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Lucy F. Simms was born a slave in 1855 on the Gray family estate “Hilltop” along Harrisonburg’s eastern edge. Miss Simms began teaching when she was just 17 or 18 years old and was able to attend Hampton Institute from 1874 to 1877.
Upon graduation, “Miss Lucy” returned to the Valley and taught for a year at Zenda, a black community north of Harrisonburg. She then moved to Harrisonburg city schools, first teaching in a church room and then the new Effinger School. She taught there until the end of the 1933-34 school year and died on July 10, 1934.
Lucy Simms’ career spanned 56 years, with only one half-day lost due to illness. According to one writer, she is remembered as “a person of strong moral convictions. She could not abide dishonesty. Although loving and kind to her children, she also administered punishment when she deemed it necessary.”
In her obituary, the Daily News-Record stated, “The record of the faithful colored teacher has few if any parallels in Virginia. All of the pupils who have entered the primary grade at the Effinger Street School since its establishment have passed under motherlike care. She taught three generations in many of the Harrisonburg colored families and it is estimated that 1800 boys and girls were instructed by her."
Harrisonburg named its new school, built in 1938-39, in her honor.
(Lucy is shown at right with three generations of her students. Left to right: Roberta Wells, Helen Irving Wells, Roberta Irving, and Lucy Simms. Photo courtesy Hampton Normal Institute. EW0001)
Lucy Simms and her First and Second Grade Classes at Effinger School c. 1928 (Photo courtesy Hampton Normal Institute. EW0002)
Front Row: (L-R) __ Franklin, Alfred Howard, Weldon "Red" Bundy, Elon Rhodes, Norman Harris, Charles Strother, Bridgeway Bullet, Charles Lewis, Albert Lewis Joe Yokely Middle Row: (L-R) Thelma Franklin, Gladys Scott, Unknown, Henry Williams, Unknown, Jesse Carter, Floster "Bo-Bo" Sampson, Lawrence Ellis, Wilmer Byrd, __ Sampson, Mose Thomas Back Row: (L-R) Anna Francis, Roberta Wells, __ Carter, Louise Winston, Clara Brown, Margaret Carter, Unknown, Lillian Scott, Marceline Ray, Esther Sampson Ann Byrd, Unknown.