The Prophet Joseph Smith loved his wife, Emma. Journal entries evidence his love and concern: "Emma began to be sick with fever; consequently I kept in the house with her all day. . . . Emma is no better. I was with her all day. . . . Emma is a little better. I was with her all day."1
If for no other reason than a prophet of God gave his time and attention to care for her needs, it is important for us to know of and appreciate the life of Emma Hale Smith.Emma, the daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth Lewis Hale, was born on July 10, 1804, in Harmony, Susquehannah County, Pa. She grew to maturity in that rural community and there she met young Joseph Smith. At the time of their meeting Emma was 22 years old and stood about 5 feet 9 inches tall, had dark hair and brown eyes, and was described as "well turned, of excellent form . . . with splendid physical development."2
Her romantic interest in Joseph Smith was not approved by her father. Isaac Hale wrote of Joseph's attempt to court his daughter: "Smith made several visits at my house, and at length asked my consent to his marrying my daughter Emma. This I refused, . . . he then left the place."3
Joseph returned to his home in Palmyra, N.Y., but could not forget his feelings toward Emma. "He had come to the conclusion of getting married," Joseph's mother said, "he thought that no young woman that he ever was acquainted with was better calculated to render the man of her choice happy than miss Emma Hale . . . whom he had been extremely fond of since his first introduction to her."4
Emma was married to Joseph Smith on Jan. 18, 1827, in South Bainbridge, N.Y., by Squire Tarbell. "I had no intention of marrying when I left home," Emma wrote, "but [Joseph] urged me to marry him, and preferring to marry him to any other man I knew, I consented."5 During their first year of marriage they resided with Father and Mother Smith in Palmyra. It was while living with her in-laws that on Sept. 22, 1827, Emma was privileged to be the first to know that Joseph had acquired the Book of Mormon plates from the Angel Moroni.
As word of his acquisition spread from house to house, curiosity, harassment and persecution soon followed. The newlyweds sought refuge in Harmony, Pa., where Joseph hoped to escape persecution and translate the ancient plates. In their small home in Harmony the plates "lay in a box under our bed for months," said Emma, "but I never felt at liberty to look at them."6 They were occasionally on a table in the living room " . . . wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt . . . the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metalic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of [a] book."7
Emma scribed a portion of the Book of Mormon translation, and said of her experience:
"The Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity - I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, [he] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible."8
Emma's testimony of the Book of Mormon and the prophetic calling of her husband led to baptism into the Church on June 28, 1830. She was baptized by Oliver Cowdery.
Soon after the baptism Joseph Smith received an important revelation from the Lord for Emma. The revelation is found in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 25, and begins, "Hearken unto the voice of the Lord your God, while I speak unto you, Emma Smith, my daughter." Emma is told by the Lord, "Behold, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called." (D&C 25:3.) The word elect was defined by Joseph Smith on March 17, 1842, in Nauvoo, when he told the sisters that "elect meant to be elected to a certain work, &c., and that the revelation was then fulfilled by Sister Emma's election to the Presidency of the
Her foremost calling was to be the wife of a prophet. In this role Emma was told, "the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband." (D&C 25:5.) She was to use "consoling words, in the spirit of meekness" with him. (D&C 25:5.) Emma was to cleave to Joseph and to "go with him at the time of his going, and be unto him for a scribe." (D&C 25:6.) She was promised that for faithfully fulfilling her calling as a wife, her "husband shall support thee in the church." (D&C 25:9.)
Adding to her responsibilities, it was further revealed that Emma should develop her talents. Specific talents mentioned in the revelation include expounding the scriptures, exhorting the Church, writing, learning, and selecting sacred hymns. (See D&C 25:7-8, 11.) She compiled a pocket-sized hymnbook titled "A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of the Latter-day Saints," which contained 90 hymns, the first being "Know This That Every Soul Is Free."
Emma was told that while fulfilling these responsibilities, she was not to murmur but was to "lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better." (D&C 25:10.) She was also admonished to beware of pride. (See D&C 25:14.) If Emma proved faithful, she was to receive "a crown of righteousness." (D&C 25:15.)
As Emma sought to live a faithful life and fulfill her many responsibilities, her husband Joseph recognized her constant goodness. He pleaded with the Lord on behalf of her and their children: "Have mercy, O Lord, upon
myT wife and children, that they may be exalted in thy presence, and preserved by thy fostering hand." (D&C 109:69.)
In answer to Joseph's pleading, Emma Smith again became the subject of the Lord's revelation in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132. Emma is told to "abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else." (132:54.) She is admonished to "forgive my servant Joseph his trespasses; and then shall she be forgiven her trespasses, . . . and I, the Lord thy God, will bless her, and multiply her, and make her heart to rejoice." (D&C 132:56.)
Emma is warned that despite her position as an "elect lady" and a wife of the Prophet, she must endure faithful to the end or risk losing all, for unless she does endure, "where I am you cannot come." (D&C 25:15.) "She shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law." (D&C 132:54.) Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: "Just as it is possible for the very elect to be deceived, and to fall from grace through disobedience, so an elect lady, by failing to endure to the end, can lose her chosen status."10
Preserved letters from Joseph Smith to his wife, Emma, evidence that she cleaved to her husband and comforted him and their love increased:
" . . . the thoughts of home, of Emma and Julia
oldest childT, rushes upon my mind like a flood and I could wish for
aT moment to be with them. My breast is filled with all the feelings and tenderness of a parent and a Husband. . . . I pray God to soften the hearts of those around you to be kind to you and take the burden off your shoulders as much as possible and not afflict you. . . . you have one true and living friend on Earth your husband."11
Emma was also loved by her mother-in-law, Lucy Mack Smith, who recognized her unselfish service in the Lord's kingdom. Mother Smith wrote of her concern at Emma's continual willingness to be charitable:
"A revelation was given, commanding Parley P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson, Peter Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery, to take a mission to Missouri, preaching by the way. As soon as this revelation was received, Emma Smith, and several other sisters, began to make arrangements to furnish those who were set apart for this mission, with the necessary clothing, which was no easy task, as the most of it had to be manufactured out of the raw material. Emma's health at this time was quite delicate, yet she did not favor herself on this account, but whatever her hands found to do, she did with her might, until so far beyond her strength that she brought upon herself a heavy fit of sickness, which lasted four weeks."12
Mother Smith described her daughter-in-law's fortitude:
"How often I have parted every bed in the house for the accommodation of the brethren, . . . while Joseph and Emma slept upon the . . . floor, with nothing but their cloaks for both bed and bedding. I have never seen a woman in my life, who would endure every species of fatigue and hardship, from month to month, and from year to year, with that unflinching courage, zeal, and patience, which she has ever done."13
While reaching out to serve others, Emma quietly bore her own personal sufferings. Her first three children did not live beyond a day. Of the adopted Murdock twins, only Julia lived to adulthood. Of the nine children Emma bore, only four grew to maturity. This, together with religious persecution, bigotry, and the incarceration of her husband, led her to pen:
"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
JosephT shut up in that lonesome prison."14
Emma's concern was always for her husband and children. A letter written by Joseph Smith, while incarcerated in Missouri, expresses his love:
"Oh Emma for God sake do not forsake me nor the truth but remember me. If I do not meet you again in this life may God grant that we may meet in heaven, I cannot express my feelings, my heart is full, Farewell Oh my kind and affectionate Emma. I am yours forever."15
"My mother was one of the best poised women I ever met. Of the purest and noblest intentions herself, she never submitted to be made a party to anything low, wrong, or evil, was absolutely fearless where the right was concerned; and was a just and generous mother. Her heart never changed toward her children, and her fidelity to them never wavered. It's needless to say that we loved her."16
Emma was promised in a patriarchal blessing that her diligence would lead to great blessings:
"For thy faithfulness and truth, thou shalt be blessed with thy husband and rejoice in the glory which shall come upon him. . . . Thou shalt be blessed with understanding, and have power to instruct thy sex, teach thy family righteousness, and thy little ones the way of life, and the holy angels shall watch over thee: and thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God."17
A few days before the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, the Prophet admonished his wife Emma to "write out the best blessing [you] could think of and he would sign the same on his return." On June 24, 1844, Emma wrote what she called "these desires of my heart."18 Among her desires were:
"I desire with all my heart to honor and respect my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side . . . I desire that whatever may be my lot thought life I may be enabled to acknowledge the hand of God in all things."19
On June 27, 1844, Emma learned of the brutal death of her husband. Upon seeing his remains, her son Joseph Smith III remembered that she cried aloud, "Oh, Joseph, Joseph! My husband, my husband! Have they taken you from me at last!"16 20 She remembered him always and had a lock of his hair placed in a locket, which she wore.
Emma has been criticized for not following the leadership of Brigham Young and enduring faithfully to the end. Criticism led her to exclaim, "I have no friend but God, and no place to go but home."17 But through the years that followed, Emma bore a continuing testimony of her husband's prophetic calling.
Her health failed rapidly in April 1879. Her children rallied to her side the evening of April 29, 1879. Her son Alexander recalled hearing his mother call, "Joseph, Joseph, Joseph," before her death. Joseph Smith III reported seeing his mother extend her left arm and hearing her say, "Joseph! Yes, yes, I'm coming."18 Emma Smith died at 4:20 a.m. on April 30, 1879, in Nauvoo at the age of 74. She is buried next to the remains of the Prophet Joseph Smith in a family graveyard near their home in Nauvoo.
Certainly, the promise "I, the Lord thy God, will bless her, and multiply her, and make her heart rejoice" (D&C 132:56) is being realized in celestial realms.
Susan Easton Black is associate dean of General Education and Honors and a professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU. She is an ordinance worker in the Provo Temple and is a member of the Pleasant View 1st Ward, Provo Utah Sharon East Stake.
1Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., 2d ed. rev., ed. B.H. Roberts (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-51), 5:166-67. (Hereafter cited as History of the Church.)
2Inez A. Kennedy, Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County (Dixon, Ill.: n.p., 1893), p. 96.
3Statement of Isaac Hale, reprinted in Emily C. Blackman, History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Claxton, Remsen, and Haffelfinger, 1873), p. 578, as cited in Susan Easton Black, "Isaac Hale: Antagonist of Joseph Smith," Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History, New York (Provo, Utah: Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1992), p. 100.
4Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations, manuscript in Archives Division Church Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
5"Last Testimony of Sister Emma," The Saints' Herald, 26 (Oct. 1, 1879): 289-90, as cited in Milton V. Backman, Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Company, 1983), p. 54.
6Interview of Emma Smith Bidamon by Nels Madson and Parley P. Pratt, Jr., 1877, Archives Division Church Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
7Statement of Emma Smith to her son Joseph Smith III, cited in The Saints Herald, 26 (Oct. 1, 1879): 289-90.
9History of the Church 4:552-53.
10Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1979), p. 217.
11Letter of Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, Oct. 13, 1832, as cited in Dean C. Jessee, comp. and ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1984), pp. 252-53.
12Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Preston Nibley (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984), p. 190.
13Ibid, pp. 190-91, 231-32.
14Emma Smith to Joseph Smith, March 9, 1839, Joseph Smith letterbooks, Archives Division Church Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
15Letter of Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, Nov. 4, 1838, as cited in Jessee, pp. 361-62.
16B.W. Richmond's statement, "The Prophet's Death!" Deseret News, Nov. 27, 1875.
17Vesta Crawford notes, Marriott Library, University of Utah.
18Zion's Ensign, Dec. 31, 1903.