Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Guest Post: Sibling Rivalries: A Note to Joseph F. Smith from His Daughter, Leonora

Guest Post: Sibling Rivalries: A Note to Joseph F. Smith from His Daughter, Leonora

By: Kevin Folkman - September 04, 2012

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.[1] 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]

Dear Papa,

We are all well. Please kill little Joseph for me.

Nonie Smith

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.

[1] 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.



  1. That is precious. I love the notes that little children write. My favorite letter is from my eight-year-old brother, sent during October of my freshman year at BYU (spelling and punctuation in the original):

    Dear [Kate],
    I miss you. I hope that you can come back and make home made Macoroni and Chesse. Do you now who you are going to marry.

    Comment by HokieKate — September 4, 2012 @ 9:32 am

  2. Is is possible that this reads ‘kiss’ instead of ‘kill’? Especially given the backward ‘s’ in the next line?

    Comment by XiGauss — September 4, 2012 @ 9:41 am

  3. Ha! Now *that* puts an entirely different spin on things, XiGauss! (What do you think, Kevin?)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 4, 2012 @ 9:42 am

  4. Well, “kill” was much more amusing, but I think XiGauss is onto something! The Ls in “kill” don’t look anything like the Ls in “well” or “little”.

    Comment by E. Wallace — September 4, 2012 @ 9:49 am

  5. XiGauss, That certainly is worth considering. The two letters in [kill] or [kiss] could go either way, but you are likely correct! Nonie does get the s in [thinks] or [this] later in the letter correct, but they look much more rounded and less angular than a reverse of the letters in question.

    It probably is [kiss], but that sure takes a lot of the fun out of it for me as a researcher. I do know from other letters that Joseph F both adored his children and wives, but was also exasperated by their actions, and could “reprove with sharpness” at times, but it was always followed, at least as I can tell after he married second wife Julina, with “love unfeigned.”

    He writes a letter in 1909 to his married son Franklin, with a huge buildup about how much he regrets having to raise a a topic that has been of much concern to JFS, who was been hearing from other church brethren about certain “actions” Franklin was guilty of committing. After several paragraphs of building suspense, it turns out that Franklin was not attending his 70’s quorum meetings, and was guilty of going to the canyons on the Sabbath, which caused JFS much anxiety. It was obvious that JFS was concerned about Franklin, but he lived nearby Joseph, so the four page letter seems a bit over the top.

    Joseph F. Smith was never boring, always complex, but completely devoted to his family and the church.

    Comment by kevinf — September 4, 2012 @ 10:18 am

  6. Aw man, this “kiss” revelation took all the fun out. :( Oh well, it was fun none the less. I think it is still a great guest post. Thanks.

    Comment by Joseph Smidt — September 4, 2012 @ 10:33 am

  7. This is very cute, but I thought this was a joke. It obviously says “kiss” not “kill.”

    Comment by jemron — September 4, 2012 @ 10:39 am

  8. It’s not obvious, jemron, except after the fact!

    While the “kiss” is sweet and a lot less fun than “kill,” this illustrates one of the difficulties of transcribing handwriting. Coincidentally, capital “L” and capital “S” are often indistinguishable, as are capital “I” and capital “J.” Sometimes writers make only an approximate number of “humps” when they write “m” and “n,” and you can’t always tell whether something is an “e” or “i,” or “c” or “e” except by context.

    In this case, we have the peculiarities of a child’s inexpert printing on top of the usual ambiguity of handwriting. I admit that *now* that it’s pointed out it seems obvious, but I read it is “kill” too — I certainly would have discussed it with Kevin before posting if I had had any question.

    So here’s a cheer for kevinf’s unearthing a child’s letter — the historical voices of children are very hard to come by, so this charming one is more than welcome!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 4, 2012 @ 10:51 am

  9. Oh, children’s notes. One of my cousins sent a copy of a Christmas wish list that our great grandmother wrote as a child. (“All I want for Christmas“). To the normal difficulties of transcribing handwriting, you have to add the misspellings and childish script, but what a sweet record of family relationships.

    Comment by Amy T — September 4, 2012 @ 11:43 am

  10. Reading this post reminded me of a note written by my lovely wife’s younger brother to their parents on an evening when he was displeased with the treatment he received from my wife and her sister as babysitters. The letter was detailed, of course, to include all of their infractions and none of his. His letter, however, was written without the tutoring eye of his mother, yet she has preserved it in one of the many family scrapbooks as a reminder of the complex relationships that marked their amazingly loving home.

    (I, too, felt somewhat deflated at the re-reading of kiss instead of kill; as Ardis says, now it’s easy to see now that someone else has pointed it out…like so much else in my life.)

    Comment by Paul — September 4, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

  11. I’ll echo Ardis’s comment about handwriting. It is pretty obvious to me now, but at the time, it was not. I showed it to my wife, a schoolteacher who has to decipher children’s handwriting all the time, and it wasn’t obvious to her either.

    The important thing here is that this is part of the process. It is why history researchers share their writing in conferences and in peer review, because we often miss things that others pick up on right away. So what XiGauss picked up is helpful. Now, looking at the note again, the date may well be May 18, not Mar[ch] 18. The rest of the lower case Rs look similar, but we can’t know for sure. After reading literally hundreds of letters to and from Joseph F. Smith, and similarly many pages of journal entries, I am getting more familiar with his handwriting, but I am still occasionally not sure of what I read. Anyone who has played with the Church’s iPhone or Android indexing app has certainly found a lot of 19th century handwriting that is, to say the least, ambiguous or obscure.

    So thanks to all for the comments, and Ardis is right on. We rarely see little if any items directly from children, and they can be just as important as the writings of adults. More than anything else, that is why this note stuck out to me.

    Comment by kevinf — September 4, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

  12. And context is everything. I once found a student’s notebook on the floor after class and picked it up to see if it had their name inside. It did, along with a schedule and a to do list. Also, this statement: “I need to kill this semester.”

    I took it as, “I really need to do well this semester,” but…

    Comment by Mina — September 4, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

  13. Ha! This dad has received that type of note from one of my kids wherein it was lovingly requested I administer some punishment on their sibling!

    (Did we ever figure out why Nonie would request that Papa kiss her brother for her? Was little Joseph Richards away with dad on some trip? Do we even know?)

    Comment by David Y. — September 4, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

  14. David,

    Without a year for the exact date, it is pretty hard to figure out where young Joseph Richards or even their father was. JFS often traveled with his wives who took along new infants, but it would seem that in this case, Nonie’s mother Sarah was involved with the writing of this note. So it is hard to tell. It is possible, if the year were 1877, that she could have been writing about Joseph Fielding Smith Jr, born to Julina the year before. Without an exact date, it all becomes conjecture as to where JFS was and why Nonie wrote to him. It is possible even that he was working late at the office, Nonie wanted to send him a note, and this is what she came up with.

    Comment by kevinf — September 4, 2012 @ 3:50 pm

  15. Mina, context is exactly the issue here, and unfortunately, there isn’t much to go on. For now, we will just have to celebrate it as a child’s voice to Joseph F. Smith, Church Apostle, but to little Nonie, just plain “Papa.”

    Comment by kevinf — September 4, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

  16. Fascinating. I wonder if JFS also had to read twice to distinguish [kiss] from [kill]. And if perhaps that was why he saved the note.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — September 5, 2012 @ 9:06 am

  17. I believe it says kiss, also, but wonder if perhaps when the mother saw it, she also thought it said kill, hence the odd note about “hard work to make this out.”

    Comment by Toni — September 6, 2012 @ 11:22 am

  18. You could be on to something there, Toni. Thanks for the comment.

    Comment by kevinf — September 6, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

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