Emma Hale Smith

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Emma Hale Smith

Emma Hale Smith (July 101804 - April 301879) was the wife of Joseph Smith, Jr. and was an early leader of the Latter Day Saint movement in her own right. She was the first president of the Relief Society, which is often cited as one of the world's oldest and largest women's organizations. She was, to many, an amazing woman and a source of inspiration.



Early life and first marriage, 18041829

Emma was born 10 July 1804, in Harmony, Pennsylvania, as the seventh child of Isaac Hale and Elizabeth Lewis Hale. Emma first met her future husband, Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1825. Smith lived near Palmyra, New York, but boarded with the Hales in Harmony while he was employed as a "seer" (or a "glass-looker") in a company of men hoping to unearth buried treasure. Although the company found no treasure, Smith returned to Harmony several times seeking the hand of Emma. Isaac Hale refused to allow the marriage because he considered Smith's occupation disreputable. Finally, on 17 January 1827, Smith and Emma eloped across the state line to South Bainbridge, New York, where they were married the following day. The couple moved to the home of Smith's parents on the edge of Manchester Township near Palmyra.

While there, on 22 September 1827, Joseph and Emma took a horse and carriage belonging to Joseph Knight and went to a hill now known as the Hill Cumorah where Joseph reported receiving a set of Golden Plates. This created a great deal of excitement in the area. In December of 1827, the couple decided to move to be with Emma's parents' in Harmony where they reconciled to an extent with Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, who helped Emma and Joseph obtain a house and a small farm. While living there, Joseph began what he termed the "translation" of the plates into the Book of Mormon and for a time, Emma acted as a scribe. She became a physical witness of the plates, reporting that she felt them through a cloth. While in Harmony on 15 June 1828, Emma gave birth to her first child—a son named Alvin—who lived only a few hours.

In May 1829, Emma and Joseph left Harmony and went to live with David Whitmer in Fayette, New York. While there, Joseph finished work on the Book of Mormon, which was published by March of 1830.

"Elect Lady" and the early church, 18301839

On 6 April 1830, Joseph and 5 other men established the "Church of Christ" (whose name was changed to Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1838).

Emma was baptized in 28 June 1830 in Colesville, New York where an early branch of the church was established. During the next weeks, Joseph was arrested and tried in South Bainbridge for "glass looking" on the state's vagrancy law. Emma may have been disheartened and Joseph reported a revelation which instructed her to "murmur not" but also comforted her with the assurance, "thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called."[1] (http://kirtlandtemple.org/hymns/electladyfull.htm) The revelation goes on to state that Emma would "be ordained under [Joseph's] hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church" and further authorizes Emma to "make a selection of sacred Hymns" for the church.

Joseph and Emma returned to Harmony for a time, but relations with Emma's parents broke down, and the couple returned to live again in the homes of members of the growing church. They lived first with the Whitmers again in Fayette, then with Newell K. Whitney and his family in Kirtland, Ohio and then into a cabin on a farm owned by Isaac Morley. It was here on April 30, 1831 that Emma prematurely gave birth to twins—named Thaddeus and Louisa—who died hours later. That same day Julia Clapp Murdock died giving birth to twins, named Joseph and Julia. Their father, John Murdock gave the infants to the Smiths who adopted them and raised them as their own. On 2 September 1831, Emma, Joseph and the twins moved into John Johnson's home in Hiram, Ohio.

On November 6, 1832, Emma gave birth to a son, named Joseph Smith III, in the upper room of Newel K. Whitney's store in Kirtland. Young Joseph (as he became known) was the first of the children she bore to live to adulthood. A second son, Frederick Granger Williams Smith (named for a counselor in the church's First Presidency), followed in 1836.

While in Kirtland, Emma's feelings about temperance and the use of tobacco may have influenced her husband's decision to pray about dietary questions. These prayers resulted in the "Word of Wisdom". Also, Emma's first selection of hymns was published as a hymnal for the church's use. It was also in Kirtland that Emma's husband began to teach and practice the doctrine of "plural marriage"—although this was not yet an official doctrine or practice of the church. And it was in Kirtland that the collapse of Joseph's banking venture, the Kirtland Safety Society, led to serious problems for the church and the family. On January 12, 1838, he was forced to leave the state or face charges of fraud and illegal banking.

Emma and her family followed after, as they could, and made a new home on the frontier in the Mormon settlement of Far West, Missouri. There, on June 2, 1838, Emma gave birth to another son, Alexander Hale Smith. Events of the Mormon War soon escalated, resulting in Joseph's surrender and imprisonment by Missouri officials. Emma and her family were forced to leave the state with the majority of Latter Day Saint refugees. She crossed the Mississippi River which had frozen over in February of 1839. Of these times, she later wrote:

"No one but God knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart when I left our house and home, and almost all of everything that we possessed excepting our little children, and took my journey out of the State of Missouri, leaving [Joseph] shut up in that lonesome prison. But the reflection is more than human nature ought to bear, and if God does not record our sufferings and avenge our wrongs on them that are guilty, I shall be sadly mistaken."

Early years in Nauvoo, 18391844

Emma and her family lived with friendly non-Mormons John and Sarah Cleveland in Quincy, Illinois, until Joseph escaped custody in Missouri. The family moved to a new Latter Day Saint settlement in Illinois which Joseph named "Nauvoo." On May 9, 1839, they moved into a two story log house there which they called the "Homestead." They lived there until 1842 when a much larger house, known as the "Mansion House" was built across the street. A wing (no longer extant) was added to this house, which Emma operated as a hotel.

On March 17, 1842 the Relief Society was formally organized as the women's auxiliary to the church and Emma became its founding president. Shortly before this, Joseph initiated the Anointed Quorum—a prayer-circle of important men and women in the church that included Emma.

Joseph had continued to practice plural marriage in secret. In Nauvoo, he began to privately expand the circle of men and women who were taught this doctrine. Joseph always denied the principle of plural marriage in public. Joseph's brother Hyrum was originally a strong opponent of plural marriage and asked Joseph to "seek a revelation" to settle the issue. Reportedly, a revelation that Joseph dictated on 12 July 1843 (although it may have been given earlier) converted Hyrum to the principle and Hyrum convinced Joseph to let him share it with Emma. Rumors of polygamy and "spiritual wifery" had dogged the Mormons for over a decade and Emma had long been a public opponent of it. The reported revelation addressed Emma specifically and commanded that unless she accept the principle of plural marriage, "she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord." (See Doctrine and Covenants, LDS, 132.) According to later reports, Emma took the copy of the written revelation that Hyrum had presented to her and burned it. Further testimonies affirm that she later agreed to let Joseph marry (or re-marry) a number of plural wives. On May 11, 1843 she took part in a marriage ceremony between Joseph and Emily D. Partridge and Eliza M. Partridge. It should also be noted that throughout her life Emma continued to publically deny the principle of plural marriage and to publically deny that she or Joseph had any part in it. The reasons for the denials is not known, however, Joseph often asked those whom he told never to reveal the doctrine publicly.

Rumors concerning polygamy and other practices threatened to erupt into the open in June 1844, with the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor by disaffected former church leaders. Joseph ordered the press destroyed which led to his arrest and incarcertion in the jail in Carthage. While he was there, a mob of about 200 armed men stormed Carthage Jail in the late afternoon of 27 June, 1844. Gun shots killed both Joseph and his brother Hyrum.

Later years in Nauvoo, 18441879

Joseph's death threw both the church and Emma's family into disorder. Emma was left a pregnant widow—it would be on November 17, 1844, that she gave birth to David Hyrum Smith, Joseph's and her last child together. In addition to being church president, Joseph had been trustee-in-trust for the church. As a result, his estate was entirely wrapped up with the finances of the church. Untangling the church's property and debts from Emma's personal property and debts proved a long and potentially dangerous process for Emma and her family.

The church itself was left with no clear successor and a succession crisis ensued. Emma wanted William Marks, president of the church's central stake, to assume the church presidency, but Marks favored Sidney Rigdon for the role. After a meeting on August 6, a congregation of the church voted that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles should become the new First Presidency of the church. Brigham Young, president of the Quorum, then became de facto president of the church in Nauvoo.

Relations between Young and Emma steadily deteriorated, and Young cut Emma's friends as well as members of the Smith family off from the church. Relations between the Latter Day Saints and their neighbors also declined into near open warfare and finally Young made the decision to relocate in the West. When he and the majority of the Latter Day Saints abandoned Nauvoo in early 1846, Emma and her children remained behind in the mostly empty town.

Nearly two years later, a close friend, Major Lewis C. Bidamon, proposed marriage and became Emma's second husband on December 23, 1847. Bidamon moved into the mansion house and became step-father to Emma's children. Emma and Bidamon attempted to operate a store and to continue to operate their large house as a hotel, but Nauvoo had too few residents and visitors to make either venture very profitable. Emma and her family remained rich in real estate but poor in capital.

Unlike other members of the Smith family who had at times favored the claims of James J. Strang and/or William Smith, Emma and her children continued to live as unaffiliated Latter Day Saints. Many Latter Day Saints believed that her eldest son, Joseph Smith III, would one day be called to take his father's place. Knowing the dangers and hardships first hand, Emma may have preferred a different path for her son. However, when he reported receiving a calling from God to take his father's place as head of a "New Organization" of the Latter Day Saint church, she supported his decision. Both she and Joseph III traveled to a conference at Amboy, Illinois and on April 6, 1860, Joseph was sustained as president of what became the Community of Christ. Emma became a member of this organization without rebaptism, as her original 1830 baptism was still considered valid.

Emma and Joseph III returned to Nauvoo after the conference and he led the church from there until moving to Plano, Illinois in 1866. Joseph called upon his mother to help prepare a hymnal for the New Organization, just as she had for the early church.

Major Bidamon renovated a portion of the unfinished "Nauvoo House" hotel (across the street from the mansion house) and he and Emma moved there in 1869. Emma died peacefully in her home on April 30, 1879. Her memorial service was held May 2 of that year in Nauvoo, Illinois.

Hymns and hymnals

In June 1832 a selection of six hymns were published in the first issue of The Evening and the Morning Star, an early church periodical (See June 1832, p. 8 - Wikisource).

The first church hymnal came off the press in 1836 (and maybe late 1835) at Kirtland, Ohio [2] (http://kirtlandtemple.org/hymns/hymnal1835.htm). It was entited A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints and contained 90 hymn texts (no music). More than half of the texts were borrowed from other Protestant traditions, but often changed slightly to reinforce the theology of the early church. For example, Hymn 15, changes Isaac Watts' Joy to the World from a song about Christmas to a song about the return of Christ (See Joy to the world! the Lord will come!) Most of these changes as well as a large number of the original songs included in the hymnal are attributed to W.W. Phelps.

Emma also compilied a second hymnal by the same title, which was published in Nauvoo, Illinois, 1841. This contained 304 hymn texts.

When her son, Joseph Smith III, in 1860 was called as the president/prophet of the Reorganization (now known as Community of Christ) she was again asked to compile a hymnal. Latter Day Saints' Selection of Hymns was published in 1861, although the extent of her involvement is not known.

Female Relief Society of Nauvoo

Emma was elected as the first president of the Relief Society of Nauvoo, 17 March 1842. The organization was formed to "provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor, [search] after objects of charity...[and] to assist by correcting the virtues of the female community," according to the minutes of the Relief Society.


Newell and Avery, in their biography, Mormon Enigma, cite evidence that Emma witnessed several marrages of Joseph Smith, Jr. to plural wifes. However, like all those who participated in early Plural Marriages, Emma publicly denied her husband's involvement in the practice of polygamy.

Her son, Joseph Smith III, became prophet/president of the Reorganization — which gathered many of the Latter Day Saints still scattered across the Midwest and elsewhere. Many of the Midwestern Latter Day Saints had broken with Brigham Young and/or James Strang because of earnest opposition to polygamy. Emma's continuing public denial of the practice seemed to lend strength to their cause, and opposition to polygamy became a tenant of the Reorganized church (now known as Community of Christ). Over the years many church historians attempted to prove that the practice had originated with Brigham Young.

Beginning the 1970s, however, with increasing professionalization in the church historians office, the church has come to accept the evidence that the system originated with Smith himself. Recent church historians acknowledge Smith's practice of polygamy, one such church historian has called it "an abuse of priesthood authority."


  • Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith (New York: Doubleday, 1984).
  • Michael Hicks, Mormonism and Music: A History, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989; [Paperback Ed., 2003]).
  • Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 4, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002).
  • Roger D. Launius, Joseph Smith III: Pragmatic Prophet, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988).

External links

  1. Emma Tribute/Hymn Festival (http://kirtlandtemple.org/hymns/program072004.htm) Information on Emma's life and contribution to hymnody (bicentenial celebration)

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