Sifting through the online digital collection of Joseph F. Smith’s autobiographical writings at the Church History Library has been interesting, to say the least. I’ve found him to have been both a loving and compassionate father and husband, as well as a man on occasion quick to anger, and just as quick to forgive. Most of all, I have found that in raising his large family with five wives, many children, and multiple households to support, he really wasn’t all that different from the rest of us. Complexity abounds, and I’ve appreciated the many facets of Joseph F.’s personality.
His kids even quarreled with each other, as I found in this item, a piece of paper tucked into a notebook and kept, because, well, I suspect he either found it amusing, or a good reminder that not all his children always successfully followed his counsel. This note would seem to indicate that his daughter, Nonie (Leonora), might have sought help from her mother, Sarah Ellen Richards, during the writing of the note. Certainly, she saw the note before it was delivered.
Here’s the transcript of the text:
S.L.C. Mar 18th [year unknown]
We are all well. Please kill little Joseph for me.
PS – Mama thinks it will be hard work for you to make this out.
When I first saw this, I laughed out loud. I assumed at first that the Joseph mentioned might have been Joseph Fielding Smith, her half brother and future president of the church, but more likely Nonie was exasperated by her full sibling Joseph Richards Smith, two years younger than Nonie. Judging from the penmanship, I would suspect that Nonie was just learning to write, with her mother’s help. At any rate, the note with the request for filicide to be exercised on an annoying little brother will be familiar, I suspect, to many older sisters.
Most interesting to me is that Joseph F. kept the note with his journals and notebooks. He obviously felt it had some value, perhaps as a reminder to Nonie about the virtues of patience, or that he found it in some ways, endearing. Without a date, it is hard to know where Nonie’s father was as she was writing to him. He was not yet serving his third mission to England as President of the European Mission in March of 1877. The following year, when Leonora turned 7, he was not yet departed on a mission to the Eastern States. Most likely, with Joseph F. Smith’s busy schedule as an Apostle, and three full households to support (prior to 1883 when Joseph F. married Alice Ann Kimball), writing a letter may have been the best way for little Nonie to both practice her penmanship, and also to try and get her father’s attention over a small, personal crisis. However, it is comforting to know that Joseph F. did not act on his daughter’s request. Joseph Richards Smith lived to the ripe old age of 81, dying in 1954. Nonie, who died in 1907 at age 36, would have had many opportunities to reconcile with her annoying little brother, certainly encouraged by her father.
 Joseph F. Smith papers; Autobiographical writings; Notebooks; Items removed from volume in folder 6. Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, UT.