Irene Spencer, daughter speak of hardships of polygamy
As part of the speaker series at Milner Library, Irene Spencer, author of "Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamistís Wife," spoke about her struggles as a polygamist wife Tuesday evening.

Spencer is the second of 10 wives, the mother of 14 children.

Spencer comes from a long line of polygamists, approximately five generations, and has spent 28 years of her life in a polygamist relationship.

There are between 60 and 1,000 practicing polygamists in Canada, the Western United States and Mexico, according to Spencer. She also spoke about the background of polygamy and how it started.

Spencer, along with her daughter, Donna Goldberg, who helped her mother publish her books, spoke of the hardships and suffering of both women and men in a life of polygamy.

"Because I had been taught that polygamy was the only way to get to heaven, I went and married my half-sisterís husband. You donít get married because you fall in love; you get married because God wants you to help this man build his kingdom," Spencer said.

Spencer also discussed how women never had their needs met and spoke about her battle with low self-esteem. Women were not valued as much as men and seemed to have no purpose in life but to bear children into polygamy.

"You make a promise when you get married that you wonít let a year go by without seeing that a baby is born into this group. I have one girlfriend who had 21 single-births, now that is abuse," Spencer said.

Spencer had also gone through hardships from giving birth to so many children, which led to health problems and, at one point, she was told she could die if she had any more children.

Goldberg is the oldest of Spencerís children and the fourth of her fatherís 58 children. Goldberg shared her first-hand story of how she left the polygamist life to get away from the struggles the women had to endure.

"The encouragement [to leave polygamy] came not from anything but survival. I was so disillusioned with our lifestyle and our poverty had been so great and the misery that I saw amongst the women, thatís what drove me to get out," Goldberg said.

Goldberg explained that her mother has given women the strength to leave polygamy and to help women who werenít even polygamists to not live in fear anymore.

"Well I know that mom has helped thousands of women, because I collect her wonderful e-mails from all the people that say thank you. I know that she is doing an amazing job and opening the eyes of other women that have not even practiced polygamy, but have been cheated on or whatever," Goldberg said.

"I read her book myself and thought, we are in the Midwest, and I donít think young women understand that this is not just on [television]. I thought we needed to expose this generation of young women to reality and the whole [television show] 'Sister Wives' is not how it really is," Toni Tucker, associate dean for enabling infrastructure at Milner Library, said.

Tucker explained that they chose Spencer to come speak because she could provide a different perspective on polygamy and share her experiences first-hand.

"I wanted people to hear her story and I donít think weíve ever had someone in this area speak about this, so it was a good balance for our students," Tucker said.

At the end of the presentation, there was a question and answer session and a book signing where students and community members could ask Irene more questions about her past life.
Originally published Wednesday, 16 March 2011