Irene Spencer grew up in a fundamentalist, polygamous Mormon village in Arizona. The thirteenth of thirty-one children, she grew up in abject poverty and isolation, and was taught that she should never question the church leaders. Her mother, unable to cope, left her children and three 'sister-wives' with her abusive husband.
Desperate to escape her violent home, and believing she had no choice but to live by 'the Principle', at sixteen Irene found herself in a plural marriage, sharing her husband with her half sister. When the government raided her village, she fled with Verlan, numerous other wives and countless children to a ranch in Mexico where Verlan's brother, a self-proclaimed prophet, was attempting to found a new Mormon colony.
The strains of husband-sharing with - ultimately - nine other wives were unbelievably hard. Irene's story provides a fascinating insight into polygamous marriage - the squabbles and the jealousy, and the agony of watching your husband choose other wives over you. They lived with divided loyalties in unremitting deprivation - struggling to maintain so many households and to bring up 56 children.
Irene eventually escaped with her children and made the bold step into the outside world and into a freedom she never knew existed.
Irene has led a truly extraordinary life and her harrowing story will appall and astonish, but in the end her courage and determination to find a better life for her 13 children is incredibly inspiring.
Raised in a polygamous home, Spencer was barely 16 when she married her sister's husband, a young Mormon who went on to marry eight more women. Since the Church of Latter-Day Saints renounced polygamy in 1904, these fundamentalist Mormons had to keep their practice covert. Spencer's husband's family moved to a remote part of Mexico to build a community, but familial insanity and grinding poverty kept them moving from place to place. Spencer was willing to work hard and was willing to do without decent clothing or food but she couldn't stand limited access to her husband's affections. Their sect proscribed all but procreational sex, and since she was constantly pregnant or nursing, she never seemed to have much sex with her husband. Finally, after 28 years of marriage and bearing 13 children, she knew that although she loved her husband, she had to leave him. She moved to Alaska, where she became a born-again Christian with a monogamous husband. Spencer's story has everything a strangely complicated religious sect, a plucky heroine, a conflicted but good-hearted man and even a reasonably happy ending.