My Great-Great-Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith
August 1992

“My Great-Great-Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith,” Ensign, Aug. 1992, 30

My Great-Great-Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith

Ever since the Prophet Joseph died as a martyr in Carthage, Illinois, some Latter-day Saints have felt disappointment that Joseph’s wife Emma did not go with the Church in the westward exodus of the Saints in 1846–47.

Emma and Joseph’s descendants grew up separated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet I knew little of these things, for our branch of the family was far removed from our Smith heritage. While growing up on a farm near Ronan, Montana, I knew I had a relative named Joseph Smith, but I don’t recall hearing the word Mormon or seeing a Book of Mormon until I was almost an adult.

Although organized religion was not a prominent part of my life, I remember yearning in my heart for a relationship with God. When I was seventeen, our family moved to Conrad, Montana, where I happened to get a baby-sitting job with a Latter-day Saint family. In August 1955, they introduced me to the missionaries, Elder James Waldron and Elder Dean Richins, who were excited to learn of my relationship to Joseph Smith. They told me of the First Vision and gave me a Book of Mormon.

Elder Waldron said, “This is a copy of the Book of Mormon. It was translated by the power of God by your great-great-grandfather, and it is true.” Upon taking the book into my hands, my whole being seemed to thrill through and through with an all-encompassing conviction: “It’s true! It’s really true!”

I was baptized 17 March 1956. After my conversion, whenever members of the Church learned of my relationship to the Prophet, they showed me unusual kindness because of the reverence they held for him.

However, I discovered there was a different attitude about Emma. One day, when I was in a Relief Society room, I happened to notice a picture of a dark-haired woman. Curious, I moved closer. On the nameplate I read the inscription: “Emma Hale Smith—Elect Lady—First President of the Relief Society.” Fascinated to see at last a picture of my great-great-grandmother, I thought, How beautiful she is! Feelings of love for her filled me. But my thoughts were interrupted when someone behind me said, “My husband says they ought to take that woman’s picture off the wall of the church.” Stunned by the tone as much as by the words, I was troubled and wondered what prompted this judgment of Emma.

Later, while reading the book History of the Prophet Joseph Smith by His Mother, I found Lucy Mack Smith’s tribute to Emma: “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; for I know that which she has had to endure—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 would have borne down almost any other woman.”1

I was struck forcibly by the contrast between the loving words of one who knew her and the judgment of one who did not.

Learning of Emma

After thirty-five years of research and much wrestling in my soul, I have satisfied my quest to understand what may have prompted the diverse reactions to Emma. I have found in Emma’s life an example from which we may obtain wisdom and be taught much concerning the redeeming love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Emma was born 10 July 1804 to Isaac and Elizabeth Lewis Hale. The Hales farmed near Harmony, Pennsylvania, and operated a country inn. Emma and Joseph met when he boarded at her father’s inn while working in the area. Isaac bitterly opposed their courtship, but Joseph proposed to Emma, and she, “preferring him to all others” she had met, accepted.2 They were married at the home of Squire Thomas Tarbell in South Bainbridge, New York, on 18 January 1827.

That fall, Joseph obtained the gold plates and continued his mission of being an instrument in the hands of God in restoring the gospel. Emma served as a scribe during his first efforts to translate the Book of Mormon. She was baptized on 28 June 1830, shortly after the Church was organized. In July 1830 the Lord outlined her mission, in a revelation: “Thou art an elect lady, whom I have called. … And the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband, in his afflictions.” (D&C 25:3, 5.) She was also directed to compile a book of hymns for the Church, and she was warned to “continue in a spirit of meekness, and beware of pride.” (D&C 25:11–13.)

Emma’s patriarchal blessing, given on 9 December 1834 by her father-in-law, Joseph Smith, Sr., presents important information concerning Emma’s contribution to the Restoration, how the Lord viewed Emma, and what he promised her.

“Emma … thou art blessed of the Lord, for thy faithfulness and truth, thou shalt be blessed with thy husband, and rejoice in the glory which shall come upon him. Thy soul has been afflicted because of the wickedness of men in seeking the destruction of thy companion, and thy whole soul has been drawn out in prayer for his deliverance; rejoice, for the Lord thy God has heard thy supplication. Thou hast grieved for the hardness of the hearts of thy father’s house, and thou hast longed for their salvation. The Lord will have respect to thy cries, and by his judgments he will cause some of them to see their folly and repent of their sins; but it will be by affliction that they will be saved. Thou shalt see many days, yea, the Lord will spare thee till thou art satisfied, for thou shalt see thy Redeemer. Thy heart shall rejoice in the great work of the Lord, and no one shall take thy rejoicing from thee. Thou shalt ever remember the great condescension of thy God in permitting thee to accompany my son [Joseph] when the angel delivered the record of the Nephites to his care. … 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, even so, Amen.”3

A Woman of Commitment in Sorrow

During their seventeen-year marriage, nine children were born to Joseph and Emma, and they adopted two. Emma’s first three children died shortly after birth: Alvin in 1828 and twins in 1831. They adopted twins, Joseph and Julia Murdock (born on May 1), whose mother, Julia, had died the day after the birth of Emma’s twins, leaving a bereaved husband unable to care for the infants. Little Joseph Murdock died in March 1832 as a result of exposure during an incident of mob violence. The following November, Emma gave birth to a healthy son, Joseph Smith III. Although Emma enjoyed little Julia and Joseph, she grieved over her lost babies.

The Lord comforted Emma in her patriarchal blessing: “Thou hast seen much sorrow because the Lord has taken from thee three of thy children. In this thou art not to be blamed, for he knows thy pure desires to raise up a family, that the name of my son [Joseph Smith, Jr.] might be blessed. And now, behold, I say unto thee, that thus says the Lord, if thou wilt believe, thou shalt yet be blessed … and thou shalt bring forth other children, to the joy and satisfaction of thy soul, and to the rejoicing of thy friends.”4

Emma’s faith was rewarded: Frederick was born in 1836, and Alexander (my forebear) in 1838. Don Carlos was born in 1840, but he died fourteen months later. An unnamed son was stillborn on 6 February 1842; and David Hyrum was born in 1844, four months after the death of his father.

Emma did not know a settled home until Nauvoo. Due to persecution and to further the Lord’s work, members of the Church moved from state to state. Emma suffered much tribulation. She was robbed and ridiculed; she and the children often went hungry. Still, she struggled to provide for her children during Joseph’s imprisonments and long absences.5 Many Saints helped her, but some took advantage, severely increasing her difficulties and undermining her trust.6 While Joseph and the other Church leaders were unjustly imprisoned at Liberty, Missouri, Emma and her four little children became part of the major Church exodus from the state after the extermination order was issued on 27 October 1838 by Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs.7

From Quincy, Illinois, in March 1839, Emma expressed her loyalty to Joseph in these words:

“I shall not attempt to write my feelings altogether, for the situation in which you are, the walls, bars and bolts, rolling rivers, running streams, rising hills, sinking valleys and spreading prairies that separate us, and the cruel injustice that first cast you into prison and still holds you there. … Was it not for conscious innocence and the direct interposition of divine mercy, I am very sure I never should have been able to have endured the scenes of suffering that I have passed through … but I still live and am yet willing to suffer more if it is the will of kind heaven, that I should for your sake … and if God does not record our sufferings and avenge our wrongs on them that are guilty, I shall be sadly mistaken. … You may be astonished at my bad writing and incoherent manner, but you will pardon all when you reflect how hard it would be for you to write when your hands were stiffened with hard work and your heart convulsed with intense anxiety … but I hope there is better days to come to us yet. … I am ever yours affectionately. Emma Smith.”8

Emma’s Compassion and Service

Emma’s care for the untold numbers of ill and homeless Saints as well as her care for Joseph’s extended family—his parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews—is legend. Emma’s work in the Church naturally included attending to Joseph’s business in his absence and taking care of their children. Her compilation of hymns dated 1835 was actually published in 1836. She continued to collect hymns for additional hymnals until the time Joseph died. According to Nauvoo Temple records, she was baptized for her dead relatives in the Mississippi River in 1840. She manifested courage and intelligence, defending Joseph in her letter to Illinois Governor Carlin.9 In her office as the first general president of the Relief Society, she set an example of strong leadership. Her instructions on compassionate service set the tone for generations of Relief Society members under the theme she promoted: “Charity Never Faileth.” (See 1 Cor. 13:8.)

Emmeline B. Wells, a contemporary of Emma, wrote of her: “Sister Emma was benevolent and hospitable; she drew around her a large circle of friends, who were like good comrades. She was motherly in nature to young people, always had a houseful to entertain or be entertained. She was very high-spirited and the brethren and sisters paid her great respect. Emma was a great solace to her husband in all his persecutions and the severe ordeals through which he passed; she was always ready to encourage and comfort him, devoted to his interests, and was constantly by him whenever it was possible. She was queen in her home, so to speak, and beloved by the people, who were many of them indebted to her for favors and kindness.”10

The Prophet wrote in his journal, reflecting on a visit from Emma while he was in great danger and difficulty in 1842: “With what unspeakable delight, and what transports of joy swelled my bosom, when I took by the hand, on that night, my beloved Emma—she that was my wife, even the wife of my youth, and the choice of my heart. Many were the reverberations of my mind when I contemplated for a moment the many scenes we had been called to pass through, the fatigues and the toils, the sorrows and sufferings, and the joys and consolations, from time to time, which had strewed our paths and crowned our board. Oh what a commingling of thought filled my mind for the moment, again she is here, even in the seventh trouble—undaunted, firm, and unwavering—unchangeable, affectionate Emma!”11

Sealed to Joseph

In records of early endowments in Nauvoo there is documentation that Emma received sacred ordinances from Joseph, and she administered them under Joseph’s direction to many other women.12 One of Emma’s duties as the Prophet’s wife was to supervise the women’s part of the ordinances. Joseph and Emma were sealed for time and all eternity and received their sacred priesthood ordinances in 1843. (See D&C 132:45–46.) Joseph taught that restoration of these ordinances paved the way for all families of the earth to be together in eternity. (See Mal. 4:5, 7; D&C 132:4–7, 21–31.)

I believe it is in the context of these ordinances that we may best understand and appreciate what Emma wrote shortly before Joseph was killed: “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.”13

Emma also wrote, “I desire the spirit of God to know and understand myself, I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting.”14

Her great trial came when the prophet revealed to Emma that they would be required to live the ancient law of Abraham—plural marriage. Emma suffered deeply hurt feelings because of it. While she agreed with this doctrine at times, at other times she opposed it. Years later, Emma is purported to have denied that any such doctrine was ever introduced by her husband. In later years, Emma apparently never spoke of the sacred ordinances they had received. She would have been under covenant not to do so.

Careful and prayerful study was essential to my understanding that Joseph received true authority from the Lord and that there were those who tried to misuse authority, or take authority upon themselves in respect to this matter. In D&C 132:45, the Lord said, “For I have conferred upon you [Joseph] the keys and power of the priesthood, wherein I restore all things.” On 5 October 1843, the Prophet gave instructions “to try those persons who were preaching, teaching, or practicing the doctrine of plurality of wives; for, according to the law, I hold the keys of this power in the last days; for there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom the power and its keys are conferred; and I have constantly said no man shall have but one wife at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise.15 This point is confirmed in the Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:27, where we read, “There shall not any man among you have save it be one wife.” But in verse 30, we read, “If I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” [Jacob 2:30]

Both the truth of scripture and the source of conflicting opinions was clear to me. I concluded that if Joseph was a prophet, and I knew that he was, then the doctrines he revealed were true and that succeeding prophets have also been given authority according to their times. Hence, I knew that in 1890, Wilford Woodruff was inspired, as prophet, seer, and revelator, to issue the Manifesto ending the practice of plural marriage in the Church. (see OD—1.)

A Woman of Hope

Joseph’s death occurred on 27 June 1844. The Saints’ exodus from Nauvoo took place a year and a half later, leaving Emma, a 41-year-old widow, with her aged mother-in-law, Lucy Mack Smith, and five children, ranging in age from fourteen years to fifteen months old, to care for. She had little means to provide for her family in a deserted city. In December 1847, she married “Major” Louis C. Bidamon. With his help she reared her children and was stepmother to Louis’s two daughters. Emma and Louis cared for Joseph’s mother until she died on 14 May 1856. By 1872, “Major” Bidamon had built a new home for Emma on the foundation where there would have been a grand hotel had Joseph lived to complete it. Emma lived her last seven years peacefully in the Riverside Mansion. According to her comment in a letter, she felt this fulfilled promises given by revelation to Joseph. Reference to these promises is found in D&C 124:59: “Therefore, let my servant Joseph and his seed after him have place in that house, from generation to generation, forever and ever, saith the Lord.”

Although Emma’s life was filled with much persecution and sorrow, even bitterness on occasion, it appears that Emma endured her tribulations with great forbearance and maintained her faith in God. Writing to her son in 1869, she said, “I have seen many, yes very many, trying scenes in my life which I could not see … where any good could come of them.” She added this testimony: “But yet I feel a divine trust in God, that all things shall work for good.”16

A Strong Testimony of the Restoration

That Emma maintained a lifelong commitment to Joseph as a prophet and to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is well documented. The Relief Society minutes for March 1844 show her reasoning: “If he [Joseph Smith] was a prophet, which he is, … ,” Emma said. Long years later, Emma said to Parley P. Pratt, who visited her in Nauvoo, “I believe he [Joseph] was everything he professed to be.”17

In an interview with her sons a few months before she died, Emma bore testimony: “My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity. I have not the slightest doubt of it. … Though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates … and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much as to anyone else.” Describing her experience, she said: “The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth which I had given him [Joseph] to fold them in. I once felt the plates as they lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.” She also testified, “I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the church to have been established by divine direction.”18

Emma’s Name Clouded by Conflict

With such glowing testimony of her commitment to the Prophet Joseph and the restored gospel, why did Emma not take her children and go west with the Church? Generations have debated the issue, considering many of her comments as reported by others. Some have assumed that Emma lost her faith, others have doubted her integrity. These feelings fostered the unkind remark I had heard years ago while I was viewing Emma’s picture.

It is documented that Emma quarreled with some Church leaders over various aspects of settling Joseph’s estate and that hurt feelings resulted which were not resolved at the time.19 Yet through prayerful examination of materials, and through refraining from judging the people involved, I have come to peacefully understand that in the threatening atmosphere of persecution that prevailed at the time, some of Emma’s hesitation resulted because she feared for the lives of her children. She did not know whom to trust and there was no time and no peace for the natural healing of her grief to occur. In February 1846, when mob violence continually threatened Church members in Illinois and state officials refused protection, the Apostles, under the direction of Brigham Young, led the Saints into a winter in the wilderness to prepare for the long journey west. To Emma, it apparently was a horrifying idea to take her orphaned children again across the frozen Mississippi without Joseph. When asked many years later why she didn’t go west, she simply replied, “I had a home here, I didn’t know what lay out there.”20

Her decision to remain in Nauvoo had far-reaching effects upon her descendants. Joseph III, who was eleven when his father was killed, became president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the RLDS church) in 1860. He died in 1914. Alexander became a longtime missionary, a counselor in the first presidency, and finally presiding patriarch in the RLDS church. He died in 1909. Frederick, never having been baptized, preceded his mother in death by seventeen years, dying in 1862. Two years before Emma’s death, her youngest son, David, in whom Emma had found solace in her widowhood, was diagnosed as having “brain fever” and was committed to Illinois State Asylum. Emma referred to David’s condition as a “living trouble.”21 David died in 1904. Her surviving adopted daughter, Julia Murdock Middleton, joined the Catholic church. She died of cancer at the age of forty-nine, a little more than a year after Emma died.22 Today, Emma’s descendants number more than two thousand, with about seven hundred living. They are scattered throughout the world, embracing many diverse religions and ideologies. Most are as uninformed regarding Emma’s testimony and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as I was.

A granddaughter, Emma Belle Smith Kennedy, remembers Emma: “Her eyes were brown and sad. She would smile with her lips but to me, as small as I was, I never saw the brown eyes smile. I asked my mother one day, why don’t Grandma laugh with her eyes like you do and my mother said because she has a deep sorrow in her heart.”23

A woman who served as a maid in Emma’s home during Emma’s later years related the fact that each evening after the chores were done, Emma would climb the stairs to her room, sit in her low rocker, and gaze out the window at the western sunset over the Mississippi River. No one dared approach to offer comfort, because they did not know how to touch the depth of sorrow evidenced by the tears that coursed down her cheeks.24

We can ask, “Why did she cry?” Was it the awful loss of her beloved Joseph? Was it the memory of her babies laid in graves in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois? Was it the tragedy of seeing her precious youngest son hopelessly ill? Was it regret for past mistakes? Was it sorrow for disappointments lived through? Was it haunting uncertainties regarding the course she had taken, as well as thoughts about what might have been had tragedy and persecution not dogged her life? Having lived a long life, as the Lord had promised in her patriarchal blessing, and now seemingly humbled and refined, Emma must have pondered questions about the hereafter. Her son Alexander later reported that a few days before her death, Emma had a vision that disclosed her acceptance by the Lord.25

A Promise Fulfilled

Emma lived almost thirty-five years after the martyrdom of her Prophet-husband. She died 30 April 1879 in her seventy-fifth year. In her last years she was greatly loved, and in the last hours of her life she was attended by her family: Louis Bidamon, Julia, Joseph III,26 and Alexander. According to Alexander, Emma seemed to sink away, but then she raised up and stretched out her hand, calling, “Joseph! Joseph!” Falling back on Alexander’s arm, she clasped her hands on her bosom, and her spirit was gone. Both Alexander and Joseph thought she was calling for her son Joseph, but later, Alexander learned more about the incident. Sister Elizabeth Revel, Emma’s nurse, explained that a few days earlier Emma had told her that Joseph came to her in a vision and said, “Emma, come with me, it is time for you to come with me.” “As Emma related it, she said, ‘I put on my bonnet and my shawl and went with him; I did not think that it was anything unusual. I went with him into a mansion, and he showed me through the different apartments of that beautiful mansion.’ And one room was the nursery. In that nursery was a babe in the cradle. She said, ‘I knew my babe, my Don Carlos that was taken from me.’ She sprang forward, caught the child up in her arms, and wept with joy over the child. When Emma recovered herself sufficient she turned to Joseph and said, ‘Joseph, where are the rest of my children.’ He said to her, ‘Emma, be patient and you shall have all of your children.’ Then she saw standing by his side a personage of light, even the Lord Jesus Christ.”27

Finding this testimony reminded me how precious each soul is in the sight of our Savior, whose compassion and power to save is beyond all comprehension. All of us make mistakes and are in need of repentance. Whenever we withdraw from the fellowship of the Saints and cease to partake of the sacrament on a regular basis, we tend to lose our way and become subject to misunderstanding—especially if our course has been set by real or imagined injury to our feelings, or pride. This could happen to any of us, including my dear great-great-grandmother.

As I reflect upon all I have learned from Emma’s life, I feel great reverence for the testimony she has borne of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon and for her precious vision of Joseph and her baby. Her legacy to us in her final witness is that she and all of us, through the ordinances restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith, have the opportunity to be with our families in eternity.

I am grateful beyond measure to my great-great-grandparents, for their commitment and sacrifice to the Lord’s work. I love and appreciate the missionaries who opened the way for me to gain a testimony of my Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, for although I did not know of God, yet I had longed for knowledge of the truth all my life. I gratefully acknowledge the power of the Holy Ghost, who enlightened my mind with the testimony: “It’s true! It’s true!”

Milestones in the Life of Emma Hale Smith

10 July 1804
Born at Harmony, Pennsylvania.

18 Jan 1827
Marries Joseph Smith, Jr., at South Bainbridge, New York.

15 Jun 1828
Son Alvin is born and dies; buried at Harmony.

28 Jun 1830
Emma baptized at Colesville, New York.

Aug 1830
Emma confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Jan 1831
Emma’s last farewell to her parents.

2 Feb 1831
Arrival at Kirtland, Ohio.

30 Apr 1831
Twins are born and die at Morley Settlement.

May 1831
Joseph and Emma adopt Julia and Joseph Murdock, twin infants of Joseph and Julia Murdock, after their mother dies from complications relating to childbirth.

24 Mar 1832
Joseph Smith beaten by mob at Hiram, Ohio; baby Joseph exposed to cold during mobbing.

27 Mar 1832
Joseph Murdock Smith, age ten months, dies as result of exposure.

6 Nov 1832
Son Joseph Smith III born at Kirtland, Ohio.

9 Dec 1834
Emma receives her patriarchal blessing.

Hymnal compiled by Emma published.

The hymnal compiled in 1835

The Lord asked Emma “to make a selection of sacred hymns.” (D&C 25:11.) The hymnal, compiled in 1835, was actually published in 1836. (Courtesy of LDS Archives.)

20 Jun 1836
Son Frederick Granger Williams Smith is born at Kirtland, Ohio.

Jan 1838
Smith family flees Kirtland, Ohio; travels across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

Feb 1838
Family crosses frozen Mississippi River into Iowa.

14 Mar 1838
Family arrives at Far West, Missouri.

2 Jun 1838
Son Alexander Hale Smith is born at Far West, Missouri.

Nov 1838
Church leaders are arrested. Joseph is imprisoned in Liberty Jail. Emma visits him three times: 8 December 1838; 20 December 1838; and 21 January 1839.

7 Feb 1839
Emma and family leave Far West, Missouri.

14 Feb 1839
Emma and children arrive at Quincy, Illinois.

22 Apr 1839
Joseph arrives at Quincy after nearly six months of unjust confinement in Missouri.

9 May 1839
Smiths move to Commerce (Nauvoo), Illinois.

13 Jun 1840
Son Don Carlos is born.

15 Aug 1840
Baptism for the dead is taught by Joseph Smith; Emma is baptized soon after in the Mississippi River in behalf of her mother and sister.

7 Aug 1841
Joseph’s brother, Don Carlos, dies.

15 Aug 1841
Son Don Carlos, age fourteen months, dies.

6 Feb 1842
Birth of unnamed stillborn son.

17 Mar 1842
Relief Society is organized; Emma chosen as president.

Summer/Fall 1842
Joseph is in hiding. Emma and children are ill; Emma nearly dies. Joseph returns home to bless his family.

17 Aug 1842
Emma writes a letter to Governor Carlin defending Joseph.

18 Jan 1843
Grand celebration at Joseph and Emma’s home for their sixteenth wedding anniversary and his acquittal.

Spring 1843
Joseph becomes mayor of Nauvoo.

28 May 1843
Emma sealed to Joseph for eternity.

31 Aug 1843
Smiths move into the Mansion House.

By 28 Sep 1843
Emma receives her endowments.

Fall 1843
Emma supervises women’s temple ordinances October 1843 through February 1844.

17 May 1844
Joseph accepts nomination to run for president of the United States.

22 Jun 1844
Joseph is ordered to Carthage, Illinois, for hearings; faced with the prospect of certain death, Joseph crosses to Iowa side of the Mississippi River.

23 Jun 1844
Joseph and Hyrum decide to go to Carthage, Illinois.

24 Jun 1844
Emma and Joseph see each other for the last time.

27 Jun 1844
Emma serves dinner to Governor Ford and sixty of his men in Nauvoo Mansion House about 5:00 p. m. Emma learns about 10:00 p. m. that Joseph and Hyrum have been shot and killed.

17 Nov 1844
Son David Hyrum Smith is born.

Feb 1846
Emma remains in Nauvoo when Saints go west.

12 Sep 1846
Emma leaves with her family as mobbers invade Nauvoo; she goes to Fulton, Illinois, then returns four months later.

23 Dec 1847
Emma marries “Major” Louis C. Bidamon.

Emma takes in orphaned Elizabeth Agnes Kendall, eight years old, and rears her as her own daughter.

14 May 1856
Lucy Mack Smith dies, having spent the last three years of her life in Emma’s care.

22 Oct 1856
Joseph III marries Emmeline Griswold.

Emma’s nephew Samuel H. B. Smith visits her.

13 Sep 1857
Son Frederick Granger Williams Smith marries Annie Marie Jones.

6 Apr 1860
Son Joseph III becomes president of RLDS.

23 Jun 1861
Son Alexander Hale Smith marries Elizabeth Agnes Kendall.

13 Apr 1862
Son Frederick Granger Williams Smith dies.

Emma gives Joseph’s revision of Bible to Joseph III to print.

About 1870
Emma begins caring for Charles, six-year-old son of Louis Bidamon and Nancy Abercrombie.

10 May 1870
Son David Hyrum marries Clara C. Hartshorn.

Emma and family move into rebuilt Nauvoo House, later renamed Riverside Mansion.

Emma’s sons leave Nauvoo; Alexander moves to northern Missouri, and Joseph III moves to Iowa.

Emma’s adopted daughter, Julia, suffering from cancer and deserted by her husband, comes to live with Emma.

17 Jan 1877
Emma’s son David Hyrum committed to Illinois State Asylum.

Feb 1879
Last testimony given by Emma in an interview with her sons. Emma testifies that Joseph Smith was a prophet, relates her experience with the Book of Mormon, testifies of her belief in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon.

30 Apr 1879
Emma dies in her seventy-fifth year, on the anniversary of the death of her Kirtland twins.


  1. Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958), pp. 190–91.

  2. “Emma Smith’s Last Testimony,” Feb. 1879, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Independence, Missouri (hereafter referred to as RLDS Archives). Published in Saints Herald, vol. 26, p. 289.

  3. Patriarchal blessing given to Emma Hale Smith, 9 December 1834, Kirtland, Ohio, Patriarchal Blessing Book No. 1, Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter referred to as LDS Archives).

  4. Ibid.

  5. See, for example, History of the Church, 1:63ff; 3:368–73. Joseph recorded (3:371) that “the militia … went to my house and drove my family out of doors … and carried away all my property.”

  6. Emma Smith to Joseph Smith, 3 May 1837, Joseph Smith’s correspondence, LDS Archives.

  7. See History of the Church, 3:175.

  8. Emma Smith to Joseph Smith, March 1839, RLDS Archives; spelling and grammar modernized. Copy in LDS Archives.

  9. Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:115–17.

  10. “LDS Women of the Past: Personal Impressions,” Woman’s Exponent 36 (February 1908): 1.

  11. Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:107.

  12. Joseph Smith, diary, and Brigham Young, diary, both for 1 Nov. 1843; Heber C. Kimball, 1840–45 journal, Book 91, p. 114, entry dated Jan. 1844, LDS Archives; spelling modernized.

  13. Emma Hale Smith blessing, typescript, LDS Archives. Emma asked Joseph for a blessing before Joseph left for Carthage. The Prophet told her to write the best blessing she could, and he would sign it upon his return.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 6:46.

  16. Emma Smith Bidamon to Joseph Smith III, 1869, RLDS Archives.

  17. Statement of Nels Madsen, 27 November 1931, LDS Archives. (Nels Madsen accompanied Parley P. Pratt on his visit to Nauvoo.)

  18. “Emma Smith’s Last Testimony,” Feb. 1879, RLDS Archives.

  19. “Memoirs of Joseph Smith III (1832–1914),” ed. Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, The Saints Herald, 2 April 1935, pp. 431–34.

  20. Statement of Nels Madsen, 27 November 1931, LDS Archives.

  21. Emma Smith Bidamon to Joseph Smith III, 5 January 1877, Lynn Smith Collection, Independence, Missouri.

  22. Buddy Youngreen, Reflections of Emma (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Company, 1982), pp. 80–81.

  23. Journal of Emma Belle Smith Kennedy, daughter of Alexander Hale Smith, in possession of Gracia N. Jones.

  24. Related to Gracia N. Jones in 1980 in Lethbridge, Canada, by a woman who said, “During World War I, my mother happened to be traveling through the Midwest and was hospitalized in Kansas City, Missouri. Her roommate was an elderly woman who said she had served as a helper in the home of Emma Smith, and she told her this story.”

  25. Alexander Hale Smith, sermon given 1 July 1903, Bottlineau, North Dakota; reprinted in Zion’s Ensign, 31 Dec. 1903.

  26. Joseph III recalled in his memoirs that Emma said, as she turned her gaze upward, “Yes, yes, I am coming!”—as if she saw or heard someone beckoning or calling to her.

  27. Alexander Hale Smith, sermon given 1 July 1903, Bottlineau, North Dakota.

  • Gracia N. Jones serves as a Relief Society teacher in the St. George Twenty-sixth Ward, St. George Utah East Stake.

Elect Lady of the Restoration, 1839, by Theodore Gorka; top portrait by Gary L. Kapp

Joseph and Emma’s twins, who died at birth, are thought to be buried in this cemetery near the Kirtland Temple in Ohio.

The Isaac Hale home in Harmony, Pennsylvania, where Joseph and Emma lived from 1827 to 1829 while the Prophet translated the gold plates.

Emma waits near the Hill Cumorah as Joseph returns with the gold plates wrapped in a blanket. (Joseph and Emma at the Hill Cumorah, by Robert T. Barrett.)

Emma’s Sorrow, by Clark Kelley Price

Far left: Centennial commemorative plate depicting the first Relief Society, with Emma conducting. Left: Joseph’s death, shown in this painting, became a major turning point of Emma’s life. (Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum, by Gary E. Smith.)

In August 1843, Joseph and Emma moved into the Mansion House in Nauvoo, Illinois, shown here in 1904. (Courtesy of LDS Archives.)

Emma (circa 1845) holding David Hyrum Smith, born four months after his father’s death. Note Emma’s necklace of gold beads, a gift from Joseph, which she always wore. In about 1875, Emma gave the necklace to her oldest granddaughter as a wedding gift. (Courtesy of LDS Archives.)

Emma’s Joy, by Clark Kelley Price

In 1842, artist Sutcliffe Maudsley traced Emma’s shadow on watercolor paper pinned to the wall. The finished 9″ by 12″ watercolor portrait represents our most accurate profile of her. (Courtesy of Buddy Youngreen.)

Emma, about 1875. Her drooping right eyelid is thought to have resulted from a slight stroke suffered during childbirth. (Courtesy of Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.)