A Polygamist World Before Sister Wives

Never-before-seen 1944 photos of Utah's polygamous FLDS community show how much things have changed in the era of Sister Wives — and how much they haven't.

A Polygamist World Before Sister Wives

Most of these Life images are of two families: the Allreds and the Jessops; the patriarchs of the two clans were brothers. Allred's daughter, Dorothy Allred Solomon, contributes a fascinating series of reminiscences to Life. Oh, and her mother's twin sister? Also her sister-wife.


A Polygamist World Before Sister Wives

And for those who've read Escape: Yes, it is that Jessop family. On the subject of sister-wives (all of whom seem from these images to be consenting adults), Solomon says things were hardly as lurid as Big Love would suggest: "As with siblings, there's always some rivalry, some competition, maybe some jealousy ... But they were not pleased about that.... I know that they would go and pray for jealousy to depart rather than express it. They were very careful about how they treated each other...They didn't have catfights; they lived this way to develop their character and to fulfill a religious law that they believed in."

A Polygamist World Before Sister Wives

One thing that's interesting about these images is that the women are dressed in normal contemporary clothing, rather than the distinctive garb and hairdos the FLDS sport today. Of course, it's well known that things changed under the Jeffs — wives got a lot younger and rules got stricter.


A Polygamist World Before Sister Wives

To hear Solomon tell it, the group lifestyle was idyllic for a child. "We had about 20 acres around it, and there were streams and fields and a barn.... It was kind of a paradise for little kids." Yet her own decision to leave the lifestyle was made early: "Probably when I first found out that we were living polygamy, I decided that I was going to marry Jimmy, my favorite playmate. My mother said, 'You can't marry him, he's your brother.' I said, 'He's not your son, he's not my brother.' She said, 'He's your daddy's son.' That's when I realized that my dad was married to Leona. And I didn't like it. I didn't want to share him, didn't want my mother to share him. And so after that, when I played dress-up, there was just one bride, and it was me."

Rare: LIFE With Polygamists, 1944 [Life]
All images via John Florea/LIFE