Sarah Baird F. Cummins

Honored by:Janet Aronson
Brick location:F:29  map

Sarah Baird Flenniken Cummins was my great-grandmother. Though she died 26 years before my birth I feel as if I knew her through photographs and material gathered about her by my Great-Aunt Anna Belle Cummins of Des Moines, Iowa.

She was one of the pioneer women of the 19th century. Born in Cumberland Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, on December 20, 1826, she lived 77 years until December 22, 1903. She died in Des Moines, where she had lived the last 20 years of her life. Her parents were James Mifflin and Mary McClelland Flenniken and she was a grand-daughter of Judge John Flenniken, a signer of the Mecklenburg (Charlotte North Carolina) Declaration of Independence dated May 1775. John Flenniken moved to Greene County, Pennsylvania, after the Revolutionary War and reared his family there.

Sarah, or Sally, married Thomas Layton Cummins Sept. 30, 1847, and they lived first in a two-story log cabin on land known as Pleasant Hill two miles from the village of Carmichaels. Sally was a remarkable woman; her quilts made ca. 1850 survive to this day, notably two blue-and-white patterns, Carolina Lily and Union Square. Aunt Annie put it this way in her family history: "Sally Flenniken was a beautiful girl and developed a strong character of rare charm and grace, gay and happy in disposition yet gentle and kindly in all her thoughts and acts toward others. She had a remarkably fine mind and was disposed to think things out for herself, always arriving at just and wise conclusions.

"The early life of this young couple was a hard struggle to rear their large family and give them all an opportunity to secure an education. Yet it always was a happy home, made so by the sunny smile of a Mother who was always ready for fun with her children and always as long as she lived was interested in everything that they were doing. The bond between Mother and children was an unusually strong one and from the oldest to the youngest they loved her devotedly."

Sally was the mother of ten children, eight of whom lived to adulthood. Their second child, Albert Baird Cummins, born 1850 and died 1826, was governor of Iowa from 1902-1908 when he was elected United States Senator to fill the term of Sen. Allison. He then was re-elected three times, serving in Washington, D.C., until his death in 1926. Their second son, James Calvin, became president of the Equitable Life Insurance Company of Iowa in Des Moines in 1912. A third son, Benjamin Franklin, organized the Cummins Perforator Co. in Chicago and was its president until his death.

The five Cummins daughters were well educated at Greene Academy in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, moving to Des Moines in 1883 where they excelled in business and education fields. Anna Belle was secretary to Senator Cummins and with her sister Margaret was hostess for Washington events after Sen. Cummins' wife Ida died in 1916. Ella, Louisa, Caroline and Alice (my grandmother) were teachers, speakers and writers.

On the occasion of Sarah and Thomas Cummins' 50th wedding anniversary, Sept. 30, 1897, the Des Moines newspaper's account portrays the Cummins family in a most descriptive way. I am enclosing a copy of that anniversary party write-up.

I am honored to be able to add Sarah Baird Flenniken Cummins' name to the Carrie Chapman Catt Roll of Honor. May Sarah's values and good nature plus her love of education and family endure through many generations to come.

SOCIAL NOTES. Fifty years ago last Thursday, or September 30, 1817, In the little town of Carmichaels, Penn., occurred the marriage of Miss Sarah Baird Flenniken to Mr.Thomas Layton Cummins, two young people who had been born and raised in the same locality and whose union was destined to be one of greatest prosperity and joy. Rev. John McClintock, pastor of the Presbyterian church of that village, performed the ceremony and is long since dead though his wife still lives and was urgently requested to attend the happy event of Thursday. Mr. B. F. Rae of Chicago, who was groomsman at that time, also received an invitation to attend the golden wedding. Though having lived so many years, the bride and groom of Thursday were both vigorous and well and apparently much better than several years ago. The event was nearly a national one, for having lived so many years in the state and having raised such an estimable family of children, they are known everywhere. The children present were Messrs. A. B Cummins, J. C.Cummins, B. F. Cummins of Chicago, Mrs. Walter McHenry, Misses Ella, Margaret, Anna and Alice Cummins. Gifts from loving friends were bestowed upon the beloved couple including gold spoons, forks, ladles, a mahogany rocker, dishery, clock, china, embroidered pieces and such a collection of flowers as is rarely seen. It would have been impossible for the bride of fifty years ago to have looked more beautiful than did the one of Thursday in her gown of black silk, with fancy vest of lavender, knife-plaited chiddon, and a knot of real lace at her throat, her sweet face, her hair of snowy white, while around her were her children and grandchildren, happily in doing her pleasure and anxious for her comfort. Nor was the father overlooked amid the happy gathering, as his friends grasped in friendship his hand and wished him many more such prosperous years. The family picture was the admiration of all. It was framed in gold and placed upon an easel, and contained individual pictures of the father and mother, surrounded by the children and grandchildren, artistically arranged and it certainly was well worthy the proud glances of the father and mother. The family dinner was served at 1 o'clock and was never-to-be-forgotten event. The long table was in the parlor and sitting-room, its center resting beneath the archway, from which was suspended a golden wedding bell, stretched from which were four golden link chains to the corners of the table. The cluster of two dozen American Beauties in the center of the table were yellow roses, while ferns and buds were scattered upon the cloth. The bride's cake burned bright with fifty candles, and at the bride's plate lay the cluster of bridal roses tied with white ribbon. Between two of the courses, a golden apple was brought in labeled, "To the Fairest." After much dispute as to who it should belong, Mr. A.B. Cummins arose, and in a few appropriate words, presented it to his mother, who upon opening it found it to be filled with five dollar gold pieces. A greeting came from a cousin came by mail while the dinner was in progress, entitled, "My Wife and I," and Miss Alice Cummins read this aloud. When the wedding cake was cut, Miss Annie Cummins drew the ring, which assured her that she will live to celebrate her fiftieth anniversary. After a number of toasts, the party arose and joined in singing "Auld Lang Syne," which was written upon the back of the plate cards, containing two golden bells and the name in gold, and the dates 1817-1897. After this, to the tune of "Those Golden Slippers," "That Golden Wedding" was sung and much fun was had over it. A reception was held from 4 until 8 o'clock, the friends calling to congratulate the bride and groom. Miss Catherine Cummins, in white organdy, and Miss Alice Cummins, in white organdy over pink, presided over the coffee and chocolate in the dining room, where meteor roses adorned the table, and Misses Annie and Julia Cummins, in light gowns, served the guests. Mrs. A.B. Cummins, in figured silk with red chiffon trimmings; Miss Ella Cummins, in blue-and-white dotted swiss; and Miss Margaret Cummins, in white organdy, assisted in the parlors. It was the wish of all upon their departure that the host and hostess, Mr. and Mrs. T.L. Cummins, might live to see many more happy years, before their mission on earth might be filled.