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Sunday, June 28, 1998
Polygamist matriarch knows her place in Colorado City society

Karen Barlow: ``The ultimate is doing what your husband likes before he even speaks the words.'' (Ryan Galbraith/The Salt Lake Tribune)


    COLORADO CITY, Ariz. -- Karen Barlow still remembers her father's angry prediction if she ran away with her polygamous boyfriend: ``He'll marry you, take you to a cave and marry other women.''
    She ignored her father's words, left her California home and eloped with Truman Barlow -- who did not take her to a cave, but went on to marry a reported nine other women.
    ``I was in love and I had been converted,'' said the mother of 19, a faithful member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ``The spirit of the Lord whispered to me.''
    Barlow was raised here. But her parents -- who were mainline Mormons, not polygamists -- moved to the San Fernando Valley in California when Karen, the oldest, became high-school age. Karen says her father wanted her to attend high school and, at the time, neither Colorado City nor Hildale, Utah, had one. Her father also worried that if she stayed in the polygamist community, she would live that lifestyle.
    Forty-two years after running away with Truman Barlow -- son of the polygamist prophet John Y. Barlow -- Karen Barlow has become the most prominent woman in this community. She is the only woman on the Colorado City council; she assists her husband in assessing and collecting church taxes on homes in town (nearly all of which are owned by the church); and she teaches at the church-owned John Y. Barlow University. Being Truman's first wife also gives her a position of power in her family; she is the matriarch.
    Barlow remains convinced that God advances only the polygamous to heaven's highest kingdom. Her husband has her full support to take as many wives as he wishes. She is thankful though, that Truman lets her know each time he marries another woman.
    ``He tells me, but it is not his responsibility to do so,'' she explains. ``You can't oppose a husband marrying someone else; it would be going against God's will.''
    Not so accepting: Not all polygamous women are so accepting.
    When the prophet of the FLDS Church told Janet Johansen she would be marrying a stranger by the end of the month, the 22-year-old Brigham Young University graduate responded that she would have to think about it.
    Johansen's sister, Brenda, was horrified.
    ``Brenda indicated it was very inappropriate for me to say that, since the protocol was, `Yes, sir,' '' says Johansen, a new convert at the time who went ahead with the marriage to 59-year-old Don Jacobs, despite her misgivings.
    The wedding was held at the Salt Lake City home of Guy Musser, an influential member of the polygamy movement. Johansen drove with her sister to Salt Lake, and that night she slept with a man she had seen only a few times before.
    Johansen, now 40, says her wedding-night experience is typical of Colorado City girls. Upon reaching the age of 16, they are told who they will marry. And usually, the girls are pledged to an older man who already has at least one other wife.
    Johansen says life in her home became especially hard because the first wife was jealous of her. ``I was the pretty new bride and she was the worn-out one,'' Johansen says.
    She since has left her husband and abandoned her fundamentalist faith. But Johansen still carries a scar on her hand where, she claims, she was cut by a glass thrown at her by sister wife Florence.
    ``I am still unmarried and likely to remain so,'' Johansen says from Waikaki, Hawaii, where she is the executive director of Hawaii Services on Deafness. ``My innocence and trust were robbed from me. In many ways, I identified with Princess Diana, who was set up to be a broodmare and tossed out when she asserted her right to her own thoughts and desires.
    ``I am comfortable with men only when I have a position of authority that distances me from intimacy,'' she says. ``The other fallout is that I have never been able to participate in another religion.''
    Made in heaven: Members of the FLDS Church believe God makes matchmaking decisions through church leaders. Parents may have input into their leaders' decision, but those entering the marriage covenant often do not.
    ``We don't approve of courtship,'' Barlow explains. ``My own children knew their spouses, but they did not court. I can't describe the privilege and pleasure of seeing one of my daughters marry -- and then fall in love.''
    And polygamists, like many mainline religions, do not practice birth control.
    ``Nothing should be in the way of you and the Lord sending children,'' Barlow says. ``Every child that came to me, the Lord sent. If someday, there's overpopulation, the Lord will work it out. There'll be accidents or a war. He has his ways to get rid of people.''
    Barlow, who gave birth to 20 children, is today grandmother to 93. Describing her final pregnancy, she said, ``The last one died and then my body gave out.''
    Johansen agrees that having healthy children is central to being a good plural wife. Her sister, Brenda, had a second pregnancy that ended in a stillbirth. The baby was buried in a Hildale graveyard for infants, which has few headstones.
    Jenny Larson, whose mother left the group in 1946 when Jenny was 11 years old, says it is difficult for girls to flee Colorado City. Larson, who lives in St. George, is well-known for the help she gives runaways.
    ``All their lives they're told what to wear, what to do, who to marry and that the world is evil,'' says Larson. ``On the outside, many of them get into trouble because they can't see the difference between the evils of dating, smoking or drugs and sex. I know one girl got pregnant on her first date.''
    Children and adults are discouraged from watching television or movies. Brides and first-time grooms must be virgins. Sexual intimacy is only for procreation; recreational sex within marriage is considered a sin. Girls and women wear midcalf dresses, long sleeves and blouses that button at the throat. Makeup is taboo.
    Fascinating women: Barlow views all that as a virtue. And she is confident that her daughters know their destiny -- to marry and to please and obey their men.
    ``You can't change your husband,'' she tells her 11 daughters. ``You can only change yourself.''
    Barlow's views on keeping husbands happy are found in the once-popular ``how-to-win-a-man'' guide book called Fascinating Womanhood. It preached subservience and helplessness as the secret to female attractiveness.
    Written by Helen B. Andelin in 1965, the book lost its luster with the women's independence movement. By the 1980s, comedian Roseanne made it a laughingstock with her early routine based on Chapter 14's ``Domestic Goddess.'' Still, the book remains a staple for happiness here.
    Barlow has taught a course titled ``Fascinating Womanhood'' at the one-building church university, using the book as her manual. Among its tips:
    -- Be skilled in the feminine arts of the household, caring for children, handling money wisely and doing more than is required.
    -- Let go. Get out of the leadership role. Stop giving him suggestions.
    -- If you obey your husband, even if you disagree, things will turn out all right.
    -- Adapt to the conditions your husband provides for you, and don't have preconceived ideas about what you want or plan for your children.
    Barlow, who blames one son's drug abuse on her unwillingness to be a dutiful wife, has perfected the art of obedience and submission.
    ``The ultimate is doing what your husband likes before he even speaks the words,'' she says. ``The Bible says a woman is to cleave unto her husband as the husband cleaves unto Christ. You'll never be happy until you do this. Don't fight. Do things as he likes.''
    Salt Lake Tribune reporter Tom Zoellner contributed to this story.
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