Man Has 5 Wives, 46 Children, 239 Grandchildren

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A look at how women cope in polygamous societies.

While The Chuch of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints officially banned polygamy in 1890 and excommunicated members in 1935 who refused to abide, the legislation certainly hasn't prevented certain pockets from happily (and somewhat secretly) taking part.

National Geographic tracked down a thriving polygamist family—the Jessops—who reside in Hilldale, Utah for its most recent issue. Granted, this isn't our first brush with the Fundamental Church of Latter Day Saints. We all gaped in horror in April of 2008 when officials raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch, and we gawk in bemusement at HBO's "Big Love", but somehow pictures of women in prairee dresses accompanied by quotes from a proud husband gushing about his wives refuse to lose its shock value. 

The article centers around 88-year-old patriarch Joe Jessop who has five wives, 46 children and 239 grandchildren. He proudly declares his love for polygamy and says he's building a "Kingdom of God." The Jessop's recieved a considerable amount of media attention back in 2003 when Joe's long-suffering fourth wife Carolyn fled the community and scored a book deal, churning out the best-seller Escape. Also, last November Raymond Jessop was convicted of sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl. The church has a tradition called "sealing" where teenagers are bound to grown men. Unfortunately for Raymond, it's illegal in Utah for 16-year-old girls to have consensual sex with adults. About 6,000 members live on the Short Creek commune and they all work together to be as self-sufficient as possible. Joe is a "self-taught engineer" who finagled a way to get piped water from the Maxwell Canyon, while everyone pitches in to harvest fruits, vegetables and run a series of businesses in the area.

But perhaps the most awe-inducing aspect of this lifestyle? All the women in this particular clan get along. Forget the fact they share the same man; the catty jealousy many gals feel in our culture seems to be all but absent. Call it sophisticated socialization. In fact, one woman describes those territorial twitches as just "another test that God places before you—the sin of jealousy, of pride—and that to be a godly woman, I needed to overcome it." Jealousy in Relationships

"I know it must seem strange to outsiders," says Joyce Broadbent, a friendly woman of 44, "but from my experience, sister wives usually get along very well. Oh sure, you might be closer to one than another, or someone might get on your nerves occasionally, but that's true in any family. I've never felt any rivalry or jealousy at all."

And if you're ready for more:

Joyce is a rather remarkable example of this harmony. She not only accepted another wife, Marcia, into the family, but was thrilled by the addition. Marcia, who left an unhappy marriage in the 1980s, is also Joyce's biological sister. "I knew my husband was a good man," Joyce explains with a smile as she sits with Marcia and their husband, Heber. "I wanted my sister to have a chance at the same kind of happiness I had."

Another interesting item of note: "happiness" in this society is striving to be the best babymaker. The community yearns to create the largest "celestial family" and women have a dozen children or more.

Click here to visit National Geographic and see pictures of the clan.

Photo: ESwift via Flickr

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