A Look at Polygamist Life in the 1940s

A Look at Polygamist Life in the 1940s

Long before Big Love and Sister Wives, Americans had a fascination with polygamy. In 1944, LIFE magazine sent photographer John Florea to Salt Lake City, UT to capture what life was like for polygamist men, the sister wives, and the many children they produced.

In the photo above, Rulon Clark Allred, a medical doctor, stands with his four wives, his mother, a few sisters-in-law, and many of his children. He would go on to have a total of seven wives (two of whom were identical twins) and 48 children. One of his daughters, Dorothy Allred Solomon, who was born after this photo was taken, tells LIFE how she got to spend time with her busy father:

He set my arm without any kind of anesthesia when I was in fifth grade. And it was really painful, and he was very brusque. I think I probably broke my arm so that I could see him. I know that sounds extreme, but that was one sure way we could see our dad. I didn't really purposely break it — but I was reckless that day, and I remember thinking, 'I'd sure love to see my dad.'

Find out more and see additional photos after the jump.

While Dorothy has fond memories of her father and childhood, she says she knew very early on — "probably when I first found out that we were living polygamy" — that she only wanted one husband. She says "So after that, when I played dress-up, there was just one bride, and that was me."

You can check out the whole photo essay on LIFE.com.