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Remembering Emma Hale Smith, the first president of the Relief Society

Learn more about and see photos from the life of Emma Hale Smith, the first president of the Relief Society, one of the scribes for the translation of the Book of Mormon and curator of the Church’s first hymnbook

The statue of Joseph and Emma in the Monument to Women, in Nauvoo, Illinois. Kenneth Mays
The statue of Joseph and Emma in the Monument to Women, in Nauvoo, Illinois. Credit: Kenneth Mays
Emma Smith's second burial site is next to Joseph in the Smith Cemetery in Nauvoo, Illinois, shown here in 2008. Emma is on the far right, Joseph in the middle, his brother Hyrum is at the far left. Her first burial site was in the brick vault in front of the Homestead. Credit: Kenneth Mays
Back view the marker on Emma Smith's grave in the Smith Cemetery, Nauvoo, Illinois, in 2015. She is at the far left. Credit: Kenneth Mays
This historical marker identifies the site where Emma and Joseph Smith were married, in South Bainbridge, now Afton, New York, on Jan. 18,1827. This is a newer sign shown in 2017. For many years the sign said "Emily Hale." The home no longer stands. Credit: Kenneth Mays
A portrait of Emma Hale Smith Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Emma Hale Smith was baptized in a dammed stream running through or close to the Joseph Knight farm. This is an early spring view of the farm on 2009. Credit: Kenneth Mays
The rebuilt Red Brick Store, in Nauvoo, Illinois, in which Emma fulfilled her "elect lady" designation becoming the first president of the Relief Society when it was organized on March 17, 1842. It is shown here in 2006. Credit: Kenneth Mays
The interior of the rebuilt Red Brick Store in which Emma fulfilled her "elect lady" designation becoming the first president of the Relief Society (2006).it was organized on March 17, 1842. It is shown here in 2009. Credit: Kenneth Mays
The room in the Whitney Store in Kirtland, Ohio, where Emma Smith gave birth to her first biological child who lived to adulthood, Joseph Smith III. It's shown in 2009. Credit: Kenneth Mays
The grave of Joseph and Emma Smith's first child, Alvin, in the McKune Cemetery, Oakland Township (formerly known as Harmony), Pennsylvania. Credit: Kenneth Mays
Photograph shows Emma Smith holding her infant son, David Hyrum Smith, who was born after the martyrdom of his father, Joseph Smith. Credit: Provided by Church History Library
This is the grave of the youngest child of Emma and Joseph Smith, David Hyrum Smith. He was very talented but spent the last few decades of his life in the Illinois Asylum for the Insane, Elgin, Illinois. Credit: Kenneth Mays
The Mansion House in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 2013. It's one of the places were Joseph and Emma Smith lived. Credit: Kenneth Mays
Nauvoo House or Riverside Mansion, in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 2013. It's one of the places Joseph and Emma Smith lived. Credit: Kenneth Mays
The grave of Joseph Smith III, first president of the Reorganized Church, now Community of Christ, is shown in 2007. He is buried in the Mound Grove Cemetery, Independence, Missouri. Credit: Kenneth Mays
The grave of Joseph and Emma's adopted daughter, Julia Smith Dixon Middleton, is shown in 2015. She is buried in the Catholic Cemetery at Nauvoo, Illinois. Credit: Kenneth Mays
The rebuilt home of Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, the parents of Emma Hale Smith, at the Priesthood Restoration Site, in Oakland Township (previously Harmony), Pennsylvania. It's shown here in 2019. Credit: Kenneth Mays
The rebuilt home of Joseph and Emma Smith at the Priesthood Restoration Site, Oakland Township (previously Harmony), Pennsylvania, in 2015. It's one of the places Joseph and Emma Smith lived and where most of the Book of Mormon was translated. Credit: Kenneth Mays

Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, served as the first president of the Relief Society and one of the Book of Mormon scribes, and she curated the Church’s first hymnbook. She is called an “elect lady” in Doctrine and Covenants 25.  

Her mother-in-law, Lucy Mack Smith, wrote: “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 always done. … She has been tossed upon the ocean of uncertainty; … She has breasted the storms of persecution, and buffeted the rage of men and devils, … which have borne down almost any other woman” (see “Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845,” p. 190, josephsmithpapers.org, and “Emma Hale Smith,” Church History Topics)

The anniversary of the Relief Society is this month, and recent “Come, Follow Me” lessons include a focus on Doctrine and Covenants 25, which was directed to Emma. Here are several events from her life and photos from places connected to her life.   

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Courtship and marriage 

Emma Hale was 21 when she met Joseph Smith in late 1825. Joseph was boarding at a log home owned by her father near the Hale farm in Harmony, now Oakland, Pennsylvania, when Joseph and his father were working for Josiah Stowell. After the project ended a few weeks later, Joseph returned to the area and worked for several months for Stowell and later for Joseph Knight (see “Emma’s Susquehanna: Growing Up in the Isaac and Elizabeth Hale Home,” by Mark L. Staker and Curtis Ashton, on history.churchofjesuschrist.org).  

This historical marker identifies the site where Emma and Joseph Smith were married, in South Bainbridge, now Afton, New York, on Jan. 18,1827. This is a newer sign shown in 2017. For many years the sign said “Emily Hale.” The home no longer stands.
This historical marker identifies the site where Emma and Joseph Smith were married, in South Bainbridge, now Afton, New York, on Jan. 18,1827. This is a newer sign shown in 2017. For many years the sign said “Emily Hale.” The home no longer stands. | Credit: Kenneth Mays

As the pair courted, Emma’s parents, Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, opposed the relationship (“Emma Hale Smith,” Church History Topics).  

Emma and Joseph married at the home of Squire Thomas Tarbell in South Bainbridge, New York, on Jan. 18, 1827. After the wedding, the couple went to live with Joseph’s parents in Manchester, New York. (See “Emma Hale Smith,” Church History Topics and “My Great-Great-Grandmother Emma Smith,” by Gracia N. Jones, Ensign, August 1992). 

Book of Mormon  

When Joseph Smith went to receive the plates from the Angel Moroni in September 1827, she went with him and waited in the wagon. Emma was also a scribe for Joseph in the translation of the Book of Mormon. While she never saw the plates, she recorded later in her life feeling them through a linen cloth that covered them (see “Thou Art an Elect Lady” in “Revelations in Context“). 

Baptism and confirmation

Emma Hale Smith was baptized in a dammed stream running through or close to the Joseph Knight farm. This is an early spring view of the farm on 2009.
Emma Hale Smith was baptized in a dammed stream running through or close to the Joseph Knight farm. This is an early spring view of the farm on 2009. | Credit: Kenneth Mays

A few months after the Church of Christ was organized, Emma and 12 others, including members of the Knight family, were baptized on June 28, 1830, by Oliver Cowdery in Colesville, New York. The day before, a dam built where the baptisms were to take place was destroyed. Before the baptisms had ended, a mob had gathered. 

That evening, when they had planned for a meeting that included the confirmations of the newly baptized members, Joseph Smith was arrested. He was acquitted; charged again in a neighboring county and again acquitted. Thanks to the help from constables, he arrived safely home. Doctrine and Covenants 25 was one of the revelations received after these experiences. Emma was confirmed with Sally Knight in early August (see “Thou Art an Elect Lady” in “Revelations in Context“). 

Children  

Emma and Joseph had nine children and adopted two others. Of those, four died at birth or shortly after, and two died as toddlers. Five lived to adulthood.  

Baby Alvin was born on June 15, 1828, in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and is buried in the cemetery near the Priesthood Restoration Site (see “Emma Hale Smith,” Church History Topics). Twins Thadeus and Louisa born on April 30, 1831, in Kirtland, Ohio, died soon after their birth. 

Joseph and Emma adopted twins Julia and Joseph Murdock, born on May 1, 1831, whose mother died in childbirth. Little Joseph died in March 1832 as a result of exposure during mob violence. Julia lived to be 49 years old and died in 1880. 

In November 1832, Joseph Smith III, a health baby boy was born in Kirtland. He died in 1914 at the age of 82. Frederick was born on June 20, 1836, in Kirtland and died in 1862 when he was 25, in Nauvoo. Alexander was born on June 2, 1838, in Far West, Missouri, and died on Aug. 12, 1909, in Nauvoo. He was 71.  

Don Carlos was born on June 13, 1840, in Nauvoo, Illinois, and died 14 months later in August 1841. Thomas was born and died on Feb. 6, 1842, in Nauvoo.  

David Hyrum was born on Nov. 17, 1844, months after the death of his father on June 27. He died on Aug. 29, 1904 at the age of 59. (See “Joseph and Emma’s Family,” Ensign, February 2008.)  

Service 

Emma worked with W.W. Phelps to print a collection of hymns, and the first hymn book was printed in 1835 with her name on the title page.  

The rebuilt Red Brick Store, in Nauvoo, Illinois, in which Emma Smith fulfilled her “elect lady” designation becoming the first president of the Relief Society when it was organized on March 17, 1842. It is shown here in 2006.
The rebuilt Red Brick Store, in Nauvoo, Illinois, in which Emma fulfilled her “elect lady” designation becoming the first president of the Relief Society when it was organized on March 17, 1842. It is shown here in 2006. | Credit: Kenneth Mays

She helped serve in both the communities and in the Church where she lived. In Kirtland, she with other women helped coordinate feasts for the poor. In Nauvoo, she opened her home to many people. She was the first president of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. In addition to help providing physical relief, she also helped teach the women doctrine. She was the first woman to receive the temple ordinances and then helped other women receive them, too (see “Emma Hale Smith,” Church History Topics).

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