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“I Was an Active Participant”: Emma Hale Smith and the Scriptures

Digital Only: Early Women of the Restoration

“I Was an Active Participant”: Emma Hale Smith and the Scriptures

Emma Hale Smith played an essential role in helping her husband bring forth the Book of Mormon and other scriptures.

Restoration Project: Smith Emma

Growing up along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, USA, young Emma Hale learned to navigate river waters and ride horses from her older brothers.1 Her mother, a Methodist, taught her from the Bible. According to family tradition, as a young girl Emma went to the nearby woods to pray out loud as she had been instructed in Sunday School. She called upon God to touch the heart of her father, who was not a believer. He happened to hear her words and experienced his own conversion.2

Emma’s childhood faith and religious education contributed to her partnership with her husband, Joseph Smith, in the Restoration and the translation of the Book of Mormon. She helped him retrieve and protect the plates, assisted in the transcription of translated scripture, and expounded scriptural teachings. Emma played a valuable role in the Restoration.

Emma met Joseph when he came to her town for work in 1825. The two developed a close friendship, and she readily believed his accounts of visions and revelations. Following Moroni’s instructions, Joseph returned to New York each year to the Hill Cumorah, hoping to obtain the golden plates containing another testament of Jesus Christ. According to one account, on September 22, 1826, Moroni told Joseph he had one more chance to bring the right person with him the following year. Joseph prayed faithfully and received revelation that the right person was Emma Hale.3 They were married on January 18, 1827. God had chosen Emma to aid Joseph in bringing forth the Book of Mormon.

After midnight on September 22, 1827, Emma and Joseph left the Smith home in Manchester, New York, USA, to drive to the hill. Emma waited in the carriage while Joseph received the plates from Moroni.4 One account states that she knelt to pray while Joseph obtained the plates.5 Joseph’s mother, Lucy, also prayed—all night—waiting for the two of them to return. Joseph and Emma returned in time for breakfast, having successfully obtained the plates.6

Emma did all she could to protect the plates and preserve a space for Joseph to translate. Thanks to the equine skills she learned from her brothers, Emma expertly rode a horse bareback for over an hour to warn Joseph about impending danger to him and the plates.7 Her older brother Alva, an elected Pennsylvania constable, came to Manchester to help Emma and Joseph move back to the Hale family home to escape increasing persecution in New York.8 Emma asked her brother-in-law, a carpenter, for a locked box to hold the plates, which they secured safely under their bed at night.9 She supplied a linen tablecloth to cover the plates during the day while Joseph translated. Emma felt the plates through the cloth as she moved them to clean: “They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb,” she said.10 Emma never physically saw the plates, but she was a witness of the sacred record.

The Book of Mormon was not the only holy writ that Emma protected; she also secured the manuscript of Joseph’s inspired Bible translation. The Smiths moved to Missouri in 1838, intending to publish the revisions, but trouble mounted and Joseph was imprisoned. A friend, Ann Scott, sewed two cotton bags attached to a waistband to hide the papers under a skirt.11 Emma carried her two infants with two other young children clinging to her skirts, loaded with precious papers underneath, as they walked across the frozen Mississippi River to safety in Illinois.12

Emma also helped produce the scriptures. “Be unto him for a scribe,” the Lord counseled Emma about her husband in an 1830 revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 25:6). She wrote while Joseph dictated the first part of the plates through her first pregnancy. She later scribed for the translation of the Bible.13 One who saw that manuscript acknowledged Emma’s “womanly handwriting.”14

When Joseph and Emma experienced tension in their relationship, Joseph couldn’t translate. David Whitmer recalled that one morning, as they prepared to translate, Joseph was concerned about an encounter with Emma earlier that day. He retreated to the orchard to pray for about an hour, then came back to the house, asked Emma’s forgiveness, and continued the translation.15

Beyond offering protection and translation assistance, Emma taught from the scriptures. The 1830 revelation encouraged her “to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church.” The Lord also told her, “Thy time shall be given to writing, and to learning much” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:7–8). She learned doctrine from the scriptures. She taught through the hymns she selected for the Church’s first hymnbook, and she taught women in the Nauvoo Relief Society.

At the end of her life, Emma continued to testify of the Book of Mormon. In a letter to her son Joseph III, she described her part in bringing forth the Book of Mormon: “Indeed I know what it is in my small sphere of labor.”16 A few months before her death, Emma told Joseph III, “My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it.” She testified that her husband Joseph was indeed a prophet—she had seen his work. “I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired,” she said. “It is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder.’”17