Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Carolyn Renee Dupont


Between 1874 and 1917, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints transitioned from a group operating on the fringes of American society to an adeptly functioning American bureaucratic institution. LDS leaders managed the change through wielding their doctrine to help them achieve “temporal salvation.” This study maps how LDS leaders shifted the meanings of two of their doctrines—plural marriage and the Word of Wisdom—from 1874 to 1917 to achieve their larger goals. Plural marriage originally served to unite the members of their faith—the Saints—against non-members, or the Gentiles. Most Americans wholly rejected polygamy, so LDS members used plural marriage as a rallying banner to withstand federal pressure to abandon the practice. Once LDS leaders realized that preaching plural marriage rendered their church unable to survive in United States territory, LDS leadership shifted the meaning of plural marriage to avoid disincorporation and their members’ disenfranchisement. While covertly sanctioning plural marriage themselves, LDS leaders ritualized polygamy’s history to minimize the marker that separated the Saints from Protestant America. LDS leaders believed it was the Lord’s will to use duplicitous and misleading strategies, so they did not think their actions threatened their infallibility. As part of their strategy to achieve temporal salvation, they joined the American Prohibition movement. They shifted their temperance-inspired Word of Wisdom doctrine from an optional tenet to a required commandment to develop more commonalities between their church and Protestant America. The LDS Church prioritized the survival of their institution over any other directive, explaining how the doctrines shifted in importance and meaning rapidly between 1874 and 1917.