Polygamists in Wisconsin

Posted November 16th, 2011 at 4:43 pm (UTC-4)

I drove up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to meet a polygamous family: Rich and his three wives, Julie, Brandy, and Angela, and five kids plus a dog. By U.S. standards, that’s quite a big household and it definitely felt that way. Kids were running all over, showing off in front of our cameras. The yard was full of a million different toys and the pantry was crammed with so much canned food, you might think Armageddon was coming.

In this family, three -- or more -- is not a crowd.

You can see Rich and two of his wives in the photo; the third, Angela, was at work when I was there.

I was interested to know what it’s like to be a woman in a polygamous relationship. I spent a long time talking to Julie, about her experience. She writes a blog. It’s worth a look.

Polygamy is relatively rare in the U.S. and mainly associated with the Mormon population, even though their church has officially banned the practice. But Julie is a bit of a different story. She didn’t come to polygamy from a religious perspective (her parents, who are more traditional Christians, have cut her out of the family since she became a polygamist), but she says, because she was lonely. She was married before and ended up spending a lot of time on her own, dealing with all the housework.

For her, polygamy was the answer.

But she was also pretty honest about the downside. Life can be chaotic and sharing a husband can be tough. “Cat fights” amongst the women are common, mainly about who Rich spends his time with — but, surprisingly, not who he shares his bed with. Each of the wives has her own room and Rich does a rotation, so usually each wife gets the evening and bedtime with him every third night.

Rich told me that it’s his right to be a polygamist. There’s an attitude now among some polygamists that because gay marriage has become legal in some U.S. states, polygamists should be the next group to earn that right.

I’ve been checking out some online blogs written by women in polygamous marriages. Escape from loneliness seems to be a recurring story. I sent a few emails back and forth with a girl who blogs as Megan. She went through a really rough time as a kid and when she was 17 just wanted to settle down and have babies. She said no males her age in her area were ready or stable enough to have a family, so she opted instead for polygamy.

This is what she says about her decision: So I married Steve and my family and I accepted the sex and the patriarchy as part of what I chose to do all on my own. Because even with the things that are hard, this is still almost a dream compared to what I left behind.

2 responses to “Polygamists in Wisconsin”

  1. Miguelito F. Abrigo says:

    Freedom of choice, The way they like to live their lives, We must respect this and give them the right to privacy.

  2. Ho says:

    Hello. At the end of the day, it is really up to the individual whether she can accept that kind of marriage and lifestyle. Especially if her religion teaches that. For many people, religion is part of their life. They believe in all that their religion teach. But for some women of the same religion, they cannot imagine having to live with another woman. They cannot accept that teaching found in their religion. It does not feel right to force her to accept that teaching and to accept the other woman. For people thinking about going into this sort of relationship, they have to think hard because there will be fights; may be not outright but the fight for the attention of their husband.

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Ted Landphair


This is a far-ranging exploration of American life by a veteran Voice of America “Americana” reporter and essayist.

Ted writes about the thousands of places he has visited and written about as a broadcaster and book author. Ted Landphair’s America often showcases the work of his wife and traveling companion, renowned American photographer Carol M. Highsmith.

Ted welcomes feedback, questions, and ideas. View Ted’s profile. Watch a video about Ted and Carol by VOA’s Nico Colombant.

Photos by Carol M. Highsmith


November 2011
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