Born Geraldyn Hodges, the woman who would come to be known by many other names left no one in doubt that she was a truly impressive human. Among other roles, Hodges was an author, radio announcer and promoter, health educator, publicist, community leader, journalist, editor and newscaster.
Married to three men in her life, Hodges was known as Geraldyn Dismond, Mrs. H. Binga Dismond while married to H. Binga Dismond. On her marriage to Gilbert Holland, she was known as Geraldyn Holland, Geraldyn Hodges Holland, or Geraldyn Dismond Holland and when she tied the knot with John Richard Major she was called Geraldyn Major, Geraldyn Hodges Major, and Geraldyn Dismond Major. Getting to the end, she simply went by Gerri Major.
Now that her love life has been treated, we now look at her birth, which was a source of pain to her father.
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Hodges was born on July 29, 1894 in her parents’ home in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood to Herbert Hodges and Mae Powell Hodges. When her mother died giving birth to her, her father sent her to an aunt and uncle who lived nearby. In a biographic sketch published in 1927, her first husband explained that her father was “overcome by the sudden loss of his wife, never forgave the innocent cause of his bereavement.”
She was thus adopted by her mother’s sister, Maud Lawrence and her husband David. Following elementary school, she attended Wendell Phillips High School and subsequently was awarded a work-study scholarship at the University of Chicago from which she graduated with a Bachelor in Philosophy degree in 1915.
Upon graduating from the University of Chicago, she married a doctor, and worked briefly as a teacher. During World War I, she was a major in the Red Cross. Eventually, Hodges left her husband, moved from Chicago to Harlem, and found her true vocation by writing on going-ons in society.
She lived in Harlem during a career that stretched from the 1920s through the 1970s such that by the end of the 1930s she had become “one of the best known black women in America.”
She was a society columnist and editor for African-American newspapers in her home city of New York as well as Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Baltimore. Her talent for writing vivid prose, editing skill and ability to maintain a wide circle of influential friends brought her fame.
Hodges was also an active participant in civic organizations that worked to improve the health, education, and general well-being of New York’s African-American community, and for 10 years (1936 to 1946) she was a publicity specialist for the Central Harlem Health District.
In the summer months after her graduation, she studied at Hampton Institute and during the next school year, she taught dramatic art and physical culture at Lincoln Institute, but returned to Chicago to enter a two-year program at Chicago Normal School so that she could qualify to teach elementary school in that city. In the fall of 1917, Hodges served as a teacher-in-training in the Chicago public school system. In December of that year she interrupted her progress toward becoming a Chicago school teacher in order to marry H. Binga Dismond, whom she had met at the University of Chicago. She became a Red Cross nurse in Chicago, leaving that organization in 1918 with the rank of major.
In 1919, Hodges taught at the Stephen A. Douglas Elementary School, the same school she had attended as a child. She left the teaching profession in 1923 when she moved with her husband to Manhattan.
In 1925, she participated in a fund raising effort for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) by composing and distributing a public announcement for the annual NAACP Dance in Harlem’s Manhattan Casino.
Floyd J. Calvin, the New York editor for an influential African-American newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier, was impressed with her writing and made her the paper’s New York social editor thus igniting her career in journalism. Writing with the byline, Mrs. H. Binga Dismond, Hodges wrote a weekly column called “New York Society” from 1925 to 1927 in which she reported the doings of prominent members of the African-American community.
In 1927, Hodges began a new column called “Through the Lorgnette of Geraldyn Dismond” which contained essays and reviews on theater, books, and cultural topics. Soon afterward she began writing a weekly column of New York social news called “In New York Town” for the Chicago Bee, and the following year (1928) she started yet another society column, this one called “New York Social Whirl” appearing in the Baltimore Afro-American.
Hodges also wrote or edited for the Harlem Daily Citizen, Inter-State Tattler, New York Age and New York Amsterdam News. In 1953 she began a long career as writer and editor for two sister magazines: the monthly, Ebony, and the weekly, Jet. Her first editorial job was New York social editor of the Pittsburgh Courier.
In 1953, she began a 25 career at Ebony as writer and society editor. She later became associate editor, and, in 1967, senior staff editor – the position she held at her death in 1984. In 1953 she also joined Jet as writer and society editor, later becoming associate editor, a position she retained until her death.
Between 1928 and 1930, Hodges wrote and presented a review of current events during a New York radio program that aired each week on Sunday afternoon. This made her, as one source put it, “the first Negro woman commercial radio announcer.” The program was the “Negro Achievement Hour,” a variety show featuring talks and music that was carried on two local stations, WABC and WEVD.
In addition to newscasting, Hodges was a program director for the show. In 1930 Major helped to establish a broadcasting studio in Harlem, became the organization’s secretary, and announced many of its programs on air.
In 1928 Major became one of the first, if not the very first, African American women to take on the role of publicist. Located in Harlem on 135th Street the Geraldyn Dismond Bureau of Specialized Publicity developed an extensive mailing list.
In 1936, Hodges passed civil service examinations and oral interviews to become a publicity assistant in the New York Bureau of Health Education and Information, a job she continued to perform until 1946. She was the first African-American to be hired into the position.
In 1976, Hodges co-authored a book, Black Society, giving the histories of prominent African-American families from colonial times to the twentieth century.
She traveled overseas during the 1940s and 1950s, including trips to Egypt, Brazil, and Argentina. Her wedding to John Majors, her third and final marriage, took place in Buenos Aires.
“Asked about political affiliations in 1928, she said she would not join the National Colored Women’s Democratic League and had no ties to the Democratic Party. She said she had adopted the principles of Communism because she believed that both the Republican and Democratic Parties “uphold the practices of Jim-Crowism, disenfranchisement, and race discrimination by which Negroes are degraded and oppressed.” She was reported to be a member of the Communist Party but by 1984, however, she had become an active member of the Democratic Party.”
Hodges died in New York Hospital aged 90, having suffered a stroke.