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Office of the President Herbert John Davis Files

Identifier: CA-MS-00011

Scope and Contents

Office of the President Herbert John Davis Files document his official duties as President of Smith College. The collection includes correspondence, newspaper articles, and memorabilia. Materials document the running of the College and the relationship of the Office of the President with the various academic departments and committees. Of interest is correspondence about the 75th anniversary celebration of the college; committee work including Trustee, faculty and administrative committees; the Junior Year Abroad program at Smith; and correspondence with U.S. government officials concerning the WAVES program on campus.

Dates of Materials

  • 1939-1951


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Smith College retains copyright of materials created as part of its business operations; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Smith College, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Herbert John Davis was born on May 24, 1893 in Northamptonshire, England, where he received his elementary and secondary education. He later attended Oxford University (St. John's College) from which he graduated in 1914. He then served in France and Belgium during WWI and in 1919 he returned to Oxford to earn his A.M. In 1922, Davis married Gertrude Lucas of Opladen, Rheinland, Germany but she died tragically just six years later. In 1930, Davis married Gladys Wookey of Toronto and the couple had two daughters, Charlotte Elisabeth Ann and Jane.

In 1920, Davis acquired a position at the University of Leeds where he taught for two years. He then moved to the University of Toronto where he remained for sixteen years. He was hired as an Associate Professor of English, and was later promoted to a full Professor. He also served as chair the English Department at Toronto. In 1938 Davis accepted a position as Chair of the English department at Cornell University.

In 1939, Davis succeeded William Allan Neilson as president of Smith College and he assumed this role for the 1940-1941 school year. Davis served as the fourth president of Smith College until 1949 when he returned to Oxford as a reader in textual criticism. Davis retired from Oxford in 1960.

During his academic career Davis made several notable contributions to academia. Following his passion for poetry and prose, Davis became a world renowned expert on Jonathan Swift and wrote several books on his work including Swift's View of Poetry (1931) and Stella, a Gentlewoman of the Eighteenth Century (1942). The latter is an account of the friendship that existed between Swift and Esther Johnson. Davis also edited the fourteen volume work, The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift (1939-68). Davis' distinguished literary contributions were well recognized and he received several honorary degrees including a Doctorate of Laws from Amherst College in 1940.

In addition to his enthusiasm for the English language, Davis was also extremely socially conscious and particularly concerned with WWII raging overseas. Perhaps his most memorable act of charity was providing a home to five British refugee children for several years during the war. Many of his colleagues and friends followed his lead and opened their doors to children in need. Davis died on March 28, 1967.


4.397 linear feet (12 containers)

Language of Materials



Herbert John Davis was the fourth president of Smith College, professor of English and world-renowned expert on Jonathan Swift. Contains correspondence, newspaper articles, and memorabilia related to his official duties as President of Smith College.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These papers were transferred to the College Archives from the Office of the President after President Davis left the College in 1949.

Related Material

For further information about activities of Davis' during his Smith College presidency see also the President's Reports. For more information about the academic career and personal life of Herbert John Davis see the Herbert John Davis Personal Papers in the College Archives.

Processing Information

Processed by Tamara Weiner.

Processing Information

Please note that prior to 2018, folder inventories were not always updated when new material was added to the collection. As a result, folder inventories may not be complete and folder numbers may be incorrect.

Finding aid to Office of the President Herbert John Davis files
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Tamara Weiner, Ellice Amanna
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: manosca11 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-11-08: Updated finding aid

Repository Details

Part of the Smith College Archives Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063