Skip main navigation
The menus have changed. Learn more. close
Skip main navigation


in Context

“Thou Art an Elect Lady”

D&C 24, 25, 26, 27

Matthew J. Grow

Emma Smith

In the months following the April 1830 organization of the Church of Christ (as the LDS Church was then known), Emma Hale Smith began to understand more fully what her husband’s prophetic calling would mean to her and their young family. Emma, who turned 26 years old on July 10, 1830, had married Joseph three years earlier over the objections of her parents, Isaac and Elizabeth Lewis Hale.1 She believed in the visions and revelations received by her new husband, and those three eventful years had confirmed to her that he was indeed a prophet.

He had neither mss [manuscript] nor book to read from. If he had had anything of the Kind he could not have concealed it from me.

Emma Hale Smith

By the time of their marriage, Joseph had met with the Angel Moroni on three consecutive years at a hill near Palmyra, New York, to discuss the gold plates from which he would translate the Book of Mormon. In the fall of 1827, Emma went with Joseph and waited in the wagon while he received the gold plates. She soon began to assist as a scribe in the translation process. “I frequently wrote day after day,” she later recalled, “often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it and dictating hour after hour, with nothing between us. He had neither mss [manuscript] nor book to read from. If he had had anything of the Kind he could not have concealed it from me. The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth. ... I felt of the plates, as they lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape.”

Decades later, she marveled at what had happened. She recalled that at the time of their marriage Joseph “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of M[ormon].”2

Emma's Trials

But these spiritual experiences had been accompanied by inconvenience and pain. Joseph and Emma first lived with the Smith family at Manchester, New York, and then moved to live with the Hales in Harmony, Pennsylvania, where Emma had grown up. In their first years of marriage, the couple moved at least four times between Harmony and upstate New York, traversing approximately 300 miles each time. In June 1828, Emma gave birth to a son who “died the same hour” of his birth.3 Their early years were filled with poverty. Joseph wrote that in 1829 they had become so poor—“so reduced in property,” he termed it—and Emma’s father “was about to turn me out of doores & I had not where to go and I cried unto the Lord that he would provide for me to accomplish the work whereunto he had commanded me.”4 In their hour of need, faithful friends—such as Josiah Stowell, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery—often provided Joseph and Emma with financial assistance.

Notwithstanding these challenges, Emma desired to be baptized in June 1830, and Joseph and Emma traveled to Colesville, New York, to perform her baptism, along with the baptisms of several other converts, including members of the Knight family, who had also supported them financially during the translation of the Book of Mormon. However, opponents to the infant church destroyed a dam built for the baptisms on Sunday evening, June 27. Early the next morning, Joseph Smith’s history recounts, “we were on the alert, and before our enemies were aware we had repaired the dam, and proceeded to baptize.” Oliver Cowdery baptized Emma and twelve others. Before the baptismal service had ended, “the mob began again to collect, and shortly after we had retired, they amounted to about fifty men.” Joseph, Emma, and the other Church members had gone into Joseph Knight Sr.’s home, but it was soon surrounded by men “raging with anger and apparently wishful to commit violence upon us.” Joseph Smith’s history continues, “Some asked us questions, others threatened us, so that we thought it wisdom to leave and go to the house of Newel Knight.” Nevertheless, the Saints were followed and the harassment continued.5

The Saints planned a meeting for that evening during which Emma and the other newly baptized individuals would receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and be confirmed members of the Church. However, as they gathered, a constable arrested Joseph Smith “on charge of being a disorderly person; of setting the country in an uproar by preaching the Book of Mormon.” The constable explained that the mob hoped to ambush Joseph after his arrest; however, the constable “was determined to save me from them, as he had found me to be a different sort of person from what I had been represented to him.” They soon encountered the mob, but to the “great disappointment” of the vigilantes, the constable “gave the horse the whip and drove me out of their reach.” After arriving in South Bainbridge in Chenango County, the constable stayed with Joseph Smith that night “in an upper room of a Tavern.” To protect Joseph, the constable “slept during the night with his feet against the door, and a loaded musket by his side.”6

Joseph Smith was tried and acquitted in South Bainbridge, but then immediately arrested again to stand trial on similar charges in neighboring Broome County. The second constable initially treated Joseph harshly. When they arrived in Broome County, “He took me to a tavern, and gathered in a number of men, who used every means to abuse, ridicule, and insult me.” They spat on Joseph and demanded that he prophesy to them. Relatively close to their home now, Joseph asked that he “be allowed the privilege of spending the night with my wife at home,” but the constable denied his request. Following a second trial the next day, Joseph was again acquitted. The constable, according to Joseph Smith’s history, now “asked my forgiveness.” Learning of plans by the mob to tar and feather Joseph, the constable helped him to escape. Joseph arrived safely at the nearby house of Elizabeth Hale Wasson, Emma’s sister.7

During her husband’s absence, Emma had been “awaiting with much anxiety the issue of those ungodly proceedings.”8 She had gathered with other women “for the purpose of praying for the deliverance” of her husband.9 Once reunited, Joseph and Emma traveled home to Harmony, Pennsylvania, in early July. Along with Oliver Cowdery, Joseph made one more unsuccessful trip to Colesville to confirm the newly baptized Saints, but quickly returned to Harmony in the face of renewed opposition.10

Outpouring of Revelation

D&C 24 on
D&C 24 on

Following this return to Harmony, Joseph Smith received three revelations in July 1830. The first revelation, currently known as Doctrine and Covenants 24, addressed Joseph and Oliver Cowdery, “telling them concerning their Calls.” The revelation reminded them that they had been called “to write the Book of Mormon & to my ministery.” Likely referring in part to their recent opposition, the revelation continued, “I have lifted thee up out of thine afflictions & have counseled thee, that thou hast been delivered from all thine enemies” (See D&C 24:1, 3).

The revelation also spoke of Joseph Smith’s material circumstances, instructing him to visit Church members in Colesville, Fayette, and Manchester after he had “sowed [his] fields” (See D&C 24:3). The revelation made clear that Joseph should be supported by Church members so he could “devote all [his] service in Zion.” Joseph was told, “in temporal labors thou shalt not have strength for this is not thy calling” (See D&C 24:7, 9). This revelation led Joseph and Emma to understand that they would struggle financially and need to rely on support from Church members because of their dedication to the ministry.11

Whatever Emma’s hopes for her married life were, she could hardly have anticipated the degree to which opponents of the new Church would physically intimidate and legally harass the Smiths, or the way the demands of preaching and Church administration would take her husband away from their farm and family, disrupting their home life and threatening their livelihood.

D&C 25 on
D&C 25 on

In the context of these anxieties and disappointments, Joseph received a revelation for Emma, Doctrine and Covenants 25, which reiterated, “verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world & seek for the things of a better” (See D&C 25:10). Through the revelation, Emma received words of consolation and instruction. She was told, “murmur not because of the things which thou hast not seen for they are withheld from thee & the World,” perhaps a reference to the gold plates, which Emma later recalled she had handled on one occasion but not seen. (See D&C 25:4) The revelation called Emma “an elect lady” and told her that the “office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my Servant Joseph thy husband in his afflictions with consoleing words in the spirit of meekness” (See D&C 25:3, 5). The revelation also spoke of Emma’s work in the Church, promising that she would be “ordained” by her husband “to expound Scriptures & exhort the Church”12 (See D&C 25:7). Furthermore, Emma was instructed to serve as a scribe to her husband and to compile a hymnal. Joseph Smith later explained that Emma “was ordain’d13 at the time, the Revelation was given, to expound the scriptures to all; and to teach the female part of community; and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings.”14

D&C 26 on
D&C 26 on

The third revelation received by Joseph Smith in July 1830, Doctrine and Covenants 26, instructed him, along with Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer, to dedicate their time “to the studying the Scriptures & to preaching & to confirming the Church at Colesvill & to performing thy labours on the Land”15 (See D&C 26:1). In early August, a few weeks following these three revelations, Newel and Sally Knight traveled from Colesville, New York, to visit Joseph and Emma Smith in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Sally Knight had been baptized on the same day as Emma, but neither had been confirmed. As such, Joseph Smith’s history recounts, “it was proposed that we should confirm them, and partake together of the sacrament, before he and his wife should leave this.—In order to prepare for this; I set out to go to procure some wine for the occasion, but had gone only a short distance when I was met by a heavenly messenger, and received the following revelation.”16

D&C 27 on
D&C 27 on

The angel warned Joseph Smith not to “Purchase Wine neither strong drink of your enemies”17 (See D&C 27:3). Joseph then returned home and “prepared some wine of our own make” for the confirmation meeting, which consisted of the Smiths, the Knights, and John Whitmer. Joseph Smith’s history records, “We partook together of the sacrament, after which we confirmed these two sisters into the church, and spent the evening in a glorious manner. The Spirit of the Lord was poured out upon us, we praised the Lord God, and rejoiced exceedingly.”18 These four revelations, received from July through September 1830, provided crucial instructions to Joseph and Emma Smith, as well as other Church members, in the formative months following the Church’s organization.

Emma particularly treasured the revelation addressed to her. With the assistance of William W. Phelps, she followed its instructions to compile the Church’s first hymnal.19 In 1842, Joseph Smith read the revelation to Emma at the organizational meeting of the Relief Society. He also read 2 John 1, which references the “elect lady,” and explained that she was “called an Elect Lady” because she was “elected to preside.”20 Joseph stated that “the revelation was then fulfilled by Sister Emma’s Election to the Presidency of the Society.”21

The revelation regarding Emma Smith, received during the tumultuous summer months of 1830, was invoked and discussed in Relief Society meetings throughout the nineteenth century. For example, at a “Jubilee” celebration of the Relief Society’s fiftieth anniversary in 1892 in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, “Zina Y. W. Card ... read in a very clear and distinct voice the Revelation given to Emma Smith, through Joseph the Seer ... wherein Sister Emma is called an Elect Lady.”22 Early General Relief Society presidents were sometimes called “Elect Lady.” For instance, when Zina D. H. Young became general Relief Society president, Emmeline B. Wells (who later served as general Relief Society president) wrote to her, “I congratulate you my beloved sister on being called, to be, according to the words of Joseph the Prophet, “The Elect Lady.”23


For more on the sections mentioned in this article, see the forthcoming volume, Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, William G. Hartley, eds. Documents: July 1828-June 1831. First volume of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2013.


[1] Joseph Smith [III], “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald 26, October 1, 1879, 289.

[2] Emma Smith Bidamon, Notes of Interview with Joseph Smith III, quoted in Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 57.

[3] Karen Lynn Davidson, David J. Whittaker, Mark R. Ashurst-McGee, Richard L. Jensen, eds., Histories: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832-1834, Vol. 1 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012), 28.

[4] Joseph Smith, History, 1832, Letterbook 1, 1832-1835, 6, JSP.

[5] Joseph Smith, History, 1838-1856, volume A-1, 43-44, JSP.

[6] Joseph Smith, History, 1838-1856, volume A-1, 44, JSP.

[7] Joseph Smith, History, 1838-1856, volume A-1, 45-47, JSP.

[8] Joseph Smith, History, 1838-1856, volume A-1, 47, JSP.

[9] “Some of the Remarks of John S. Reed, Esq., as Delivered before the State Convention,” Times and Seasons 5, June 1, 1844, 551.

[10] Joseph Smith, History, 1838-1856, volume A-1, 47, JSP.

[11] Revelation, July 1830-A, JSP.

[12] Revelation, July 1830–C, JSP.

[13] The word "ordained" as used here corresponds to the phrase “set apart” in modern usage.

[14] Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, minutes, March 17, 1842, JSP.

[15] Revelation, July 1830-B, JSP.

[16] Joseph Smith, History, 1838-1856, volume A-1, 51-52, JSP.

[17] Revelation, circa August 1830, JSP.

[18] Joseph Smith, History, 1838-1856, volume A-1, 51-52, JSP. Joseph Smith’s history also explains that only the first portion of the revelation “was written at this time, and the remainder [of the revelation] in the September following.” Early manuscript versions only contain the first portion, while the earliest surviving copy of the later portion is found in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

[19] Emma Smith, comp., A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of the Latter Day Saints, Kirtland, OH: F. G. Williams & Co., 1835, JSP.

[20] Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, minutes, March 17, 1842, JSP.

[21] Andrew H. Hedges, ed., Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, Vol. 2 of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2011), 45.

[22] Minutes, Relief Society Jubilee, Salt Lake City, Utah, 17 March 1892, Woman’s Exponent 20, 1 April 1892, 140-144.

[23] Emmeline B. Wells to Zina D. H. Young, April 24, 1888, Zina Card Brown Family Collection, Church History Library.