The Word of Wisdom is one of Mormonism's most easily identified characteristics, and Emma Smith set it in motion. I know people like to quibble about the temperance movement's impact on the revelation, but however you slice it, Emma got the ball rolling on the revelation. Many of us know the story. At the School of the Prophets, the room was crowded with individuals wanting to hear the instruction from Joseph Smith and Orson Hyde, and they would thoroughly enjoy their pipes and chew their tobacco while they talked. It bothered Emma; the room was always filthy from their spit. Her reasoning varies on the account. Some accounts simply state that she thought it was a poor environment for Joseph's translation to occur. Most say that she didn't want to clean the mess – Brigham Young recounted that, “She could not make the floor look decent.” I assume there is truth in both. Whatever her reasoning, she dryly quipped to Joseph, “It would be a good thing if a revelation could be had declaring the use of tobacco a sin, and commanding its suppression.” Doctrine and Covenants section 89 came as a result.
The next is her contribution to the first LDS hymnal. In 1830, in what would later become D&C 25, she was counseled to make a selection of sacred hymns. In that revelations, God declared, “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.” It was interesting to me as I flipped through her selections to see how in line they are with these promises. The songs she picked are songs of boundless praise, and songs of absolute confidence in God's goodness and blessings. They also happen to be the bold, powerful kind of hymn that I'm a total sucker for (just ask anyone that has ever sung in one of my ward choirs): songs like “How Firm a Foundation,” “Redeemer of Israel,” “Now Let us Rejoice,” “I Know that my Redeemer Lives,” and “The Spirit of God.”
She and William W Phelps both contributed to the end product. For that first edition, it was only words – members just picked whatever commonly known melody had an appropriate meter and had at it. There were ninety hymns, divided into the following sections: Sacred Hymns, Morning Hymns, Evening Hymns, Farewell Hymns, On Baptism, On Sacrament, On Marriage, and Miscellaneous.
Finally, Emma Smith served as the first general president of the Relief Society. She insisted on the name “Nauvoo Relief Society” when the men tried to change it to “Nauvoo Benevolent Society.” She taught with power and encouraged countless good works. In 1843, Emma organized a Necessity Committee that was to “ascertain the condition of the families visited, and to accept contributions for charitable purposes.” These “visiting teachers” were the forerunners of our contemporary visiting teaching program.
Emma's story is ugly and complicated, and I don't like that this post turned out to be a very sanitized version of it. However, since my focus this month is on showing ways that Mormon women have shaped our contemporary worship experience, and I've already surpassed my self-imposed word limit, I'm sticking to this scope, and I'll take on her full story another time. That said, I am grateful for the profound blessings that have come into my life as a result of the doctrines, songs, and programs Emma Smith brought into the church.
General Board of the Relief Society. A Centenary of Relief Society. Salt Lake City, 1942