Emma Smith and Eliza R. Snow were both 32 years of age when they became friends.
In 1835 Emma and Joseph invited Eliza to board with them while she taught a girls school. "Eliza was not fond of teaching school, but living in Emma's home offered a compensation: Eliza watched Joseph" (Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Tippetts and Avery, p. 61).
On March 17, 1842 the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo was formed with Emma Smith as president. Emma chose Elizabeth Ann and Sarah Cleveland as her counselors and Eliza as secretary.
On 29 June 1842 Eliza R. Snow and Joseph were married in secret. At the time Eliza was living with Sarah Cleveland. Sarah's husband, John Cleveland, was living several blocks away. It seems likely that Sarah was also married to Joseph by this time.
"Sarah and Eliza knew that Emma regarded them with respect and affection. While women who became Joseph's wives were able to accept the principle of plural marriage as a revelation from God, they still had to grapple silently and alone with their betrayal of Emma. To live as a secret wife to a friend's husband demanded evasion, subterfuge, and deception. For these sincerely devout and faithful women, their duplicity regarding Emma must have prompted guilt and anxiety." (Mormon Enigma:Emma Hale Smith, Newell and Avery p. 120).
Emma worked tirelessly to promote the church, nurture the people and notably to combat accusations of polygamous practices within the church. All the while the members of this group of women, this 'Relief Society', continued to marry Emma's husband in secret.
Louisa Beaman married Joseph April 5, 1841
Agnes Coolbrith Smith married Joseph before June 1842 (she was the widow of Joseph's brother, Don Carlos).
Sarah Cleveland married Joseph in 1842 (this date is not certain but the marriage is)
Elizabeth Durfee married Joseph before June 1842 (this date is not certain but the marriage is)
(The above 2 women were older women who were sometimes referred to as "Mothers in Israel", their job was to teach the younger women the principles of plural marriage).
These women all served in the Relief Society 'supporting' Emma as president whilst married to her husband! As well as these women who were married to Joseph, there were others in the organisation who knew of the plural marriages but kept the secret from Emma.
Joseph addressed the Relief Society on May 26 1842 "There is another error which opens a door for the adversary to enter. As females posses refined feelings and sensitiveness, they are also subject to an overmuch zeal which must ever prove dangerous, and cause them to be rigid in capacity. [You] should be arm'd with mercy notwithstanding the iniquity among us.... Put a double watch over the tongue...[You] should chasten and reprove and keep it all in silence, not even mention them again... One request to the Prest. and society, that you search yourselves--the tongue is an unruly member--hold your tongues about things of no moment. A little tale will set the world on fire. At this time the truth on the guilty should not be told openly--strange as this may seem, yet this is policy. We must use precaution in bringing sinners to justice lest in exposing these heinous sins, we draw the indignation of a gentile world upon us (and to their imagination justly, too). It is necessary to hold an influence in the world and thus to spare ourselves an extermination" Joseph contradicted his previous charge that the women watch over the morals of the community. Emma was doing her job too well. " (Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Tippetts and Avery, p.115).
Emma discovered Eliza's secret in early 1843. There is much folklore surrounding the discovery. Tales were told of Emma catching Joseph and Eliza in an embrace outside of his bedroom (Emma's room was on one side of Joseph's room, Eliza's was on the other!) and that Emma then flew into a fury and flung Eliza down the stairs. Some stories claim that Eliza was carrying Joseph's child at the time and miscarried as a result of the fall. Whatever the details it is certain that Emma would have been deeply hurt and shocked by the news.
Shame on the church for their treatment of Emma in their history. Shame on the church for their god-like portrayal of Joseph.
I know of members who believe that the practice of plural marriage was an awful, terrible mistake. They still choose to remain members of the church. They believe that Joseph made a mistake but that he was still a prophet who spoke to god and translated the Book of Mormon. I personally believe he was a complete fraud but my point here is that I hope that members of the church will at least look into the matter of plural marriage, not for my sake, god no, but for Emma and all of the women and men who suffered from the practice.