Throughout history Emma Smith has received a bum’s rap. Really, never at any time in her life did she turn on the prophet or not support him in his prophetic calling.
In D&C 25: 2-3 we read,
3 Behold, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called.
The Lord Himself described her as an elect lady, and indeed she was. Joseph called her “My beloved Emma—she that was my wife, even the wife of my youth, and the choice of my heart” (History of the Church, 5:107).
Born July 10th of 1804, Emma Hale grew up in Harmony, Pennsylvania. They met while Joseph was rooming at his employer’s house, who was acquainted with Emma’s parents. During the two years Joseph lived there, he asked for Emma’s hand in marriage more than once before they finally eloped on January 18, 1827.
Deeply in love with one another they tried to form a life together despite the constant persecution. A teacher and scriptorian, Emma served, until she became pregnant and too sick to do so, as a scribe for her husband in the translation of the Book of Mormon. At one point, when Joseph was in the process of translating, he paused and then asked,
“Emma? Did Jerusalem have walls around the city?”
When she answered in the affirmative, he replied, “Oh, I thought I was mistaken.
To me this indicates such trust in her, Joseph loved, honored and admired her tremendously.
In 1830 this wife of his youth was asked by the Lord to put together a hymnal from which the saints could sing their songs of praise. Emma accomplished this task with great diligence within five years. To this day, the hymnal we sing from still holds a large portion of the original songs Emma chose.
A devoted wife and mother, she followed Joseph as they were driven from state to state by the persecution of evil and corrupt men. While he was in, first the Richmond Jail and then Liberty Jail, she cared for their children, wrote her husband faithfully and did all she could to be the wife and mother he needed her to be.
Emma was a wife, mother (over the course of time lost six children to death while five continued to live), teacher, scribe, baker, cook, gardener and confidant to a prophet of God. Elect lady? Yes, I think so.
On March 17th of 1842 Emma Hale Smith became the first General Relief Society President and developed the organization for women which is several million strong to this day. It’s two main purposes are: to provide relief for the poor and needy and to bring people to Christ.
She began this sisterhood under the direction of the prophet, her husband, and the Lord. Today it helps the sisters to:
Increase their testimonies of Jesus Christ through prayer and scripture study.
Seek spiritual strength by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
Dedicate themselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes.
Find nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood.
Delight in service and good works.
Love life and learning.
Stand for truth and righteousness.
Sustain the priesthood as the authority of God on the earth.
Rejoice in the blessings of the temple. Understand their divine destiny and strive for exaltation. — Relief Society, www.lds.org
How can we disparage a woman who has given us this through her hard work, dedication and selflessness? Emma continually cared for ill and homeless saints and her family as well as Joseph’s extended family.
Before Joseph’s was taken away the very last time, he hugged his wife and children once more and begged Emma to raise his children up in the church. She gave him that promise.
Only days later, on June 27, 1844, at 5:45 p.m. in the evening, bullets tore through the flesh of her beloved husband and brother-in-law and this man she had loved, honored and followed through all trial and tribulation, was ripped from her life.
Devastated beyond all belief, Emma chose not to follow the saints west and remained in Nauvoo to continuing caring for her aged mother-in-law, Lucy Mack Smith, whom she believed could not survive the journey west, and her five children.
Contrary to what has been reported over the years, she never denied Joseph as a prophet of God. And, she never denied the truthfulness of the gospel her husband had died to restore.
The children of Joseph Smith, Jr. were not led astray by their mother, but by their uncle, Joseph Smith’s brother, William (the last living brother of Joseph Smith, Jr.) who helped form The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now known as The Church of Christ, and later bestowed Joseph Smith III as the leader. He strongly believed in a lineal leadership, as in from father to son, rather than leadership chosen by the power of revelation.
Of Emma, Joseph’s mother said,
“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.” — Gracia N. Jones, “Emma Hale Smith,” Ensign, Aug. 1992, 36.)
The Lord said of Emma in her patriarchal blessing,
“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.” Gracia N. JonesEmma and Joseph: Their Divine Mission, American Fork 1999
In the last days of her life Emma bore her testimony to her sons,
“She told them she participated in the events of the Restoration, including “the translation of the plates.” She had no doubt that the Book of Mormon was “of divine authenticity” and said also that the translation of the Book of Mormon was “a marvel and a wonder” to her. She stated that she knew the gospel was true and that the Church had been established by divine direction. — Gracia N. Jones, “Emma Hale Smith,” Ensign, Aug. 1992, 36.)
I’d like to add my personal feelings regarding Emma which have developed over the course of my study of her life. I believe, with my whole heart, that Emma deserves the title “elect lady.” I, along with many others, had harshly judged her because of the false reports I’d come across in my youth. When I began to understand how wrongly I had judged this woman, my heart was broken. I begged my Father in Heaven to tell her of my sorrow, even my grief over the hardness of my heart toward her. I begged her forgiveness, for the Spirit whispered to me that she had been so misunderstood. I am certain she now stands at Joseph’s side. They are now united for eternity. This I believe to be true.
Emma was the choice of Joseph’s heart and, without question, remains so today.