It is true. Her name was Helen Mar Kimball. There has been a lot of bad feeling circulating around the topic of Joseph Smith taking so many wives and some as young as Helen. Faithful LDS women, even, have vented their feelings, ascribing these occurrences to folly and human frailty on the part of Joseph Smith.
I WONDER what Helen Mar Kimball would tell you if she were here? Do you know anything about her besides her age? She is one of my favorites...the only daughter (to have survived early childhood) of Heber C. and Vilate Kimball, two of the prophet Joseph Smith's very close friends. She was sealed to Joseph Smith, at the bequest of her father when she was 14, over a year before his martyrdom. She had a deep love and respect for her father, which is evident in her writings, and he, in turn, had a deep love and respect for both her and the prophet Joseph. I can imagine his hopes of being linked eternally to Joseph through his one "ewe lamb," as he called his daughter.
There is no evidence that the two had any intimate relations, nor is it probable. I point this out not because I want to believe Joseph never consumated any of his plural marriages (that is not what I believe at all) but because of what Helen, herself said about their relationship.
Helen Mar Kimball became bosom friends with another of Joseph's plural wives, Sarah Ann Whitney (daughter of Newell K. and Elizabeth Ann Whitney). According to Helen, she and Sarah were like "the two halves of one soul (Compton, 1997)." And almost two years after Joseph's death, when Helen was 17, she married Sarah Ann's brother Horace Whitney for "time only" in the Nauvoo temple. That same day she was once again sealed to the deceased prophet Joseph for eternity, with her husband Horace standing proxy for Smith. The following day Horace Whitney was sealed to an Elizabeth Sykes (deceased) with Helen acting as her proxy (Brodie, 1971). Together, Horace and Helen would have 11 children, one of whom was Orson F. Whitney, who was to become an apostle.
She led an interesting life. At first, confessing she loathed the introduction of polygamy (who wouldn't) but later becoming one of its ardent defenders. What do you think she would tell us of her feelings about her marriage to Joseph Smith? Can we not trust her own words? She lived well into her sixties and wrote quite a bit in defense of the practice of polygamy as taught her by the prophet Joseph Smith himself. I am absolutely not an historian but I have devoured the writings of as many of Joseph Smith's plural wives as I could get my hands on in a quest to know what it is they believed that made them live the way they did. I invite you to search out what they had to say. A superb resource for this is josephsmithspolygamy.org.
On the surface, in this day and age, we look at a marriage between an adult male and a fourteen-year-old girl, and yell "foul play!" It is right that there should be standards and regulations imposed on mankind to protect the weak and innocent from predation. But anyone who has ever read the scriptures has probably observed that the Lord is the ultimate lawgiver. One such supreme standard imposed on mankind is "Thou shalt not kill." But Nephi killed. And his God, the God of Israel, killed time and time again, with plagues, famine, fire from heaven, and let's not forget the flood. The Lord does what He does to protect the innocent, the moral, and the good. The Lord does not exploit women or children, and would neither allow His prophet to do so. Whatever the Lord commands is right because He knows the end from the beginning. He will act and He will command His true servants to act only for our ultimate good, even if the temporary reality is hard, as those living plural marriage in mortality discovered.
Truman G. Madsen said, "Joseph Smith is for me a window to Christ, the clearest one I've ever found." Haven't you ever felt the same? I don't believe he exploited Helen Mar Kimball by marrying her. Quite the opposite, is my undertanding. I believe he will prove to be her loving friend and second only to the Savior Himself in her salvation and I also believe that his energetic friendship with Helen's father, Heber C. Kimball, will continue on as they had hoped. I do not believe it was folly or human frailty on the part of Joseph Smith that inspired his actions in regards to plural marriage but obedience to something more glorious than can be described to a carnally minded, fallen world.
What say ye?
*Compton, Todd M. (December 1997) In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City, Signature Books, pg. 342)
*Brodie, Fawn M. (1971) No Man Knows My History, New York, Alfred A. Knopf