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

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.   

Jenny Reeder: Unity with Relief Society sisters past and present

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 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).