After marrying Joseph Marion Tanner, Annie Clark spent the next four years masquerading as a single woman to evade anti-polygamy laws. She lived with her family, boarded with landladies, and pursued a teaching career in schools throughout northern Utah and southern Idaho, pretending she was unmarried all the while.
After Annie Clark Tanner married Joseph Marion Tanner in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, they rode the northbound train home in silence. Annie suspected they refrained from conversation on account of the feelings of Jane “Jennie” Tanner, who also sat in the same train car. Jennie was Marion’s first wife, and by marrying Annie he had violated the Edmunds Anti-polygamy Act of 1882.
Like many other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time (nicknamed Mormons), the Tanners considered plural marriage a significant, even spiritually saving religious practice, and they chose to participate in spite of increasing pressure from federal marshals with arrest warrants and territorial judges with federal appointments. Even living in the heart of Latter-day Saint territory in Utah did not shield the Tanners from the judicial reach of the American government. To avoid arrest, the family resolved to engage in one of a few strategies used by the newly plurally wed of the time: acting as if the marriage had not happened. To the world, Marion would still be married only to Jennie, and Annie would still be single. Only they and their direct families knew the truth.
Marion and Jennie dropped Annie off in Farmington, Utah, and they continued on the train to Ogden while Annie returned to her family’s home by herself. Arriving after they finished dinner, Annie just had a “glass of bread and milk” for her evening meal and thought to herself, “Well, this is my wedding supper.” Years later, Annie recalled feeling “conscious of the obscurity of my own first evening after marriage. ‘What a contrast,’ I said to myself. ‘No one will ever congratulate me.”
Annie continued living with her family after marrying, and although Marion visited her, he did so sporadically. They scheduled their first date as husband and wife for two weeks after the wedding, but Marion missed the date and instructed Annie by mail to wait for him for another week. While Marion did make the new date, his visits thereafter remained infrequent, and Annie never felt sure of his promised dates after that.
Even with Marion’s occasional calls, no one in Farmington outside of Annie’s family, even her closest friends, knew she was married. But while Annie kept her secrets, so did Marion. Within the first six months of their marriage, he married a third wife, Josephine Snow, without telling Annie. With no opportunity for recourse, Annie recalled she simply “hoped and prayed I would love her.” Shortly afterward, Marion left the country entirely, heading to Europe to serve a religious teaching mission at the call of the Church.
In her husband’s absence, Annie lived actively. She volunteered in the Church, attended an 1886 women’s protest in Salt Lake City against anti-polygamy laws, and began a career as a schoolteacher, instructing at Centerville, Utah and at Bear Lake, Georgetown, and Woodruff, Idaho. In each city, Annie lived as a boarder and continued to be “known as Miss Clark,” and secrecy sometimes collided awkwardly with marital propriety:
I was true to my position as a married woman. If invited by some young man to go to a dance, I would answer, “I’ll be there; I’m coming with the Calls, with whom I board.” I recall one fine persistent young man who seemed puzzled to the point of vexation at my repeated declaration to accompany the Calls.
Near the end of 1887, Annie finished teaching another school term in Georgetown, and she returned to live with her family in Farmington. Around the same time, Marion finished his three-and-a-half-year mission. He finally came home to Utah, and he visited Annie more frequently. They read American novels together, both discussing and laughing about them, and Annie recollected, “it was the happiest time of my life.”
At the same time, though, she noted, “I was still Miss Clark and could go and come among my friends, but never with my husband.” After four years of marriage, Annie had interacted with her husband only sporadically, only her family knew she was married to Marion, and she had never had a home of her own—nor would she for the next two years. During this time with Marion, Annie became pregnant, and while this excited her, Annie realized she would soon be unable to masquerade as an unmarried woman. To keep her plural marriage to Marion a secret, Annie would have to take measures more drastic than living with her mother and going by Miss Clark. (For more, see the next story, “Annie Clark Tanner’s Underground Journey.”)