Emma Hale Smith, hymnal creator

Sometimes popular media depicts catfighting women as funny or exciting.  It’s not funny, but it happens.  I featured Eliza Roscy Snow earlier, and now I come to a rival, Emma Hale, who may or may not have shoved Eliza down some stairs during a fight.  Unlike Eliza, Emma didn’t write hymns, but she compiled hymnals.

Emma Hale was born in Harmony Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania to the first permanent white settlers in the valley.  She met Joseph Smith when he worked in the valley for an acquaintance.  Without her parents’ permission, she eloped with him and moved to Manchester, New York to live with his family.  Late in 1827 he obtained metal plates, which he said were gold and contained what are now known as the Book of Mormon.  She never saw the plates, but sewed a cloth cover for them and handled them from outside the cloth, hid them from attacks by townspeople who sought the gold, and transcribed Smith’s translation.  In 1830, Joseph Smith officially organized the “Church of Christ” as he first named it.

Shortly after Emma’s baptism into the church in 1830, Smith received the revelation calling Emma to compile the new church’s first hymnal.  “And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.”  She had to decide which hymns were worthy of their worship.  By 1832, and after many challenges to their church and their lives, Emma completed the hymnal.   A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of the Latter Day Saints was finally published in 1835.  The lapse of time can be mainly attributed to the movement’s difficulties with local mobs, the burning of their first publishing house and printing press, and Emma’s problems with her sick children.  As I have found of the oldest hymnals in use by laity, they rarely had musical notation.  Hers followed this suit.  Of the 90 hymns, 39 are by LDS authors.  Many hymns came from the Baptist or the Campbellite tradition.  Some were adapted to reflect the doctrines of the Latter-day Saints.  The texts emphasized such tenets as the building of a literal Zion in Missouri and preparing for an imminent second coming. Of note is the fact that “Great Is the Lord”, written by Eliza Snow, was in Emma’s hymnal and is even in the current LDS hymnal.  Emma’s hymnal helped to create a distinct identity for the church and laid a foundation for music in worship.   She later compiled a second LDS hymnal in 1841.

Rumors about polygamy came into the open by 1842.  Emma publicly condemned it.  She signed a petition in 1842 with a thousand other women denying Smith was polygamous.  Joseph indeed had many wives, but misled Emma.  She no doubt suspected it and there was a much debated stair pushing catfight with Eliza Snow, who married Smith in 1842.  Ironically, Snow had also signed the petition denouncing polygamy. Upon the murder of Joseph in 1844, Emma and their five surviving children remained behind in Nauvoo, Illinois while the majority of the church went west to the Great Salt Lake Valley led by Brigham Young.  Two years later, she married a non-Mormon, Lewis Bidamon.  In 1860, she, her son, Joseph Smith III, and others formed the Reorganized LDS Church today known as the Community of Christ with Joseph III as president.  This church specifically rejected polygamy.  Joseph asked his mother to prepare a hymnal for this reorganization and this was published in 1861.   Her actions in condemning LDS polygamy, in staying in Nauvoo rather than going west, in her animosity to Brigham Young (he called her mormona non grata), and in helping found a rival church made her invisible for many years in the LDS church.  She didn’t appear in any official church publication for 113 years.   Today, she is acknowledged as a saint and ironically, her stance on marriage is now that of the LDS church.