Mormon Founder Joseph Smith had 40 Wives
Prophet Joseph Smith's statue at his birthplace, Sharon VermontFlickr

Mormon leaders for the first time acknowledged in a new essay that the founder of the Mormon church, Joseph Smith, had 40 wives.

Smith's marital history has always interested many and has been a matter of some debate. Recently, the Mormon leaders had stated that Smith had been happily married to his loving spouse, Emma. However, now the church notes, "Careful estimates put the number between 30 and 40," CNN reports.

The church, which is officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also said that among those he married included some who were already married and one was as young as 14 years old.

"Most of those sealed to Joseph Smith were between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of their sealing to him. The oldest, Fanny Young, was 56 years old. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph's close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday. Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today's standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens," the church said on its website.

In 1890, pressurized by the U.S. government that had jailed polygamists and also seized their assets, the church denounced the policy of multiple marriages. After facing numerous disturbing claims about its history, the church - through its disclosures - is trying to prove that it is transparent about its history and has nothing to hide. Many Mormons revealed that they knew Smith's successor Brigham Young was polygamous when he was leading the community in Salt Lake City. However, they did not know the entire truth about Smith as he had always been projected in an ideal light.

"Joseph Smith was presented to me as a practically perfect prophet, and this is true for a lot of people," said Emily Jensen, a blogger and editor in Farmington, Utah, who has been following Mormon issues for a long time and has written about it.

According to the New York Times, church historian and member of its senior leadership Elder Steven E. Snow said: "There is so much out there on the Internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history. We need to be truthful, and we need to understand our history. I believe our history is full of stories of faith and devotion and sacrifice, but these people weren't perfect."