Effie Waller Smith

The above video is from the Pikeville History Moments Youtube Channel.

"Singing Poet of the Cumberlands"

Effie Waller was born on Chloe Creek in Pike County, Kentucky on January 6, 1879. The daughter of formerly enslaved African Americans, Effie faced discrimination and hardship. We believe that systemic racism and sexism are the primary reasons her work was not more appreciated during her lifetime and, thus, is not more well-known today.

Miss Effie, as she was known by friends and neighbors, was full of the determination and resilience frequently found in Appalachian people. Despite only being able to attend school intermittently, she became a well-respected teacher and paid for her own education at the State Normal School for Colored Persons, now known as Kentucky State University. She is the first female Black poet from Kentucky (and perhaps all of Appalachia) to have her work published. Not content with only seeing her poems printed in local newspapers and the most notable magazines, or even being written about as an example of Black excellence, Effie published two books of poetry: Songs of the Months and Rhymes from the Cumberland. She displayed this strength in the feminist themes of her poem The "Bachelor Girl".

After the death of her father, preceded by the death of her estranged husband, Charles Smith, which itself was less than three years after the infant passing of her only biological child, Effie moved to Wisconsin where she practiced communal living within a church for about five years. It is easy to imagine this was her way of coping with the sorrow she experienced from the previously mentioned events. She left the Metropolitan Holiness Church Association on bad terms in 1924, reportedly suing them for the money they had taken from her. She won the case and used the money to care for her family. In her later years, she moved in with her daughter, Ruth. Effie passed January 2, 1960, and was laid to rest in Oak Hill Cemetery in Neenah, Wisconsin.

All mountaineers, if they are optimistic enough, can see something of Effie in themselves. Her love of her home is something to which we can all relate. She found a way to describe the beauty of this region, which has left generations of people at a loss for words. Further, her kindness and compassion towards her fellow Pike Countians is the epitome to which we aspire. A true Appalachian, Miss Effie's principles were deeper than mere words. When a former student passed away, Effie travelled back to Pikeville from Wisconsin and adopted her daughter (mentioned above) in order to provide the young lady with a better education.