Born: January 6, 1879
Pike County, Kentucky
Died: January 2, 1960
As an African American woman in Appalachian Kentucky in the early 1900s, Efflie Waller Smith was unlikely to become a published poet. She was born to former slaves Frank Waller, who was from Virginia, and Alvindia “Sibbie” Ratliff on Chole Creek near Pikeville.
She and her siblings, Alfred and Rosa, attended school through the 8th grade, after which she departed for Frankfort to be trained as a teacher at The Kentucky Normal School for Colored Persons, 1900-1902. She held teaching posts for the next 12 years.
She had published poetry in local newspapers by 1902. In 1904, she self-published her first volume, Songs of the Months. It contained 110 poems, organized by months of the year. The verses included love, patriotic, and nature themes. In 1909, she published Rhymes from the Cumberland, which offers meditations and remembrances of the Cumberland Mountains area and musings on religion and romance.
Recent research by author Leatha Kendrick has found that another volume of poetry, Rosemary and Pansies, and three short stories were later misattributed to Smith — and it’s easy to understand why. There was another Effie Smith — Effie Smith Ely — writing and publishing during that era, not far away in Greene County, Tennessee. And, like Effie Waller Smith, Effie Smith Ely had mostly been lost to history until recent years.
Effie Waller Smith also left Kentucky in 1918 for Wisconsin, where she lived most of the rest of her life. She raised an adopted daughter, Ruth Virginia Ratliff Smith, who was the daughter of deceased friend Polly Mullins Ratliff.
Smith died in 1960 and is buried in Neenah, Wisconsin.
Songs of the Months. New York: Broadway Publishing Co., 1904.
Rhymes from the Cumberland. New York: Broadway Publishing Co., 1909.