43 Linear Feet (35 document boxes and 39 oversize boxes)
The Charlene Hodges Byrd collection measures 43 linear feet, and dates from circa 1750-2009, with the bulk of the material dating from 1880-1960. The collection documents the personal life and professional career of Charlene Hodges Byrd, an African American teacher from Washington, D.C., along with material for several related families from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. Family members prominently represented include Sarah A. Shimm, teacher and essayist under the name Faith Lichen; her daughters Erminie F. Shimm and Grace E. Shimm Cummings, both teachers; and Byrd's mother, Joyce Ethel Cummings Hodges, also a teacher. Correspondence and writings chiefly discuss family life, religion, race, education, and the relationship with Frederick Douglass and his family. The collection is arranged in 10 series: Biographical Material, Correspondence, Writings, Subject Files, Financial and Legal Records, Printed Material, Volumes, Memorabilia, Textiles, and Photographs.
Charlene Hodges Byrd collection, circa 1750-2009. National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution.
Scope and Contents
Series 1. Papers related to biographical and family histories of the Byrd, Cummings, Davage, Dews, Hodges, Shimm, Spruill, and Thomas families. Material includes family trees; school diplomas and certificates; programs; awards; marriage and divorce papers; funeral documents; and obituaries.
Series 2: Chiefly letters from family and friends regarding family news, financial matters, school, work, neighborhood affairs, church events, travel and the weather. The majority of the letters are addressed to Charlene Hodges Byrd, Grace E. Shimm Cummings, Ida R. Cummings, Elizabeth Dews Hodges, Joyce Ethel Cummings Hodges, Erminie F. Shimm, Sarah A. Shimm, and Elizabeth N. Thomas. Other correspondence includes letters from Booker T. Washington, Bessye Beardon, Charlotte Davage, Amelia Douglass, and Harrell S. Spruill. There are also a number of greeting cards, postcards, and empty envelopes.
Series 3. Writings include essays, speeches, papers written for school, teacher's notebooks, and a diary of Erminie F. Shimm, 1903. Topics include education, Frederick Douglass, religion, race, Africa, and the temperance movement.
Series 4. Subject files on Charlene Hodges Byrd's involvement with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority; Book Lovers of Charleston, West Virginia, a women's book club organized in 1923; Church Women United radio program; and The Links, Inc., a volunteer service organization. The papers on Liberia relate to missionary work, and were probably gathered by Erminie F. Shimm; and the Shimm-Thomas Collection are papers related to the deposit and later return of family items housed as a collection at Morgan State College.
Series 5. The financial and legal records include invoices and receipts, bank books, real estate tax assessments, deeds, and wills. There is also material related to the estate of Erminie F. Shimm.
Series 6. Printed materials includes books, pamphlets, newspapers, newsletters, clippings, invitations and programs. The books and pamphlets are chiefly school yearbooks and newspapers and other texts related to religion, politics, music, and poetry. Also included is a copy of Frederick Douglass's autobiography and a printed copy of his speech "The Race Problem." The clippings include obituaries, articles about Charlene Hodges Byrd and her husband Charles R. Byrd, essays by Sarah A. Shimm under the name Faith Lichen, and articles on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The invitations and programs are primarily for school graduations, weddings, social events, and funerals. Other printed material includes newsletters; business cards; calling cards; postage stamps, chiefly from Liberia; and blank postcards. The binder on Frederick Douglass was prepared by Byrd and her goddaughter for the West Virginia School Studies Fair, and includes copies of Byrd family artifacts.
Series 7. Autograph books, guest books, and scrapbooks. The autograph book of Grace E. Shimm Cummings includes autographs from Amelia Douglass, Lewis B. Douglass, Charles R. Douglass, W. H. Clair, and Francis J. Grimke. The scrapbook of Grace E. Shimm Cummings and Erminie F. Shimm consists primarily of clippings, and was assembled from an old teacher's book with a student registration and punishment pages still intact at the back.
Series 8. Miscellaneous items in the collection including artwork, a coin purse, a piece of handwoven cloth belonging to Catherine Nelson's great grandmother, and leather hair curlers.
Series 9: The textiles are chiefly christening gowns, children's garments, and an apron. Several garments belonged to Joyce Ethel Cummings Hodges, Charlene Hodges Byrd, and Elizabeth N. Thomas. There is also a doll that belonged to Amelia Douglass's niece, Kitty Cromwell.
Series 10. Photographs include pictures of Charlene Hodges Byrd, Joyce Ethel Hodges Cummings, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Dews Hodges, Charles Gilmor Cummings, Grace E. Shimm Cummings, Erminie F. Shimm, and other friends and relatives of the Byrd, Hodges, Cummings, Douglass, and Shimm families. Subjects are primarily portraits and candids, along with some wedding, baby, and school pictures. While some of the photographs are annotated, many of the individuals are unidentified. Included are vintage photographs, cabinet cards, cartes-de-visites, tintypes, daguerreotypes, and negatives.
Biographical / Historical
The Shimm, Thomas, Cummings, Hodges, Davage, and related African American families chiefly lived in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. Numerous family members worked as teachers, barbers, or in the service industry. They were active in local churches and service organizations, and had established friendships with local church leaders as well as with Frederick Douglass and his family.
The Shimm and Thomas families were located in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. The Thomas family can be traced back to Philip Nelson, who owned property in Leesburg, Virginia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Family genealogical papers list Nelson as a descendent of British Admiral Horatio Nelson. This lineage, however, is not supported in publically available family histories of Horatio Nelson. Philip Nelson and his wife Araminta had five children: Catherine (b. 1805?), William, Levi (b. 1820?), Henrietta, and Grayson.
Catherine Nelson married Elias E. Thomas (b. 1816?) of Virginia in 1840. They wed in Philadelphia and had five children: Levi Nelson (b. 1841), Sarah (1843-1885), Edward (b. 1844), Elizabeth (1848-1932), and Charles (b. 1851).
Sarah Thomas married William Y. Shimm (b. 1841), a barber in Reading, Pennsylvania, on July 26, 1863. They had 2 daughters, Erminie (1867-1936) and Grace (1865-1910). The Shimms lived in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but had moved to Washington, D.C., around 1871. Sarah was a teacher and a writer who published under the name "Faith Lichen." Her writings, primarily essays and commentaries about race and politics, were printed in several newspapers including The National Republican, The Celtic Weekly, The People's Advocate, and The Sunday Morning Gazette.
Sarah's sister Elizabeth was also a teacher in Maryland. Her brother Charles was a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and a graduate of the first class at Howard University's law school.
Erminie and Grace Shimm became teachers in the Washington, D.C., public school system. Erminie was active in her church and supportive of missionary work in Liberia. Grace married Charles Gilmor Cummings, a pastor in Alexandria, Virginia, on July 9, 1902. They had one daughter, Joyce Ethel (1903-1971), and second child in 1905 who died in infancy. Grace died in 1910 of heart failure. After her death, Grace's sister Erminie and Charles's family helped raise Joyce Ethel in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland.
Joyce Ethel Cummings Hodges graduated from Morgan College in 1924, and received her master's degree from Howard University in 1931. She taught at Douglass High School in Baltimore from 1924-1964. Joyce Ethel married Charles E. Hodges (1900--975) in 1927 and they divorced in 1953. The couple had one daughter, Charlene (1929-2009).
Charlene Hodges Byrd grew up in Washington, D.C., but attended the Northfield School for Girls in East Northfield, Massachusetts, for high school, graduating in 1946. She received her bachelor's degree from Connecticut College in 1950, and her master's degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago in 1951. She married Charles R. Byrd (1919-2004) in 1952. They had one son in 1954, but he died four days after birth. Byrd soon began a career as a teacher and education administrator, eventually working for Kanawha County Schools in Charleston, West Virginia. She was also active in her local community as a member of the Book Lovers of Charleston, West Virginia; Church Women United; and The Links, Inc.
Charles E. Hodges was born Bridgewater, Virginia, where his father was a minister. He graduated from Morgan College in 1923 and received his master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1943. He was a teacher and served as principal of the North Street School in Hagerstown, Maryland. After he and Joyce Ethel divorced in 1953, he married Elizabeth Dews (1913-1999) in 1955.
Elizabeth Dews Hodges, born Elizabeth Virginia Waumbeeka, was adopted by James Edward (1889-1954) and Sarah Virginia Dews (1888?-1964) in Washington, D.C., in 1920. She graduated from Miner Teachers College in 1939, and worked as a teacher in Annapolis, Maryland, at Wiley H. Bates High School for 34 years. She was awarded a medal for her work there by the Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge in 1959. Elizabeth was active in local organizations in Maryland and Washington, D.C., including the SE/NE Friends of the Capitol View Branch Library; Eastern Star Chapter 4; Mount Ephraim Baptist Church; National Museum of Women in the Arts; National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples; and the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind.
The Davage family is descended from Sidney Hall (b. 1818?) and Charles Davage (b. 1815?). Sidney was a former slave at the Perry Hall mansion in Baltimore, and was manumitted by 1840. She married Charles, a coachman, on April 12, 1842. They had five children: Eliza Jane (1843-1913), Sophia (b. 1847), Charlotte (b. 1849), Charles (b. 1854), and Hester (b. 1845). Their daughter Eliza Jane married Henry Cummings (b. 1830?). They had seven children: Harry Sythe (1866-1917), Charles Gilmor (1870-1924), William (b. 1882), Ida R. (1868-1958), Estelle (1874-1944), Carroll (b. 1875), Francis (b. 1872), and Aaron (1864?-1932).
Harry Sythe Cummings, a lawyer in Baltimore, became the city's first African American City Council member. He was first elected in 1890 and served intermittently until his death in 1917, often working on issues related to education. Cummings also delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention in 1904 seconding the presidential nomination of Theodore Roosevelt. He married Blanche Conklin in 1899, and they had three children: Harry S. Jr. (b. 1905), Lucille (d. 1906), and Louise.
Charles Gilmor Cummings graduated from Drew Theological Seminary in 1898, and was a pastor in Alexandria, Virginia and elsewhere. After the death of his wife Grace in 1910, he married Rosa Catherine Bearden, grandmother of artist Romare Bearden, in 1912.
Ida R. Cummings graduated from Morgan College in 1922, and was the first African American kindergarten teacher in Baltimore. She was also active in local organizations, and was president of the Colored Fresh Air and Empty Stocking Circle; chairman of the Woman's Section Council of Defense in Baltimore during the World War, 1914-1918; and president of the Woman's Campaign Bureau of the Colored Republican Voters' League of Maryland.