Historians Share What You Should Know about Emma Smith

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • 10 July 2018

Joseph Smith Jr. and Emma Smith stand before a group of women in this painting depicting the organization of the Relief Society.

Article Highlights

  • Emma Smith was born July 10, 1804.
  • The Lord named her “an elect lady.”
  • As Joseph Smith’s wife, she lived a life of sacrifice and service.

Named by the Lord as “an elect lady” and known for being the first Relief Society General President, Emma Hale Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, lived a life of sacrifice and service.

Her efforts included compiling the first book of hymns, helping with the translation of the Book of Mormon, and supporting her husband, Joseph Smith Jr., in his call as the Prophet.

Emma Smith played an important part in the Restoration of the gospel, and today, more than two centuries after her birth on July 10, 1804, Church members can still learn from Emma’s example.

The Church News asked Church historians to answer the question “What should Church members know about Emma Hale Smith?”

Here’s what they had to say:

“In 1830, the Lord told Emma Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 25 that she was “an elect lady” with a charge to expound scriptures and exhort the Church. She assisted her husband, the Prophet, in many ways: she helped scribe the translation of the Book of Mormon; she prepared missionaries for service; she opened her home to the sick, the orphaned, and other visitors; she collected hymns for the Church’s first hymnal; and she was the first president of the Relief Society. Emma was the first woman to make temple covenants, and she led other women to do the same.” —Jenny Reeder, 19th-century women’s history specialist for the Church History Department

A painting depicts Emma Smith leading the first meeting of the Relief Society on March 17, 1842.

 

An actor portrays Emma Smith in the movie Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration.

“One part of Emma Smith’s legacy that matters to me is how often she was taken in and cared for by others when she was in need—left homeless when her husband was in jail, for example. And how often she cared for others in her own turn. She so often had a house full of people and had to figure out how to [keep] the household running, how to tend to her children, what to feed the people in her care, and how to keep up with her Church responsibilities—helping with various iterations of the hymnal, overseeing the Relief Society starting in 1842, and generally looking to ameliorate the needs all around her.” —Kate Holbrook, managing historian of women’s history for the Church

“Emma Smith was absolutely crucial in the establishment of the Church. Her contributions to the translation of scripture, the first hymnal, and organization of the Relief Society cannot be overstated. She was Joseph’s confidant and best friend through extreme adversity. We do not fully comprehend the strength she was not only to Joseph, but the entire Church through the heartaches and horror of repeated forced moves, mob persecution, arrests of Church leaders, and ultimately the murders of Joseph and Hyrum.” —Brandon Metcalf, archivist/historian in the Church History Department

“Emma was one of the most important and least understood people of the Church’s early history. Through her immediate participation in significant events from the earliest days of translating the Book of Mormon through the trials of Missouri and Nauvoo, she provided strength to her husband and family as well as to the Church membership at large.” —Keith Erekson, director of the Church History Library

A painting shows Emma Smith caring for sick people.