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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 533

Papers of Hope Hale Davis, 1831-1835,1916-2002


Papers of writer, feminist, one-time Communist, and teacher Hope Hale Davis.


  • Creation: 1831-1835,
  • Creation: 1916-2002

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Access is unrestricted, with the following exceptions: folder #17.1 is closed until January 1, 2042; #18.7 is closed until January 1, 2037; and #18.8-18.10 are closed until January 1, 2049. Individual items are closed as noted to protect personal privacy.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Hope Hale Davis is held by Lydia Davis during her lifetime. Upon her death, copyright will be held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


7.51 linear feet ((18 file boxes) plus 2 photograph folders, and 1 folio + folder)

The bulk of the collection is made up of Hope Hale Davis' correspondence with other writers, friends, family members, and students. Davis' writing career is also well-documented; the collection includes drafts of her short stories and her memoir, as well as notes, research material, and correspondence related to the publishing of her work. A small quantity of material represents her teaching career.

Folder headings created by Davis have been retained; the archivist's notes are in square brackets. The names of prominent correspondents have been added to the folder titles. Letters divulging personal information are closed as specified. Also closed as noted are student papers, reports, and class rosters from Davis' work at the Radcliffe Seminars.

The collection is arranged in six series with some overlap between them. Drafts of Davis' writing appear throughout the collection; titles have been added to folder headings as necessary. Correspondence is scattered throughout the collection.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1916-1999, n.d. (#1.1-1.16), contains Davis' resumes, clippings by and about Davis and members of her family, and notes and printed material regarding real estate and travel. Also included are writings by relatives and friends, particularly essays by Robert Gorham Davis, and a memoir written by Davis' mother. There is some overlap with Series III. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II, CORRESPONDENCE, 1831-1835, 1926-2002, n.d. (#2.1-7.14, F+D.1), includes correspondence with Davis' family, friends, and colleagues, including many notable literary figures. The series reflects Davis' arrangement, with chronological folders followed by alphabetical folders. The chronological folders were most likely compiled by Davis for use as research material for Great Day Coming and other pieces, and some contain Davis' writings, as well as correspondence with family members. Also included throughout the series are clippings, poetry, printed material, and notes. The correspondence covers topics such as social plans, family news and relationships, comments on Davis' writings, life as a working mother, and Davis' participation in the Communist Party.

Series III, WRITINGS, 1929-2001, n.d. (#8.1-13.8), contains drafts and published copies of Davis' writings, including magazine articles, book reviews, short stories, and two unpublished books. Also included is a draft of an unpublished compilation of short stories entitled While Venice Sinks, which is also the name of one of the short stories in the compilation. This compilation contains some short stories that were previously published; some have been updated and edited, and are included in separate folders in this series. Also documented is the publishing of Dark Way to the Plaza, a compilation of short stories; included are reviews, correspondence with her publisher, press releases, telegrams, royalty statements, book contract, and a screenplay by Davis. This series also contains her notes regarding ideas for stories, and recipes she wrote and sold. Davis' writings are scattered throughout the collection; see also Series II, IV, and V. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, GREAT DAY COMING, 1937-2002, n.d. (#13.9-16.8), relates to the research, writing, and publishing of Davis' memoir, Great Day Coming, which chronicles her membership in the Communist Party as well as the breakdown and suicide of her husband, Hermann Brunck. It contains drafts, notes, and research material (e.g., period correspondence and notes), as well as correspondence with publishers, agents, and colleagues. Also included are reviews, publicity material, royalty statements, book contracts, printed material, and clippings. Davis wrote an early version of the book as a novel, and drafts of portions of this novel are located throughout the series and have been highlighted in folder titles. The series also includes autobiographical writings by Davis; some may actually be drafts for early versions of Great Day Coming. In addition, this series contains a paper, Conflict of Commitments: Crisis Years of a Communist Couple in New Deal Washington, written while a fellow at the Radcliffe College's Bunting Institute. See also Series III for material regarding Great Day Coming. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series V, PROFESSIONAL AND TEACHING MATERIAL, 1934-1967, 1983-2002, n.d. (#16.9-18.13), includes material related to Davis' teaching career with the Radcliffe Seminars (later Lesley University) and other professional work. The bulk consists of teaching material for classes, including notes, handouts, reading lists, and Davis' own journal writings, as well as course proposals, course evaluations, and class rosters; most clippings used in classes have been discarded. Also included is correspondence with students and Radcliffe administrators; examples of student writings; talks given by Davis; and material related to Davis' professional work as an editor at the Agricultural Adjustment Administration during the 1930s. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series VI, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1984 (#PD.1-PD.2), contains portraits of Davis from 1984. Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].


Writer, feminist, one-time Communist, and teacher, Frances Hope Hale Davis was born on November 2, 1903, in Iowa City, Iowa, the fifth and youngest child of Hal and Frances McFarland Hale. Davis' father died shortly before she was born, and she was raised in Iowa primarily by her mother. Following the death of her stepfather, John Overholt, Davis moved with her mother to Washington, D.C. She studied at the Corcoran School of Art and George Washington University, as well as Cincinnati University and the Portland School of Art. As assistant to the art director of the Stuart Walker Repertory Company (1924-1926), Davis painted scenery and designed costumes. While working for the Stuart Walker Company, she met and married her first husband, scenery designer George Patrick Wood, known as "Pat." The marriage was short-lived.

Davis moved to New York City and worked as a secretary to an advertising executive at the Frank Presbrey Agency, where she wrote copy and sold drawings for advertising. She left to become a freelance writer, publishing stories in magazines such as Collier's, The New Yorker, and Bookman. Davis became promotion manager for Life magazine in 1929, and in 1931, she became editor of Love Mirror, a pulp magazine for women.

Davis married her second husband, British journalist and Communist Claud Cockburn, in 1932. Cockburn returned to Europe, and Davis moved to Washington, D.C., after giving birth to their daughter, Claudia, in February 1933. She went to work in the Consumers' Counsel of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, where she edited and wrote for the Consumer Guide, in addition to writing radio scripts for programs produced by the government. Davis and Cockburn divorced in 1934. While in Washington, she met and married German economist Karl Hermann Brunck in 1934. The same year, they joined the Communist Party. Soon after, Brunck suffered a mental breakdown, and Davis admitted him to a mental institution where he was treated by noted psychologist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. Davis chronicles his breakdown, and eventual suicide in 1937, in her memoir Great Day Coming (1993).

After Brunck's death Davis returned to New York City, where she worked as a free-lance writer, crafting short stories with underlying Communist themes. She met fellow Communist, professor, and literary critic Robert Gorham Davis at a congress of The League of American Writers; they were married in 1939. Soon after the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, the couple quit the Communist Party, but they continued to press for progressive reforms throughout their lives. Robert Gorham Davis held teaching positions at Harvard University and Smith College and eventually became a professor of English at Columbia University. Davis helped edit her husband's work, and continued writing stories for magazines such as Redbook and Town & Country, as well as literary criticism for the New Leader and other publications. She published a volume of short stories, The Dark Way to the Plaza, in 1968. In 1983-1984 she was a fellow at the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College, remaining there the following year as a visiting scholar. During these years she continued working on the memoir that would become Great Day Coming. She taught writing at the Radcliffe Seminars from 1985 until a month before her death on October 2, 2004, at age 100.

Hope and Robert Davis had two children, Stephen Davis (born in 1943) and writer Lydia Davis (born in 1948). Claudia Cockburn married the British performer Michael Flanders; they had two daughters, journalists Stephanie Flanders and Laura Flanders.


The collection is arranged in six series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1916-1999, n.d. (#1.1-1.16)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1831-1835, 1926-2002, n.d. (#2.1-7.14, F+D.1)
  3. Series III. Writings, 1929-2001, n.d. (#8.1-13.8)
  4. Series IV. Great Day Coming, 1937-2002, n.d. (#13.9-16.8)
  5. Series V. Professional and Teaching Material, 1934-1967, 1983-2002, n.d. (#16.9-18.13)
  6. Series VI. Photographs, 1984 (#PD.1-PD.2)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2004-M127, 2005-M137

The papers of Hope Hale Davis were given to the Schlesinger Library by Lydia Davis in November 2004 and by April Edrington in October 2005.


Donor: Lydia Davis

Accession number: 2004-M127

Processed by: Paula Aloisio

The following items have been removed from the collection:

  1. The Fight for Peace and Democracy, Vol. 5, No. 11 (September 1938). Transferred to Widener Library, Harvard University.
  2. Life Magazine, Vol. 93, No. 2421 (March 29, 1929). Returned to donor.
  3. Radcliffe Seminars Faculty Handbook, 1993-1994. Transferred to the Radcliffe College Archives, Schlesinger Library.

Processing Information

Processed: August 2007

By: Paula Aloisio

Davis, Hope Hale. Papers of Hope Hale Davis, 1831-1835, 1916-2002: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was partially funded by gifts from the friends of Hope Hale Davis.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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