From Mission to Madness: Last Son of the Mormon Prophet

Valeen Avery’s work on Emma Hale Smith coincided with her doctoral dissertation on the life of David Hyrum Smith, the youngest child of Joseph and Emma. These two works form a solid foundation for her book From Mission to Madness, which also benefits from Avery’s judicious use of the RLDS Archives’ recently cataloged papers of David Hyrum Smith and his only son, Elbert A Smith.

Avery’s title points to David Smith’s journey through nearly ten years of mission work mixed with severe and often lengthy bouts of “brain fever,” followed by three years of frightening upheaval as family, friends, and other benefactors tried unsuccessfully to care for him and his family, ending with his forced committal to the hospital for the insane at Elgin, Illinois, in 1877. But this “ending” was only the beginning of a dreary, twenty-seven year denouement marked by fading hopes for improvement—which was not sufficient even for his return to family life—and pervasive shadows of confusion, loneliness, despair, paranoia, and mercifully death in 1904.

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