While there, on 22 September 1827, Joseph and Emma took a horse and carriage belonging to Joseph Knight, Sr. and went to a hill now known as the Hill Cumorah where Joseph claimed to have received a set of Golden Plates. This created a great deal of excitement in the area. In December 1827, the couple decided to move to be with Emma's parents' in Harmony where they reconciled to an extent with Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, who helped Emma and Joseph obtain a house and a small farm. While living there, Joseph began translation of the plates into the Book of Mormon, and for a time, Emma acted as a scribe. She became a physical witness of the plates, reporting that she felt them through a cloth, traced the pages through the cloth with her fingers, heard the metallic sound they made as she moved them, and felt their weight. She later wrote in an interview with her son, Joseph Smith III: "In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, 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.
Emma was baptized in 28 June 1830 in Colesville, New York where an early branch of the church was established. During the next weeks, Joseph was arrested and tried in South Bainbridge for "glass looking" on the state's vagrancy law. Emma may have been disheartened and Joseph reported a revelation which instructed her to "murmur not" but also comforted her with the assurance, "thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called." The revelation goes on to state that Emma would "be ordained under [Joseph's] hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church" and further authorizes Emma to "make a selection of sacred Hymns" for the church.
Joseph and Emma returned to Harmony for a time, but relations with Emma's parents broke down, and the couple returned to live again in the homes of members of the growing church. They lived first with the Whitmers again in Fayette, then with Newel K. Whitney and his family in Kirtland, Ohio and then into a cabin on a farm owned by Isaac Morley. It was here on April 30, 1831 that Emma prematurely gave birth to twins—named Thaddeus and Louisa—who died hours later. That same day Julia Clapp Murdock died giving birth to twins, named Joseph and Julia. When they were nine days old, their father, John Murdock gave the infants to the Smiths who adopted them and raised them as their own. On 2 September 1831, Emma, Joseph and the twins moved into John Johnson's home in Hiram, Ohio. The infant Joseph died of exposure or pneumonia in late March 1832, after a door was left open exposing the twin during a mob attack on her husband.
On November 6, 1832, Emma gave birth to a son, named Joseph Smith III, in the upper room of Newel K. Whitney's store in Kirtland. Young Joseph (as he became known) was the first of the children she bore to live to adulthood. A second son, Frederick Granger Williams Smith (named for a counselor in the church's First Presidency), followed on June 29, 1836.
While in Kirtland, Emma's feelings about temperance and the use of tobacco may have influenced her husband's decision to pray about dietary questions. These prayers resulted in the "Word of Wisdom". Also, Emma's first selection of hymns was published as a hymnal for the church's use. It was also in Kirtland that the collapse of Joseph's banking venture, the Kirtland Safety Society, led to serious problems for the church and the family. On January 12, 1838, he was forced to leave the state or face charges of fraud and illegal banking.
Emma and her family followed after, as they could, and made a new home on the frontier in the Latter Day Saint settlement of Far West, Missouri. There, on June 2, 1838, Emma gave birth to another son, Alexander Hale Smith. Events of the 1838 Mormon War soon escalated, resulting in Joseph's surrender and imprisonment by Missouri officials. Emma and her family were forced to leave the state with the majority of Latter Day Saint refugees. She crossed the Mississippi River which had frozen over in February 1839. Of these times, she later wrote:
No one but God knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart when I left our house and home, and almost all of everything that we possessed excepting our little children, and took my journey out of the State of Missouri, leaving [Joseph] shut up in that lonesome prison. But the reflection is more than human nature ought to bear, and if God does not record our sufferings and avenge our wrongs on them that are guilty, I shall be sadly mistaken.
On March 24, 1842 the Ladies' Relief Society was formally organized as the women's auxiliary to the church and Emma became its founding president. Shortly before this, Joseph initiated the Anointed Quorum—a prayer-circle of important men and women in the church that included Emma.
Rumors concerning polygamy and other practices erupted into the open by 1842. Emma was involved in campaigns to publicly condemn polygamy and deny any involvement by her husband. Emma authorized and was the main signatory of a petition in Summer 1842, with a thousand female signatures, denying Joseph Smith, Jr. was connected with polygamy. As President of the Ladies' Relief Society, she authorized the publishing of a certificate in October 1842 denouncing polygamy and denying her husband as its creator or participant. In March 1844, Emma published,
we raise our voices and hands against John C. Bennett's 'spiritual wife system', as a scheme of profligates to seduce women; and they that harp upon it, wish to make it popular for the convenience of their own cupidity; wherefore, while the marriage bed, undefiled is honorable, let polygamy, bigamy, fornication, adultery, and prostitution, be frowned out of the hearts of honest men to drop in the gulf of fallen nature".In June 1844, with the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor by disaffected former church members, the press was destroyed by the town marshal on orders from the town council (of which Joseph was a member) which set into motion the events that ultimately led to his arrest and incarceration in the jail in Carthage. While he was there, a mob of about 200 armed men stormed Carthage Jail in the late afternoon of 27 June, 1844. Gun shots killed both Joseph and his brother Hyrum.
The church itself was left with no clear successor and a succession crisis ensued. Emma wanted William Marks, president of the church's central stake, to assume the church presidency, but Marks favored Sidney Rigdon for the role. After a meeting on August 6, a congregation of the church voted that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles should become the new First Presidency of the church. Brigham Young, president of the Quorum, then became de facto president of the church in Nauvoo.
Relations between Young and Emma steadily deteriorated, and Emma's friends as well as members of the Smith family were cut off from the church. Relations between the Latter Day Saints and their neighbors also declined into near open warfare, and finally Young made the decision to relocate in the West. When he and the majority of the Latter Day Saints of Nauvoo abandoned the city in early 1846, Emma and her children remained behind in the mostly empty town.
Nearly two years later, a close friend and non-Mormon, Major Lewis C. Bidamon, proposed marriage and became Emma's second husband on December 23, 1847. Bidamon moved into the mansion house and became stepfather to Emma's children. Emma and Bidamon attempted to operate a store and to continue using their large house as a hotel, but Nauvoo had too few residents and visitors to make either venture very profitable. Emma and her family remained rich in real estate but poor in capital.
Unlike other members of the Smith family who had at times favored the claims of James J. Strang and/or William Smith, Emma and her children continued to live as unaffiliated Latter Day Saints. Many Latter Day Saints believed that her eldest son, Joseph Smith III, would one day be called to take his father's place. Knowing the dangers and hardships firsthand, Emma may have preferred a different path for her son. However, when he reported receiving a calling from God to take his father's place as head of a "New Organization" of the Latter Day Saint church, she supported his decision. Both she and Joseph III traveled to a conference at Amboy, Illinois and on April 6, 1860, Joseph was sustained as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, adding the word Reorganized to the name in 1872, and later became the Community of Christ. Emma became a member of this organization without rebaptism, as her original 1830 baptism was still considered valid.
Emma and Joseph III returned to Nauvoo after the conference and he led the church from there until moving to Plano, Illinois in 1866. Joseph III called upon his mother to help prepare a hymnal for the New Organization, just as she had for the early church.
Major Bidamon renovated a portion of the unfinished "Nauvoo House" hotel (across the street from the mansion house) and he and Emma moved there in 1869. Emma died peacefully in her home on April 30, 1879. Her memorial service was held May 2 of that year in Nauvoo, Illinois.
The first church hymnal came off the press in 1836 (and maybe late 1835) at Kirtland, Ohio It was titled A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints and contained 90 hymn texts (no music). More than half of the texts were borrowed from other Protestant traditions, but often changed slightly to reinforce the theology of the early church. For example, Hymn 15, changes Isaac Watts' Joy to the World from a song about Christmas to a song about the return of Christ (See Joy to the world! the Lord will come!) Most of these changes as well as a large number of the original songs included in the hymnal are attributed to William Wines Phelps.
Emma also compiled a second hymnal by the same title, which was published in Nauvoo, Illinois, 1841. This contained 304 hymn texts.
When her son Joseph III became president/prophet of the Reorganization in 1860, she was again asked to compile a hymnal. Latter Day Saints' Selection of Hymns was published in 1861.
No such thing as polygamy, or spiritual wifery, was taught, publicly or privately, before my husband's death, that I have now, or ever had any knowledge of...He had no other wife but me; nor did he to my knowledge ever have.
Emma Smith claimed that the very first time she ever became aware of a polygamy revelation being attributed by Mormons to Joseph Smith was when she read about it in Orson Pratt's booklet The Seer in 1853. Her son, Joseph Smith III, became prophet/president of the Reorganization — which gathered many of the Latter Day Saints still scattered across the Midwest and elsewhere. Many of the Midwestern Latter Day Saints had broken with Brigham Young and/or James Strang because of earnest opposition to polygamy. Emma's continuing public denial of the practice seemed to lend strength to their cause, and opposition to polygamy became a tenet of the RLDS church (now known as Community of Christ). Over the years many church historians attempted to prove that the practice had originated with Brigham Young.