Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
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: Emma Riley Smith, community mother and role model

Celebrate bold women of Montana on MTPR. Listen every weekday in March at 8:24 a.m. or 2:04 p.m.

On International Women’s Day, we celebrate Emma Riley Smith, born 1881 in Arkansas.

In 1895 — Emma was 14 — her family moved to Liberia with the “Back to Africa” movement. For years, they farmed ginger and coffee and ran a store.

But suddenly, illness swept all but two of the family away. Emma, 29 by now, took her sister back to Arkansas for college.

After Africa, though, Emma couldn’t believe how African-American women suffered, vulnerable to violence, without rights or opportunities.

Emma set out to find a better place. First to Wyoming, then Butte, where she met and married Martin Smith, a railroad man, and started a family.

They moved on to Lewistown, then, around 1920, settled in Great Falls in the old Black section of town.

Emma’s house, fragrant with cooking-spice, was always full of books and kids — her own and the whole Black community’s. They came for cookies, stories of Africa, and words of Kru, Emma’s Liberian language.

Emma loved Montana, her community’s church and slipping off by herself to places like Lima to fish.

All five of Emma’s kids graduated college. Two became librarians—one, the head librarian at MSU in Bozeman; the other, Montana’s State Librarian from 1971 to '83.

To Black kids growing up in Great Falls, Emma Riley Smith proved the world was wide with possibility.

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.
Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information