2017 Feminist Scholarship & Creative Work Recipients


Congrats to Drs. Mollie Godfrey and Sean McCarthy on receiving the 2017 Feminist Scholarship and Creative Work Award for their project, "Celebrating Simms: The Story of the Lucy F. Simms School."

This historical recovery project took the form of a permanent exhibit at the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center in Harrisonburg, copies of which have been installed in Harrisonburg High School and all four Rockingham County high schools. One thousand copies of a companion booklet are in circulation in the local community, and the entire project can be accessed online via a dedicated website that also houses additional historical records and multimedia, as well as educational resources. Celebrating the life of pioneering African American educator Lucy F. Simms and the former segregation-era school named in her honor, this yearlong, classroom-based project brought together several JMU and EMU professors, seventy-five community partners and local institutions, and eighteen undergraduate and graduate students to preserve and make public this previously undocumented history, as well as the key role played by African American women in local community life. The project also responds directly to the need in black feminist scholarship for fuller archives of black women’s experiences. It was designed as a model of how we might meet this need at the local level, where it is needed most, not only to tell the stories of local, little-known African American women, but to digitally preserve the archival materials—from private photographs to oral histories—that make black feminist storytelling possible.

Born enslaved, Lucy F. Simms received her degree from Virginia’s Hampton Institute in 1877, and settled in Harrisonburg to teach over 1,800 students across three generations. The Lucy F. Simms School was built after her death to serve African American students from all over Rockingham County and Shenandoah County between 1938 and 1965. “Celebrating Simms” joins the recently established Lucy F. Simms Educator of the Year Award and the new mural of Ms. Simms commissioned by Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance in honoring Ms. Simms’s role not just as an educator, but as a leader of the local African American community, and as one of Harrisonburg’s most important residents. However, our exhibit shifts the focus away from the standard Great Man narrative into which Ms. Simms is increasingly being drawn, and toward a grass-roots, community- centered, and intersectionally feminist understanding of history-making and historical memory. Throughout the United States, segregation-era schools such as the Lucy F. Simms School were run primarily by African American women, women whose names never made it into the history books. Our exhibit celebrates not only Ms. Simms, but also other local women and educators who followed in her footsteps, as well as the many students, parents, athletes, performers, church-goers, and business-owners who were brought together by the Lucy F. Simms School, and whose experiences and contributions have been marginalized because of their race, class, and gender status.

Published: Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Last Updated: Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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