The JI 2nd Annual Summer Book Club: Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith

By May 23, 2016

Last year, we at the Juvenile Instructor started a Summer Book Club on Richard Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. The posts garnered thousands of views, many helpful comments, and publicity from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Religion News Service. I received notes from friends, acquaintances, and perfect strangers who benefited from reading along with us. It was extremely gratifying to hear from folks that found a reason to tackle such an important biography.

In the spirit of introducing non-specialists and non-academics to Mormon history, we have decided to read Linda King Newell’s and Valeen Tippetts Avery’s Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith.  We landed on Mormon Enigma for several reasons. First, we wanted to address the history of women in Mormon history. There are very few books on women in Mormonism, far fewer, at any rate, than books on men’s actions, thoughts, lives, and decisions. For instance, there are several biographies on Joseph Smith but only Newell and Avery have written a biography of Emma Smith.

Second, Mormon Enigma is much more digestible than last year’s selection. Mormon Enigma is about 60% as long as Rough Stone Rolling and the book’s lively prose is much less complex than Rough Stone Rolling.

Third, historical arguments about women in Mormonism have been particularly important in the development of Mormon Studies as well as in the blogosphere. It will also be interesting to read Mormon Enigma with the publication of the new Relief Society Documents book. Those with access to the book will be able to consult many of the primary sources analyzed by Newell and Avery for themselves.

Fourth, we at JI want to highlight the important work that has already been done and is being done by women. For instance, see what I wrote last year:

The past decade has witnessed an explosion of scholarship on Mormonism that historians and religious studies scholars must take seriously. Books by Spencer Fluhman, Patrick Mason, John Turner, Christine Talbot, the Joseph Smith Papers Project Team, Paul Reeve, Jared Farmer, Steve Taysom, Sam Brown, as well as many journal authors, have produced work useable in university classrooms.

I undoubtedly unintentionally left out several authors, but there are far more male authors than female authors active in the Mormon history community. The study of Mormonism will not grow without more opportunities for and publications from women. Reading the best study of Mormonism’s “Elect Lady,” I hope, will inspire those who study Mormonism to write more about women and gender, as well as encourage more women to write Mormon history.[i]


We will be using the second edition of Mormon Enigma, published in 1994.

The first post will be posted on June 6 [the week of the Mormon History Association Conference.]

  • Week 1: Emma and Joseph, 1825-1827; The “Elect Lady” 1827-1830 [June 6]
  • Week 2: Gathering in Ohio, 1830-1834; Seas of Tribulation, 1834-1838; Strife in Missouri; Sanctuary in a Swamp, 1839-1841 [June 13]
  • Week 3: A New Order of Marriage, 1841-1842; In Search of Iniquity, Spring-Summer 1842; Aid to the Fugitive, June-September 1842 [June 20]
  • Week 4: More Wives and a Revelation, September 1842-July 1843; The Poisoning, June-December 1843; “Voice of Innocence,” January-June 1844 [June 27]
  • Week 5: A Final Farewell, June 12-28, 1844; The Lady and the Lion, Fall 1844; Inherit the Legacy, October 1844-October 1845 [July 4 or 5]
  • Week 6: The Sun Casts a Shadow, Winter 1845-1846; War in Nauvoo, February-December 1846; The Major, 1846-1849 [July 11]
  • Week 7: Change in Nauvoo, 1850-1860; Emma’s Sons, Lewis’s Son, 1860-1870 [July 18]
  • Week 8: Josephites and Brighamites, 1870-1877; The Last Testimony, 1873-1879; Epilogue [July 25]

Please “like” the JI Summer Book Club Facebook page for updates. We will answer questions on the Facebook page throughout the week.

Use the hashtag #JIEnigma when discussing the book on social media.

Go forth and purchase the book! We are looking forward to a great summer.


[i] We discussed several options before landing on Mormon Enigma. We discussed whether focusing on the most influential women within Mormonism rather than the rank and file would be a problem. We also discussed whether reading two biographies in a row would be beneficial to our readers. But because many of our readers have not read some of the classics of Mormon history, we decided Mormon Enigma would be a great choice.

Article filed under Announcements and Events Biography


  1. This is awesome. Looking forward to it.

    Comment by Bradley Kime — May 23, 2016 @ 8:39 am

  2. Count me in.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — June 2, 2016 @ 1:42 am

  3. I am pleased that you have chosen Mormon Enigma for your summer book reading. I would b happy to respond to questions readers might have for me. I’m not sure how to do that, perhaps on your facebook page.

    Comment by Linda King Newell — June 3, 2016 @ 12:06 am

  4. […] this Summer’s Book Club, we will be reading Mormon Enigma by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery. This […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Summer Book Club Week 1: Chapters 1 and 2 — June 6, 2016 @ 5:08 am

  5. […] Welcome to week 2 of this Summer?s Book Club. We?re reading Mormon Enigma, and this week?s post focuses on four chapters: ?Gathering in […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Summer Book Club Week 2: Chapters 3 through 6 — June 13, 2016 @ 3:00 am

  6. […] is the third installment of the Summer Book Club, this year focusing on Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery’s Mormon Enigma: Emma […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Summer Book Club Week 3: Mormon Enigma, Chapters 7-9 — June 20, 2016 @ 6:03 am


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