In honor of the 175th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, LDS Living is sharing a series of articles about early Church history and some of its key figures. The following article was originally published in December 2015.
Emma Smith, first Relief Society President and wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, had many incredible and difficult experiences in her life. Her mother-in-law, Lucy Mack Smith, said of her: “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 breasted the storms of persecution, and buffeted the rage of men and devils, which would have borne down almost any other woman.”
Find out a few things you may not have known about this prominent woman in Church history.
1. She was the only Hale child not named after a family member.
Emma's brothers and sisters were all named after family members, either on her mother's side or her father's. Emma, however, was the only sibling not to inherit a family name. At the time of her birth, her parents had a good relationship with a prominent local family, which may have affected her name selection.
2. She was the most educated of all her siblings.
Emma was the seventh of nine children. While her brothers and sisters attended only the traditional grammar school, Emma went on to do an extra year of schooling beyond that. She is known in Church history for being well educated and was able to act as a scribe for Joseph when he was translating the plates because of it. Her husband, on the other hand, had only a handful of years of formal education.
3. She was baptized for the dead on behalf of her mother and sister.
Shortly after the doctrine of baptism for the dead was introduced in August 1840, Emma was baptized on behalf of several of her deceased family members, including her parents, an aunt, and one of her sisters.
4. She wasn't confirmed until two months after her own baptism.
Emma was baptized in Colesville, New York, on June 28, 1830. However, she had to wait for two months before she was confirmed, as Joseph was arrested the next day for his preaching about the Book of Mormon. She was finally confirmed in August 1830.
5. She raised four children who were not her own.
Joseph and Julia Murdock:
It is fairly well known that these twins were adopted by Emma and Joseph as infants shortly after their own set of newborn twins died. Though Joseph died at a young age, Julia was raised by Emma to adulthood.
Elizabeth Agnes Kendall:
Latter-day Saint widow Elizabeth Kendall and her family first became acquainted with Emma at the Mansion House in Nauvoo. Her family stayed behind after the Saints went West, and Elizabeth eventually remarried, the same year that Emma remarried. When Elizabeth died in childbirth, young Elizabeth Agnes was left with her stepfather and, soon after, a new stepmother. When her stepparents determined they could no longer care for her, the 8-year-old orphan found her way back to Emma. Emma raised her as her own daughter, and Elizabeth Agnes eventually married Emma's biological son, Alexander Hale Smith.
After 17 years of marriage, Emma's second husband, Lewis Bidamon, had a child with another woman named Nancy Abercrombie. When the boy, Charles, was 4 years old, Emma took him in and raised him as her own.
6. She crossed the Mississippi river on foot with four children in the middle of winter.
While Joseph was in jail, Emma made the decision to flee with the rest of the Saints to Quincy. In order to do so, she crossed the frozen Mississippi river with two children clinging to her skirts and two in her arms. Joseph had been translating the Bible before he was imprisoned, and Emma also carried these documents with her, hidden in bags under her skirts.
7. She was the only woman in this dispensation to receive temple ordinances from the Prophet Joseph Smith.
In September 1843, Emma was the first woman to receive the endowment. She, in turn, was instructed by Joseph to officiate in these ordinances for the women, which she did until shortly before his martyrdom.
8. She was serving dinner to the governor of Illinois on the day of Joseph and Hyrum's martyrdom.
According to Emma's great-great-granddaughter, Gracia N. Jones, Governor Thomas Ford and 60 of his men were dining in the Nauvoo Mansion House at 5:00 p.m. on June 27, 1844—the approximate hour of Joseph and Hyrum's martyrdom. Emma did not learn about their deaths until 10:00 p.m. that same evening.
10. She died on the anniversary of the death of her twins.
Emma died in Nauvoo on April 30, 1879, at age 75. It was the anniversary of the death of the twins she lost in Kirtland.