Spencer, Irene 1937–

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Spencer, Irene 1937–

PERSONAL:

Born February 1, 1937, in Salt Lake City, UT; married Verlan LeBaron, July 3, 1953 (divorced, 1977); married Hector J. Spencer; children: (first marriage) fourteen (one adopted). Education: Attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Anchorage, AK, and Woodbridge, CA. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer, memoirist, and public speaker. Motivational and keynote speaker at writers' groups, women's centers, churches, rescue missions, and other organizations.

WRITINGS:

Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife (memoir), Center Street (New York, NY), 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

Irene Spencer is a writer, memoirist, and public speaker. She frequently serves as a motivational or keynote speaker for church groups, writers' organizations, and other gatherings throughout the United States.

In her memoir, Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife, Spencer details the many painful years she spent involved in a plural marriage. In 1953, at age sixteen, Spencer became the second wife of Verlan LeBaron, her brother-in-law and a fundamentalist Mormon. As a young woman in a fourth-generation polygamous family, Spencer had been taught that the polygamous lifestyle was a requirement if she wanted to enter Heaven. If she did not become part of a plural marriage, dire consequences would await her in the afterlife. Convinced by the cult-like persuasion of her religious sect, Spencer became one of LeBaron's ten wives.

Spencer describes in detail the hardships and deprivations she endured during her twenty-eight-year marriage to LeBaron. In total, she gave birth to thirteen of his fifty-eight children, and adopted a daughter as well. Frequently on the run from the authorities, the family often lived in primitive surroundings, making do in unheated shacks without heat, electricity, or running water. She became the caretaker for many other children as well as her own, and endured the emotional and physical deprivations that came with being a shared and often neglected wife. She describes the constant dread of LeBaron's brother, Ervil, a psychotic killer who slaughtered some thirty members of his family and a rival polygamous sect, and who vowed to do the same to LeBaron and his family.

Even as Spencer continued living this difficult lifestyle, however, she felt as though she did not belong there, and that there should be a better alternative. "My longings to leave were constant," she remarked in an interview on CBN.com. "I felt trapped, yet I didn't want to be a failure and be criticized by my peers. I felt compelled to live by the script I was given, especially after being in the fourth generation of polygamy. I did not want to be accountable for breaking the religious laws that my forefathers had painfully sacrificed to live. When polygamy is your only identity, you cling to it." Despite her misery, the indoctrination she had received was powerful enough to make her stay. "I stayed because of fear … fear that I'd be damned, fear I'd be known as a traitor to my group, fear of the unknown," she commented in the CBN.com interview.

After many years of struggle, Spencer finally found the strength to leave LeBaron and the religious bonds that had kept her trapped for nearly three decades. She became a born-again Christian and found a new husband, Hector J. Spencer, who was devoted to her alone. Now Spencer frequently writes and speaks about her experiences, and offers encouragement to other women involved in polygamous marriages. "I want them to learn to listen to their inner longings and desires and to become empowered. They need to learn to trust their own inner voice affirming their self-worth. They should never relinquish their identity to anyone," Spencer stated in the CBN.com interview.

Spencer's life story "gives faith and inspiration to anyone that feels they are ‘stuck’ in a situation they are not able to get out of," commented Irene Watson for Reader Views. A Publishers Weekly contributor remarked that "Spencer's writing is lively and full of engaging dialogue, and her life is nothing short of astonishing."

Spencer told CA: "I first became interested in writing because I wanted to leave a history for all my grandchildren. I write with a purpose to tell people to stand up, believe in themselves, and not follow anyone else's script.

"I write from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., then I live a normal life. The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is that if you start writing, it will soon flow faster than you can write. Knowledge comes with action.

"I hope my books will open up one's mind to the possibilities for the future, will give insight and wisdom to all those who feel imprisoned mentally or emotionally, and will make one understand that we hold the key to our escape. We're not victims, we're all victors."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Spencer, Irene, Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife (memoir), Center Street (New York, NY), 2007.

PERIODICALS

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2007, review of Shattered Dreams.

Publishers Weekly, May 14, 2007, review of Shattered Dreams, p. 39; June 25, 2007, review of Shattered Dreams, p. 52.

ONLINE

BookPleasures.com,http://www.bookpleasures.com/ (April 22, 2008), Norm Goldman, interview with Irene Spencer.

CBN.com,http://www.cbn.com/ (April 22, 2008),"Secrets of Polygamy Revealed," interview with Irene Spencer.

FaithfulReader.com,http://www.faithfulreader.com/ (April 22, 2008), review of Shattered Dreams.

Irene Spencer Home Page,http://www.irenespencerbooks.com (April 22, 2008).

Reader Views, http://www.readerviwes.com/ (April 18, 2008), Irene Watson, review of Shattered Dreams.

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