D&C 135, the announcement of Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s murder, states that “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” Clearly, the use of the word “men” in this verse refers to both men and women.
That said, as I considered what to share in this post, I’ve contemplated what the work of Joseph Smith has meant for the salvation of women in this world. Joseph Smith restored truths that have blessed me as a woman and brought me closer to God.
Joseph Smith understood the value of women’s contributions in building the kingdom of God and acted accordingly. As President Julie Beck taught, an important part of the work of restoration was restoring the pattern of female discipleship that Christ established during his time on earth. After organizing the Relief Society, Joseph Smith taught that, “The church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized.” He recognized female organization wasn’t a pleasant side program – it was essential to the restoration of all things.
The words he used when he spoke to the Relief Society promised divine power and purpose. He taught that the society is “not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls.” He invited the women to “administer in that authority which is confer’d upon them.” He talked of godly gifts available to the society, stating, “I now turn the key to you in the name of God, and this society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time.” When people complained that Nauvoo women “were not going right in laying hands on the sick & so forth,” he called out their “jealous eyes” and said that they should rejoice that the sick could be healed. He spoke to women as disciples with power, strength, and authority.1
This heritage of female discipleship matters to me. My church service has stretched me, improving my talents, deepening my understanding, and giving me the powerful connection to Heavenly Father that I seldom feel as strongly as when I am united with Him in efforts to serve His children and do His work. I have been blessed to see God at work when men and women bring their best offerings to the table and work in unity.
Joseph Smith also restored truths about the work of women in the eternities through introducing the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother. After Zina D. H. Young’s mother died, Joseph Smith comforted her by teaching that not only would she see her earthly mother again, but that she would be also reunited with her Eternal Mother. While he never publicly taught the doctrine, past and current church leaders have more thoroughly expounded on it throughout the years.2 The truth of a Heavenly Mother has revolutionized my outlook on so many spiritual matters – how I view my path along the plan of salvation, who I’m striving to become, the covenants I make in the temple, and the divine nature present in every woman I meet.
And there are countless elements of Joseph Smith’s work that may not seem woman-centric, but have impacted my salvation in distinctly female ways. My parents’ obedience to the Word of Wisdom has spared me from so much of the abuse caused by alcoholism and drug use that generations of women in my family have suffered. Family relationships I’ve forged will continue in the next life. I have laid profoundly female trials at my Savior’s feet, knowing through scripture Joseph translated that Christ suffered for more than our sins – he suffered for “our pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” (Alma 7:11).
It would be disingenuous to imply that I do not have complicated feelings about decisions Joseph Smith made as he executed polygamy, and the way they impacted women’s lives. But it would also lack integrity for me to deny how richly blessed my life as a woman has been by truths Joseph Smith revealed.
1. The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History, edited by Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, published by The Church Historian’s Press, 2016
2. David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” BYU Studies 50, no. 1 (2011): 70–97.
Other Related Women’s Voices
The following are compiled in The Witness of Women: Firsthand Experiences and Testimonies from the Restoration, written by the Janiece Johnson and Jennifer Reeder.
Eunice Billings Snow (age 14) – “On the last day which [Joseph Smith] spent in Nauvoo, he passed our house with his brother, Hyrum, both riding. My mother and I were standing in the dooryard, and as he passed, he bowed with uplifted hat to my mother. Hyrum seemed like one in a dream, sad and despondent, taking no notice of anyone. They were on their way to Carthage jail, and it was the last time I saw the Prophet alive. Shortly after this, my father came home and told my mother that the Prophet and his brother had been murdered, whereupon my mother exclaimed, “How can it be possible? Will the Lord allow anything like that?”
Eliza Clayton Margetts (age 12, resident of Carthage) – “In the forenoon of the day on which these atrocious murders were committed some of the neighbors, disguised and with painted faces, came to our house and told mother she had better get out of the way as they were going to kill the prophet that day. A terrific storm arose that day, and in the afternoon we heard the firing of guns and soon after saw some of the murderers run away howling like fiends. My sister Lucy who was at this time living with the jailer’s family, and was at the jail when the shooting commenced, came home and told what had happened. The next day I went with my sister Lucy to the jail, we found the doors and windows open and everything in confusion, as though the people had left in great haste, we went up stairs to the room in which the Prophet and his brother had been shot, everything seemed upset, there were some Church books on the table and portraits of Joseph and Hyrum’s families on the mantle piece. Blood in pools on the floor and bespattered on the walls, at sight of which we were overcome with grief and burst into tears. After becoming somewhat collected we gathered up what we supposed belonged to the inmates of the room at the time of the murder, and placed them together on a trunk that was in the room.”
Lucy Mack Smith (mother of Joseph and Hyrum) – “After the corpses were washed, and dressed in their burial clothes, we were allowed to see them. I had for a long time braced every nerve, roused every energy of my soul, and called upon God to strengthen me; but when I entered the room, and saw my murdered sons extended both at once before my eyes, and heard the sobs and groans of my family, and the cries of, ‘Father! husband! brothers!’ From the lips of their wives, children, brother, and sisters, it was too much; I sank bank, crying to the Lord, in the agony of my soul, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken this family!’ A voice replied, ‘I have taken them to myself, that they might have rest.’ Emma was carried back to her room almost in a state of insensibility. Her oldest son approached the corpse, and dropped upon his knees, and laying his cheek against his father’s and kissing him, exclaimed, ‘Oh! My father! my father!” As for myself, I was swallowed up in the depth of my afflictions; and though my soul was filled with horror past imagination, yet I was dumb, until I arose again to contemplate the spectacle before me. Oh! at that moment how my mind flew through every scene of sorrow and distress which we had passed together, in which they had shown the innocence and sympathy which filled guileless hearts. As I looked upon their peaceful, smiling countenances, I seemed almost to hear them say, ‘Mother, weep not for us, we have overcome the world by love; we carried to them the gospel, that their souls might be saved; they slew us for our testimony, and thus placed us beyond their power; their ascendancy is for a moment, ours is an eternal triumph.’”
Louisa Barnes Pratt – “Such consternation was never known, since the rocks were rent and the sun darkened, when Christ the Lamb was slain! I had previously had a presentment that some terrible calamity was at hand, but did not believe the men would be slain! Had the sun and moon both fallen from their orbits, and left the world in total darkness, it would not have betokened a more irretrievable despoliation. I thought the church was ruined forever. I rushed into my garden, when the news was confirmed, and poured out my soul in such bitterness as I had never felt before…It was a still night, and the moon was at the full. No season was ever more sublime. A night of death, it was, and everything conspired to make it awfully solemn. The noise of war was suddenly heard, the voices of the officers were heard calling the men together and coming in the distance made it fall on the heart like a funeral knell. The women were assembled in groups, weeping and praying. Some wishing terrible punishments on the murderers, others acknowledging the hand of God in the awful event…From that hour I watched for words of comfort and drank them in, as I would an antidote to relieve the pain.”
Jane Elizabeth Manning James – “When he was killed, I would have liked to have died myself, if it had not been for the teachers, I felt so bad. I could have died, just laid down and died; and I was sick abed, and the teachers told me, ‘You don’t want to die because he did. He died for us, and now we all want to live and do all the good we can.’”
Sally Carlisle Randall – “There are many that will rejoice and think Mormonism is down now, but they will be mistaken, for the Lord has begun his work and he will carry it on in spite of all mobs and devils.”