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Herbert John Davis personal papers

Identifier: CA-MS-00010

Scope and Contents

The Herbert John Davis personal papers are primarily related to Davis' personal life. Types of material include correspondence; speeches; publications; photographs; newspaper articles; and memorabilia. Although the chronological focus of the collection is Davis' presidential years, the records pertain to life outside his presidential duties.

Dates of Materials

  • 1893-1973


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research according to the regulations of the Smith College Archives without any additional restrictions.

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 succeeded William Allan Neilson as president of Smith College, assuming this role for the 1940-1941 school year. 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. Davis was hired as an Associate Professor of English, and later promoted to a full Professor. He also served as chair of the English department. In 1938, Davis accepted a position as chair of the English department at Cornell University.

Davis served as the fourth president of Smith College from 1939 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. 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.

Born on May 24, at Long Buckby, Northamponshire, England. Son of Carter and Martha Ann (Sheldon) Davis.
Educated at Northampton Grammar School.
St. John's College, Oxford.
Pass Moderations (Classics)
B.A.; Honour School of English Language and Literature.
Reading for Anglican Orders, Wells Theological College.
War Service--gunner, R.G.A.; subaltern with 301 Siege Battery, France and Belgium; acting-adjutant, 4th Brigade, R.G.A., Army of Occupation.
M.A., Oxford.
Lecturer in English, University of Leeds.
Associate Professor English, University College, Toronto. Married Gertrude Lucas of Opladen, Rheinland, Germany.
Guest Professor in the University of Cologne, Germany.
Professor of English, University College, Toronto. Elected Chairman of the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Gertrude Lucas Davis died.
Married Gladys Wookey of Toronto. Children--Charlotte Elisabeth Ann Davis (Falconer) and Jane Davis (Knowles).
Appointed Professor of English at Cornell University; granted leave of absence for one year in England.
Frederic Ives Carpenter Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago, summer quarter.
Chairman of the Department of English, Cornell University.
Appointed Goldwin Smith Professor of English Literature at Cornell University.
Accepts position as fourth President of Smith College; L.L.D. from Amherst College.
Leaves Smith College; Returns to Oxford to teach English.
Retires from Oxford.
March 28, 1967--Died.


5.417 linear feet (9 containers)

Language of Materials



Herbert John Davis was the fourth president of Smith College, a professor of English and world-renowned expert on Jonathan Swift. This collection contains material primarily related to his personal life including correspondence, speeches, publications, photographs, newspaper articles, and memorabilia.


This collection is organized into five series:

  1. I. Biographical Material
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Inauguration
  4. IV. Photographs
  5. V. Publications and Speeches

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.

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 Herbert John Davis Personal papers
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: manosca10 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 11/12/18: Finding aid updated

Repository Details

Part of the Smith College Archives Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063