I've decided to join Heather, over at Women in the Scriptures, to commemorate the birthday of Emma Hale Smith, wife of the prophet Joseph Smith Jr. I've written about Emma a few times over the years that I've been blogging, and today, I'd like to share some excerpts with you, slightly edited.  I have a deep respect for Emma, her life, and in particular her part in the work to establish, alongside of her prophet husband, the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon).

First off though I want to highly recommend a visit to Heather's blog, to read an excellent interview that she conducted with Mark Staker, expert on the life of Emma Smith, at the LDS Church History Library. Said Heather about the interview, "I learned so much and was grateful he was willing to answer my "hard" questions about polygamy and the Relief Society." After reading the article, I feel the same. Thank you, Heather, for reaching out to Brother Staker, to add some new and fascinating insights into the life of Emma Smith.

The Organization of the Relief Society

During what is often thought of as some of the happiest days in the growth and development of the newly formed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the organization on March 17, 1842, of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, Ill.

At the first Relief Society meeting Joseph Smith prophetically declared that, "the Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized". He also taught that, "The Relief Society was organized "under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood". Not many realize the significance of these statements; for the prophet was declaring, in essence, that the women's Relief Society organization of the Church was literally part of the restoration of all things in the latter days.

Meaning, that this was not some nice ladies benevolent auxiliary, of which the women of the Church could now amuse themselves socially. No. Joseph Smith was declaring that the organization of the Relief Society, for the women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was a vital part of his personal mission, which had to be accomplished during a specific time-period.

The organization of Relief Society was in concurrence to the temple endowment, being fully revealed and put in order. Joseph was engaged during these years in Nauvoo, with his final work and finishing touches - to that which he had been held in reserve for millenia to accomplish.

The Significance of Emma's Role in Restoration of Church

Emma Hale Smith had been given promises through divine revelation, of her elect status amongst women - and this had yet to be fully understood by the Saints. As part of this fulfilment, under the direction of her prophet-husband, Emma was called to serve as the inaugural President of Relief Society, in Nauvoo.

It is my opinion that the significance of the organizing of the women's Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is yet to be fully understood, and recognized, in the proper context of the history of the LDS Church.

I also do not believe that, as yet, either LDS members, be they women or men, in general, have truly realized the majesty of this great restoration-revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and its impact to be, on the growth and moving forward of the Church.

I am far from a Church historian, nor a biblical scholar, however, I have been studying this topic for a while, and have been profoundly moved by what others have credibly written, which continues to go seemingly by the wayside - not understood by most.

Or so I had thought... (I wrote these thoughts initially in 2008)

Julie Beck, former general president of the Relief Society, since then, has addressed this very topic in a landmark talk to the women of the Church. I had begun this article months prior to her talk. It had lain dormant, because so much of what I desired to relate in the article seemed so out-of-date to many people. I am thrilled that Sister Beck has, in a sense, resurrected the truth of the organization of the LDS Women's Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- in our Day!

Sister Beck taught these powerful truths to the women of Relief Society...

"It is impossible to understand why we have an organization for women in the Church without having an understanding of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord, knowing about the calamities that would come to pass in these latter days, spoke to His servant Joseph Smith Jr. “and gave him commandments; . . . "

“That faith . . . might increase in the earth;

“That [His] everlasting covenant might be established;

“That the fulness of [His] gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.”

Sister Beck continued... "To summarize, the purpose of Relief Society, as established by the Lord, is to organize, teach, and inspire His daughters to prepare them for the blessings of eternal life. I would like to say that again. The purpose of Relief Society, as established by the Lord, is to organize, teach, and inspire His daughters to prepare them for the blessings of eternal life."

Personal Musings about Emma, Plural Marriage, and Relief Society...

I have often wondered if one of the reasons Emma Smith denied the doctrine of plural marriage, and Joseph Smith's practice of it - was because of loyalty to Joseph? Joseph Smith never admitted at any time, publicly, to the practice of it during his own life. Perhaps Emma felt that Joseph would have wanted it that way. Nonetheless, Emma's future actions separated her and the remainder of Joseph Smith's family, from the body of the Church, and the Saints altogether.

After the death of Joseph Smith, Emma was even more adamant against polygamy/plural marriage. She began to almost crusade against the practice -- and even during official meetings of the Relief Society in Nauvoo. Unfortunately, this began to cause divisiveness within the ranks. Ultimately, Brigham Young disbanded the organization of the Relief Society - temporarily.

The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, had its history - and the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after the same pattern - would not be fully organized again, for nearly twenty years. This would take place under still, the Presidency of Brigham Young, with the help of Eliza R. Snow - who had been a participant in the original organization of the Relief Society.

Nevertheless, a pattern had been revealed for the women of the Church. LDS women continued to act in unison in many ways, as the Relief Society had been organized; although not officially.

Joseph Smith Jr. had laid the groundwork, with an understanding of the role of women in the LDS Church. Because of this understanding of the day it was understood that women played a vital role in the perfecting of the saints.

This pattern, of the importance a woman and man as equal before the Lord, and necessary for each other's Salvation, was not to be ignored over these years before the reorganization of the Relief Society as we know it today.

Just as the quorums of the priesthood are to prepare men to make and keep sacred covenants, so too was the organizing of a parallel program, which would bring the women unto Christ, through these very same covenants. When Joseph made his statement regarding the perfection of the restoration regarding the organizing of the Female Relief Society temple covenants were at the very heart of the work of this society.

The capstone ordinance of the Eternal Marriage sealing - is the "work" of sealing families for time and all eternity.

Herein lies the understanding, appreciation and power of the women's Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,  and why the significance of Emma's involvement -- part of her legacy.

New Information May Bring Better Clarity to Emma's Legacy

I found two of the question/answer sections of Heather's interview, with Mark, of particular interest, in light of my above "musings of a few years back. I may now have to re-assess some of my thoughts/understandings regarding both plural marriage and how the 20-year-pause of Relief Society went down, in regard to Emma's involvement. So, go read it.

As we strive to understand Emma's true legacy, not only to the Church, but on a personal level (not sure we can really separate the two) new light continues to come forth, in her favor. I've always pulled for Emma, and felt a great deal of compassion toward her for the faith she displayed as wife of Joseph Smith, and the many sacrifices the choices in her life caused her to endure. Those who knew her best, loved her best. That says a lot. I think.

Staker was given the opportunity to share final thoughts with Heather during their interview. I love his remarks:
"Sometimes when Joseph Smith dictated his history he talked about events in which he was involved as “I” did this, or “I” did that without mentioning the significant role Emma played in these same events. This was a common way of responding in the early nineteenth century. It did not mean that Joseph felt Emma had not contributed to an event—such as Book of Mormon translation—but that Emma was considered an extension of Joseph. Sometimes the identity of women was so subsumed in that of their husband in the nineteenth century that they go unnoticed. The author Mrs. Schuyler van Rensselaer, for example, is really Mariana Griswold van Rensselaer. But her identity was tied into that of her husband as was typical of the period. For Emma this was much more the case. Joseph came to recognize in Nauvoo that even his exaltation was tied to that of his wife. He could not return to live with God again without being sealed to his wife. We naturally focus on Joseph because he was the source of revelation from God, but Emma was so much a part of Joseph that she shared in much of what he accomplished. According to one of his associates, Joseph was told by Moroni that he could not recover the plates unless he married Emma and brought her to the hill with him. After Joseph married Emma he was able to receive the plates at his next visit with her accompanying him along the way. Thankfully she agreed to leave behind family, friends, all her possessions, and any dreams of a life of ease she may have fostered to join Joseph on the journey. We are all blessed because of it."

Beautiful video tribute to Emma Smith, with scenes from the movie -- Emma Smith: My Story

Happy Birthday Dear Emma!

Kathryn Skaggs


Emma Smith: The Elect Lady

"One hundred years have passed since Emma’s children watched her life slip away. In many respects, that century has left a historical vacuum surrounding Emma Smith. Honored as the first president of the Relief Society, remembered for her efforts in compiling the original Latter-day Saint hymnal, and revered as the wife of the Prophet, Emma’s role during the period of the establishment of the Church covered an even wider range of experiences."

"Ever since the Prophet Joseph died as a martyr in Carthage, Illinois, some Latter-day Saints have felt disappointment that Joseph’s wife Emma did not go with the Church in the westward exodus of the Saints in 1846–47.

Emma and Joseph’s descendants grew up separated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet I knew little of these things, for our branch of the family was far removed from our Smith heritage. While growing up on a farm near Ronan, Montana, I knew I had a relative named Joseph Smith, but I don’t recall hearing the word Mormon or seeing a Book of Mormon until I was almost an adult."

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