s teachings, see Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations After the Manifesto (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2006).

[1] Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, April 1921, 220; James R. Clark, ed., Messages of the First Presidency, 6 vols. (Salt Lake city: Bookcraft, 1965-71), 5:196.

[2] Quoted in D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 816.

[3] Church Membership records of the South Davis Stake.

[4] Joseph White Musser, “Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser,” July 30, 1931, 7. Photocopy in author’s possession. Abbreviations for cities expanded from initials.

[5] Charles W. Kingston, interviewed by Rhea Allred Kunz Baird, October 1971, in Mark J. and Rhea A. Baird , Reminiscences of John W. and Lorin C. Woolley, 1st ed., 5 vols. (Payson, Utah: Latter Day Publications, 2007), 3:9; also found in 3:109 of the second edition.

[6] Musser, “Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser,” November 8, 1932, 45. Abbreviations expanded.

[7] Joseph W. Musser, Items from a Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser (N.p.: published privately, n.d.), 15.

[8] Moroni Jessop, Testimony of Moroni Jessop (N.p.: published privately, n.d.), 12; photocopy in author’s possession.

[9] Musser, “Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser,” 53, January 5, 1933; Items from a Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser, 22; Baird and Baird, Reminiscences of John W. and Lorin C. Woolley, 2d ed., 3:109.

[10] Musser, “Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser,” 37, September 2, 1932; Items from a Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser, 23.

[11] Baird and Baird, Reminiscences of John W. and Lorin C. Woolley, 1st ed., 5:27 note 1.

[12] Jessop, Testimony of Moroni Jessop, 22.

[13] Joseph Musser, Journal, April 9, 1922; photocopy in author’s possession.

[14] Jessop, Testimony of Moroni Jessop, 9.

[15] Ibid., 6.

[16] Fred Cleveland, interview, in Lynn L. Bishop, The 1886 Visitations of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith to John Taylor: the Centerville Meetings (Salt Lake City: Latter Day Publications, 1998), 172.

[17] Joseph Smith Jr. History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2d ed., rev., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971), 4:80.

[18] Jessop, Testimony of Moroni Jessop, 41.

[19] Baird, Reminiscences of John W. and Lorin C. Woolley., 5:34.

[20] Musser, “Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser,” April 8, 1932, 21–22,