[Heber C. Kimball diary]
" ... Remember me to Helen and Sarah Ann Whitney [both plural wives of Joseph Smith] and tell them to be good girls and cultivate union, and listen to counsel from the proper source—then they will get the victory. [Letter, Heber C. Kimball to family]"
My acquaintance with Sarah Ann Whitney, eldest daughter of Bishop N. K. and Elizabeth Ann Whitney, whose name is mentioned in one of my father's letters, I began to make in the spring of 1842. Though our parents had long been associated, and we had known each other since the schooldays of Kirtland, but as she was some four years older than myself, who had entered my teens but a few months previous, I had never thought of becoming a companion to her. ... This was quite a select party. Among them were the daughters of Elder Rigdon, Bishop Higbee's sons, the Miss Pierces, (Margaret Pierce Young being one of them) and Rachel, Mary and Mary Ann Ivins, the former, now Rachel Grant, were cousins, with some of their brothers and many others too numerous to mention, were among the guests. The Prophet spent a little time with them, but took no part. .... About a year after her birthday party she invited my brother and I to attend another small party which, to me, was very pleasant and far more enjoyable than the other, there being present only a few select friends. The Prophet was there during the early part of the evening, and some peculiar remarks which he made, I remember, gave food for talk and no little amount of wit which passed from one to the other after he had left; and William and I talked it over after we returned home, of the enjoyable time and the peculiarities of Joseph. ... It was not till the summer after he had gone east that I learned of the existence of the plural order of marriage, and that the spring of 1842 had seen his sister Sarah Ann the wife of Joseph Smith. My father was the first to introduce it to me; which had a similar effect to a sudden shock of a small earthquake. When he found (after the first outburst of displeasure for supposed injury) that I received it meekly, he took the first opportunity to introduce Sarah Ann to me as Joseph's wife. This astonished me beyond measure; but I could then understand a few things which had previously been to me a puzzle, and among the rest, the meaning of his words at her party. I saw, or could imagine, in some degree, the great trial that she must have passed through, and that it had required a mighty struggle to take a step of that kind, and had called for a sacrifice, such as few can realize but those who first rendered obedience to this law. It was a strange doctrine, and very dangerous too, to be introduced at such a time, when in the midst of the greatest trouble Joseph had ever encountered. The Missourians and Illinoisians were ready and determined to destroy him. They could but take his life, and that he considered a small thing when compared with the eternal punishment which he was doomed to suffer if he did not teach and obey this principle. No earthly inducement could be held forth to the women who entered this order. It was to be a life-sacrifice for the sake of an everlasting glory and exaltation. Sarah Ann took this step of her own free will, but had to do it unbeknown to her brother, which grieved her most, and also her mother, that they could not open their hearts to him. But Joseph feared to disclose it, believing that the Higbee boys would embitter Horace against him, as they had already caused serious trouble, and for this reason he favored his going east, which Horace was not slow to accept. He had had some slight suspicions that the stories about Joseph were not all without foundation, but had never told them, nor did he know the facts till after his return to Nauvoo, when Sarah hastened to tell him all. It was no small stumbling-block to him when learning of the course which had been taken towards him, which was hard for him to overlook. ... Sarah felt when she took this step that it would be the means of severing her from the happy circle in which she had moved as one of their guiding stars. ...
Bishop Whitney was not a man that readily accepted of every doctrine, and would question the Prophet very closely upon principles if not made clear to his understanding. When Joseph saw that he was doubtful concerning the righteousness of this celestial order he told him to go and enquire of the Lord concerning it, and he should receive a testimony for himself.
The bishop, with his wife, who had for years been called Mother Whitney, retired together and unitedly besought the Lord for a testimony whether or not this principle was from Him; and they ever after bore testimony that they received a manifestation and that it was so powerful they could not mistake it. The bishop never afterwards doubted, and they willingly gave to him their daughter, which was the strongest proof that they could possibly give of their faith and confidence in him as a true Prophet of God.
[Whitney, Helen Mar, Jeni Broberg Holzapfel, and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997]