The polygamist women of Colorado City

April 6, 2002
By Rick Ross

Colorado City, Arizona -- Karen Barlow remembers her father's warning, "He'll marry you...and marry other women.'' But she ignored it and eloped with Truman Barlow, who eventually married nine other women. "I was in love and...converted,'' says Karen now the mother of 19 and still a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS). She claims "The spirit of the Lord whispered to me.''

Truman Barlow was raised in Colorado City, but Karen's parents, members of the mainline Mormon Church, are not polygamists -- and moved the family to the San Fernando Valley in California when was young. Her father worried about the polygamist community and how it might influence his daughter.

Now Karen Barlow, the daughter-in-law of polygamist "prophet" John Y. Barlow, is the most important woman in Colorado City. She is the only woman on its city council, helps her husband collect tithes and taxes on property, which are owned by the FLDS and she also teaches at the church-owned "John Y. Barlow University." Being Truman's first wife provides her with power both within and without her family. She believes that God will only allow polygamists into the highest level of heaven. And says, "You can't oppose a husband marrying someone else; it would be going against God's will.''

But when Janet Johnson, a 22-year-old Brigham Young University graduate was told by the FLDS prophet to marry a stranger, she said she would have to think about it. But Janet's sister advised this "was very inappropriate" because she was expected to say simply "'Yes, sir.' '' Later Janet married a 59-year-old polygamist named Don Jacobs, in the Salt Lake City home of Guy Musser, an important member of the polygamist movement. She then slept with Jacobs. They had only met before briefly on a few occasions.

Johansen who is now 40 and says her marriage was typical for Colorado City girls. When polygamist girls are 16, they are told who to marry. They are often pledged to a much older men who already have one wife. Life can be difficult new young second wives. First wives may become jealous. Johansen explained, "I was the pretty new bride and she was the worn-out one.'' She since has left her husband and the FLDS. Johansen has a scar where her "sister wife" once hit her with a glass that cut her. Now a single professional living in Hawaii she claims, "My innocence and trust were robbed from me. In many ways, I identified with Princess Diana, who was set up to be a broodmare and tossed out when she asserted her right to her own thoughts and desires. I am comfortable with men only when I have a position of authority that distances me from intimacy. The other fallout is that I have never been able to participate in another religion.''

The FLDS claims God makes marriage choices through its leaders. Parents have some say, but children typically do not. Karen Barlow advises, "We don't approve of courtship. My own children knew their spouses, but they did not court. I can't describe the privilege and pleasure of seeing one of my daughters marry -- and then fall in love.''

FLDS members do not practice birth control. "Nothing should be in the way of you and the Lord sending children,'' Barlow states. "Every child that came to me, the Lord sent. If someday, there's overpopulation, the Lord will work it out. There'll be accidents or a war. He has his ways to get rid of people.'' Barlow had 20 children and is now a grandmother to 93. She said her "last one died and then my body gave out.'' Babies are often buried in a Hildale graveyard without headstones.

Jenny Larson, whose mother left the group in 1946 when she was only 11, says it is hard for polygamist girls to leave, but she helps them. "All their lives they're told what to wear, what to do, who to marry and that the world is evil,'' Larson said from her home in St. George, Utah. "On the outside, many of them get into trouble because they can't see the difference between the evils of dating, smoking or drugs and sex. I know one girl got pregnant on her first date.''

FLDS members most often don't watch television or see movies. First-time brides must be virgins. Sex is for procreation only. Sex for its own sake is a sin. Girls wear long dresses with long sleeves and button up to their throats. No makeup is allowed. Of course members like Karen Barlow think this is all good. She wants her children to do everything according the group's dictates including submission to their husbands. "You can't change your husband...only...yourself'' she advises them. Karen Barlow once commented in a book titled "Fascinating Womanhood," that subservience and helplessness is the real secret for a women to be attractive. That book by Helen B. Andelin published in 1965, was used as a joke material by comedian Roseanne during the 1980s, but is still taken seriously in Colorado City.

Barlow taught a course for the FLDS school called "Fascinating Womanhood'' and used the book like a course manual. Here are some of the helpful hints she shared with her students:

Be skilled in the feminine arts of the household, caring for children, handling money wisely and doing more than is required. Let go. Get out of the leadership role. Stop giving him suggestions. If you obey your husband, even if you disagree, things will turn out all right. Adapt to the conditions your husband provides for you, and don't have preconceived ideas about what you want or plan for your children.

Barlow concludes, "The ultimate is doing what your husband likes before he even speaks the words. The Bible says a woman is to cleave unto her husband as the husband cleaves unto Christ. You'll never be happy until you do this. Don't fight. Do things as he likes.''

Note: The source for this article was "Polygamist matriarch knows her place in Colorado City society" Salt Lake Tribune/June 28, 1998, By Dawn House Tom Zoellner also contributed

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