July 10 is the birthday of Emma Hale Smith, the wife of Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Emma Hale was born in 1804, the seventh of nine children, and grew up in the rural community of Harmony in the Susquehanna Valley of Pennsylvania.
Intelligent and well-educated for her day, Emma met her future husband when Joseph Smith accompanied his father to the Harmony area for an employment opportunity. They were married in 1827 and moved back to Joseph’s home near Palmyra, New York.
When later that year Joseph received the Book of Mormon plates, Emma repeatedly assisted him in preserving them from theft. After the translation commenced, Emma served as one of several scribes, writing the text from Joseph’s dictation. Several of her observations from that period are powerfully reflective of the translation’s authenticity and the divinity of her husband’s prophetic calling.
Emma provided leadership in the new Church in several ways. In 1830, a revelation (D&C 25) directed her to be a support and comfort to her husband, to continue to act as his scribe, and to serve as a teacher. She was called to compile the Church’s first hymnal, a contribution for which she is remembered to this day.
When the Relief Society – the Church’s women’s organization and one of the first such organizations in the western world — was organized in 1842, Emma served as its president. She saw it grow from a charter membership of twenty women to more than 1,100 within the first year.
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 co-mingling of thought filled my mind for the moment, again she is here . . . undaunted, firm and unwavering, unchangeable, affectionate Emma.
Joseph Smith (1842)
Emma shared in the physical deprivation, harassment, and mob violence that were repeatedly visited upon Mormons in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri.
More painful to Emma than persecution was the grief she and Joseph experienced in raising their own family. Of their nine natural and two adopted children, only five lived to adulthood. Of the others, most died in infancy, some within only hours of birth. One tiny boy succumbed after a mob overran their home, forcing Emma and the children to flee into the winter night.
Joseph’s murder in 1844 deprived Emma of her husband, friend, companion, and life partner. She never fully recovered from the horror of this loss. According to their daughter, Julia Murdoch Smith, “After [the martyrdom], Mother never smiled with her eyes.”
Three years following Joseph’s death, Emma remarried. Although not a Mormon, Lewis Bidamon was a support for Emma in raising her five children, and remained with her for the rest of her life.
Emma cared for her mother-in-law and friend, Lucy Mack Smith, until Lucy’s death in 1856.
Emma Smith Bidamon’s final years in Nauvoo were family-focused and private. She died quietly in her home at Nauvoo in 1879, at 74 years of age.
In 1892 at the jubilee celebration in Salt Lake City of the founding of the Nauvoo Relief Society, a life-size portrait of Emma Smith was hung in the Tabernacle.
Today, Latter-day Saints honor Emma Smith as a leader of women and and an outstanding woman in her day. They remember her for the crucial role she played in the dramas incident to the Restoration of the Gospel, and for the support she gave her prophet-husband through the difficult years of his ministry.
The following short video features a song composed and performed by Kimberly Jo Smith, a great great granddaughter of Joseph and Emma Smith. Its title refers to a willow tree which still stands on the grounds of the Nauvoo House, where Emma spent the latter years of her life.
A sublime experience referred to in the song’s last verse is explained in the post, Emma Smith’s Last Dream, at Seth Adam Smith’s blog.
Probably the best biographical sketch of Emma Hale Smith is the article authored by Carol Cornwall Madsen in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
A more detailed treatment is given portions of Emma’s life in Emma Smith: My Story, a 2008 feature film produced by the Joseph Smith Jr. and Emma Hale Smith Historical Society. It is an unusually fine production and is available from Deseret Book and other outlets.
Several articles about Emma have appeared in the Ensign, including this one by Valeen Tippets Avery and Linda King Newell, and this one by Gracia N. Jones, herself a second great-granddaughter of Emma Smith.