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From law breakers to law makers, suffragists to unionists, bronc riders to ball players, Bold Women of Montana celebrates Women’s History Month in our state! Learn more about 23 bold women of Montana. Listen every weekday in March at 8:42 a.m. and 2:04 p.m., and find the latest episodes here.

Bold Women: Alma Smith Jacobs helped Montana's libraries grow

Young Alma Smith in Great Falls. MT.
Courtesy Ken Robison
Young Alma Smith in Great Falls. MT.

From the side of the Great Falls Public Library, a thoughtful, determined woman looks out from a giant mural: Alma Smith Jacobs, a product of the city's small, close black community.

In 1916, when Alma was born, that community was already old. For example, its women bought the land for their church, Union Bethel, in 1891, directly from city founder Paris Gibson.

From Great Falls High School, Alma went south to all-black Talladega College. For work, she ran the school library's bookmobile, getting books in the rural areas.

From there, Alma got a degree in library science from Columbia University. She returned home in 1946 with a husband in tow — Marcus Jacobs — and started an entry level position at the Great Falls Public Library.

Eight years later, in 1954, Alma was offered the job of head librarian—at a time when, down South, blacks couldn’t even set foot in many libraries.

For the next 19 years Alma led masterfully, getting a new library funded and built, creating programing, fighting censorship and helping improve libraries across the state.

When she traveled, she always brought food in case cafes refused to serve her. Montana, of course, was not racist free.

From 1971 to '83, Alma served Montana as state librarian in Helena. Alma Smith Jacobs' passion for libraries, which she called the People's University, lasted her whole life.

Alma Smith Jacobs's mother, Emma Riley Smith, was another bold woman of Montana. Listen to her story now.

Celebrating Women's History Month, Bold Women of Montana is brought to you by Mountain Press, publisher of Bold Women in Montana History, and is produced by Beth Judy, Jake Birch and Michael Marsolek. Theme Music by Naomi Moon Siegel.

Beth Judy is the author of Bold Women in Montana History and a limited audio series based on the book. She previously hosted and produced The Plant Detective, a locally produced and nationally syndicated program.
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