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Resilience and Reinvention: Emma Hale Smith Bidamon

Many in Community of Christ will proudly proclaim that this is “Emma’s Church”. But what does this mean, and why is Emma such a beloved figure in Community of Christ? Views of Emma vary among Latter Day Saint churches – some view her negatively and as an apostate, others admire her determination to stand for the truth, and others hardly think of her at all. Today as we recognize the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women in Community of Christ, I’d like to briefly celebrate Emma’s story as the First Lady of the Restoration.

Foundations of Faith

Born July 10, 1804 in Harmony Township, Pennsylvania, Emma Hale was the seventh child of Isaac and Elizabeth Lewis Hale. Emma’s childhood was marked by immersion in religious teachings of the Second Great Awakening, most notably the Methodist revivals that swept through her community. Her family’s commitment to faith provided fertile ground for her own spiritual exploration. In 1825 the Hale family took in a boarder, a young treasure-seeker named Joseph Smith, who captured Emma’s heart.  Despite her father’s disapproval, the couple eloped on January 18, 1827, beginning a partnership that would irrevocably intertwine their destinies.

A Partner in Prophesy and Persecution


Emma’s marriage to Joseph Smith thrust her into the tumultuous beginnings of the Latter Day Saint Movement. In her final testimony published in the Saint’s Herald in 1879, Emma called herself an “active participant” in establishing the movement, including serving as a scribe for a portion of the Book of Mormon.  She also compiled the first Latter Day Saint hymnal and was named President of the Nauvoo Relief Society. However, Emma’s life was not without challenges. She endured persecution alongside Joseph, relocating from New York to Ohio, Missouri, and finally Illinois, where they established the city of Nauvoo. She suffered the tragic loss of multiple children, and her marriage grew strained as Joseph introduced the practice of polygamy, a doctrine she vehemently opposed.

Remaining Rooted in Nauvoo

Emma was widowed with Joseph Smith’s assassination in 1844.  While many Latter Day Saints followed apostle Brigham Young westward, Emma defied expectations by staying in Nauvoo. With a determination to protect her children’s inheritance, care for her own newborn child and Joseph’s aging mother, and find stability she hadn’t experienced since childhood, she navigated complex property disputes and the tumultuous disintegration of the Latter Day Saint community in Nauvoo.  During this period of upheaval, she found companionship in a non-Mormon named Lewis C. Bidamon, whom she married in 1847.  Distancing herself from Brigham Young’s leadership, Emma proposed other men to lead the church and eventually aligned herself with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, led by her son Joseph Smith III, a testament to her enduring faith in her late husband’s legacy on her own terms.

A Lasting Legacy

Emma Smith Bidamon passed away on April 30, 1879 and is buried beside Joseph Smith in Nauvoo. Weathering storms of societal scorn, religious persecution, personal loss, and the evolution of the faith tradition she helped establish, Emma carved a path uniquely and unapologetically her own. While her choices weren’t always understood or accepted by her peers, she found the strength to challenge expectations and forge a life that honored her values. In a time when women’s lives were often defined by the men around them, Emma carved a unique path, establishing herself as an independent figure.  Her story encourages us to embrace our own resilience, define our own narratives, and honor the complexities within ourselves and others.

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