Emma Smith, the wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, was known for being highly intelligent, kind, giving and very capable. In the 1800’s women had few rights in society and were not allowed to vote in any elections. Although, it was common for women to excluded from important meetings and decision, this was not the case in the relationship of Joseph and Emma Smith. Joseph and Emma had a partnership and both respected each other and their roles. The prophet valued his wife’s opinion, and she his. Emma participated in many of the most exciting revelations and visions of the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Joseph Smith was not like other men of his time, from the documentation and records left, it appears as though, Joseph did not carry the same ideologies in regards to women as many of his time. Respecting and valuing the ideas of women was not a hard principle for the prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph and Emma had a marriage relationship very progressive for the time. This is important to note as the charge to compile a Hymnal for the whole church would have been very different than assignments normally given to women.
Emma Smith’s First Hymnal
The Lord reaffirmed the importance of the role of women to the prophet in the revelation given to Joseph in Doctrine and Covenants 25, dedicated to Emma. The Lord spoke through his prophet, counseling Emma and her role, as the wife of the prophet. The revelation gives Emma the charge to produce a Hymn book for the Church, and this was a huge deal! The Hymn book for the church would have been something of monumental value and importance, and those responsibilities were not given to women during that time. For the Hymnal compilation to be given to the charge of a woman would have been startling for many of that time period.
Emma’s Musical Background
Emma did as the Lord asked and compiled a Hymn book for the newly restored Church. In the process of compiling the book, Emma did face oppositions and had to go against the preconceived notions of the day.
Like most things in Emma’s life compiling the book was not easy. The Lord gave Emma specific instruction on what to look for with Hymns He Said:
“For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.”(D&C 25:12)
Emma was known as a natural musician, in the Sesquhannah Valley, a good singer and possessed of a fine voice, she was a soprano and probably attended local singing schools in private homes. She was often asked to sing at church gatherings.”1
It took more than five years to produce and it came with many challenges. The Hymnal was printed in 1835 and edited by W.W. Phelps. The first printing of the Hymns was done in the church newspapers “The Evening and the Morning Star”. It printed 26 Hymns the first year, 20 of them were included in the 1835 Hymnal.
The Church newspaper publication was used to communicate with the Saints in larger number and distributed throughout Missouri, Ohio and the Eastern United States. In the Newspaper they printed revelations to help the Saints all over and the Missionaries out teaching. The Printing office was destroyed in July 1833, along with the collection of Hymn’s Emma had collected. All her hard work was destroyed by the fire. It must have been devastating for Emma!
After the fire destroyed Emma’s Hymnal compilation she did not abandon her project, but waited a bit and started again to gather the music. It was in the Fall of 1835 when a larger effort begun again when the Saints were preparing for the dedication of the Kirtland Temple.
Emma’s Hymnal was finally typeset in 1835, but the majority were printed in 1836 and was sold for 1$. 50 Hymns were chosen from Protestant Hymnals and 40 from Latter-Day Saints authors including some by William Phelps, Parley P. Pratt, Edward Partridge and Eliza R. Snow.
Emma’s Hymn book started to be distributed throughout the United States, but there were problems that arose. In 1838 a man named David Rodger’s switched out the songs of Emma’s songbook with ones he had chosen and kept Emmas name on the book. This book was distributed through New York. Another problem occured with Brigham Young and the English Saints. Brigham made his own Hymnal for the Saints in England because of the difficulty with communication and the cost to bring the book to England. Brigham received a letter of disapproval from Joseph, that Hymnal of Brighams is known as the Manchester Hymnal.
Emma’s Second Hymnal
There became a need for a second Hymnal from the Saints and the Brethren voted for Emma be the one to compile it. Emma put out an ad in the Latter-Day Saints newspaper, for anyone who has poems or songs to be added sent in and she would go through the music and compile a new book.
Emma did it! A second Hymnal was finished. In the newspaper “The Times and Season” it was announced that the new Hymnal was ready on March 15, 1841.
The new Hymnal included 304 Hymns, with 78 from the 1835 Hymnal, 77 new text from the Manchester Hymnal. The Manchester Hymnal was the one that was taken across the plains with the Saints when they went to Utah. The Manchester Book may have been the book that crossed the plains because of so many English Saints, or Brigham Young’s preference to it, we do not know.
Today’s Latter-Day Hymn Book
Well, who would have guessed the early Church Hymnal caused so much drama, during the time. Studying the subject in seminary, I remember the teachers putting extra emphasis on Emma’s role in the compiling the Hymnal, but I never heard that so many people were trying to get the Hymnal to be there own compilation. It is also interesting how quickly the Church changed from using the Hymnal that Emma compiled, even though we talk about Emma compiling it all the time.
The sacrifices Emma made to get the Hymn books published were great, it was not a simple task. The Lord calling Emma, was a district sign to the men of the time, of the importance of women. Women are called to the work of Salvation, and the Lord showed that through His revelation to His daughter. It is sad that Emma had to fight an uphill battle, with some the men within the Church to put out the Hymn book she was called to create. There is a copy of Emma’s Hymnal in the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah. When looking at this book, remember the sacrifices and the challenges of Emma to get the Saints the book, and complete the mission the Lord asked of Emma.
Recently, President Russell M. Nelson put out a call to all Latter-Day Saints to submit songs to the Church for a review process, and to compile a new Hymn book. It is exciting that the call for members to submit music matched how Emma Smith called for Latter-Day Saints to do the same, more than a hundred and fifty years ago!
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Places to Visit:
Kirtland Temple Emma’s Hymnal was finished for the dedication of the Kirtland Temple
Missouri, Emma’s Hymnal was destroyed by mobs in a printing press fire
Church History Museum- a copy of Emma’s Hymnal is on display.
- “First” by Jennifer Reeder Chapter 6