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
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.