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COLLECTION Identifier: 88-M124--2016-M25

Papers of Frances Davis, 1899-1983


Manuscript drafts, notes, research material, correspondence, etc., of Frances Davis, author and foreign correspondent.


  • 1899-1983

Language of Materials

Materials in English.


Access. Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Frances Davis is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. 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.


9.6 linear feet ((8 cartons, 1/2 file box, 1 folio+ box) plus 1 folio folder, 1 oversize folder, 2 photograph folders)

Frances Davis' papers consist primarily of type-script and manuscript draft versions of her published and unpublished books, and notes and research material that she used in her work. There are also personal and professional correspondence, personal and professional financial records, other writing by Davis, information about other of her projects, and photographs.

Additional material received between 1992 and 2016 (accession numbers 92-M78 and 2016-M25) were added to the collection in February 2016. These materials are housed in #272vf+, 273f+, 274, and 275. All other files remain in the same order. Folders are listed in intellectual, not numerical, order.”

It appears that, after the publication of My Shadow in the Sun (1940), Davis considered writing a trilogy. Book I was to focus on the childhoods of her parents, the emergence of their utopian world views, and their move to "the Farm." Davis would then explore the limitations of this utopian experiment and document the "demise of an idyll." Book II would have focused on Davis' eagerness to confront the complexity of life through a career as a journalist. This book would probably have included much of the material published earlier in Shadow. Book III would have documented Davis' struggle to heal herself physically and spiritually, to come to terms with the conflict between the idyllic vision of the world with which she grew up and the ugly reality that she experienced in Europe. This ambitious project was never published as Davis first envisioned it but was scaled down, the three books integrated into a single volume published as A Fearful Innocence. Many of the drafts in Series III and IV were probably versions of portions of these projected books.

Series I, Personal and family, includes letters to Frances Davis from friends and family members, carbon copies of letters from her to friends and family, personal financial records, a typescript draft of Philip Davis' autobiography, and photographs.

Series II, My Shadow in the Sun, includes draft chapters and notes, correspondence about the book's publication, information on promotion, and reviews.

Series III, The Book of the Farm, consists of outlines, chapter drafts, background research material, and notes for the projected trilogy. Some of the material in this series overlaps with the material in Series II and IV and could have been organized as parts of those series. The processor has, however, attempted to preserve some- thing of Davis' original plan by arranging in a separate series the material apparently written in an interim stage between My Shadow in the Sun and A Fearful Innocence. This series also includes the autobiography and correspondence of Ralph Albertson, and copies of correspondence between Walter Lippmann and Hazel Albertson; Davis referred to this material for back- ground information. The title of the series is one of the names Davis considered giving the trilogy.

Series IV, A Fearful Innocence, includes chapter drafts, notes, correspondence, and reviews.

Series V, Other writing and projects, includes an article published by Davis in 1931, other pieces of writing (probably unpublished), and notes, proposals, and photographs relating to the design of Christmas display windows at IBM headquarters in New York City. Folder headings in quotation marks were found on the original folders; these headings appear to have been assigned by Davis. All other headings have been supplied by the processor.


Frances Parsons Davis (later Cohen), author and foreign correspondent, was born on October 28, 1908, in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Philip and Belle S. (Homer) Davis. Her father, a Russian immigrant and protégé of Jane Addams, had graduated from Harvard College in 1903. For many years he was affiliated with the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union; later, he became the director of a settlement house in Boston's North End. Davis' mother, a Russian immigrant known to family and friends as Polly, had worked as a finisher in the Philadelphia garment industry, where she also organized women workers. Philip and Belle S Davis met while organizing a finishers' strike in Philadelphia; the couple eventually settled in Boston.

The Davises were acquainted with Ralph Albertson, a Congregational minister and social reformer; Davis' "second home" was "the Farm," a utopian community founded by Albertson and his second wife, Hazel Hammond Albertson, in West Newbury, Massachusetts. The Davises lived there between roughly 1910 and late 1918, and, after they returned to the Boston area, continued to visit the Farm on weekends and holidays. Davis' experience of the "Farm family" would become the topic of her second book, A Fearful Innocence, published in 1981.

Frances Davis began her newspaper career at the age of 14 as a proofreader and "filler piece" writer for the weekly Medford Mercury. She continued her high-school education but felt closer to "real life" when following up news stories around the city of Boston. Compelled by a growing conviction that journalism was work of great social and historical consequence, Davis landed a job as a feature story writer with the Boston Transcript in the mid 1920s.

After graduating from high school Davis enrolled in a journalism course at Boston University but soon left, bored by what she called "finger exercises" and yearning to widen her horizons. In the winter of 1926, when she was 18, she convinced her father to subsidize her move to New York City. There she took on various writing assignments: several of her pieces were printed in the New York World, then edited by Walter Lippmann, who had spent time at the Farm while a student at Harvard; she worked with Richard Washburn Child at the Saturday Evening Post, and eventually studied politics and newspaper writing with J.W. Terry.

Davis wanted to follow the lead of her hero, foreign correspondent Dorothy Thompson. She believed that reporting on the dismal history being made in Europe in the 1930s was the way in which she could participate in the history of the world. After gradually saving enough money to buy a boat ticket to Europe, she spent two weeks driving through the countryside of New England, New York, and Pennsylvania soliciting local papers to buy and print the columns she would send them from Europe. She set sail in the spring of 1936 and wrote first from Paris. That summer Davis made her way across the French border into Spain, where the civil war had recently begun. Finding herself, along with male newspaper colleagues, behind Franco lines, she risked her life smuggling news stories written by senior male correspondents out of the war-torn country and into France. Eventually, Davis was hired to report on the Spanish Civil War by the London Daily Mail. While observing Franco's army under fire on the front line, Davis was slightly injured by a piece of shrapnel. By the spring of 1939, however, she became quite ill as a result of septicemia and was hospitalized in Paris; that summer, declining health forced her to return to the United States.

For the next three years she would engage in an agonizing battle against both illness and the inability of the idyllic "Farm family" to grasp the meaning of what she had seen and experienced in Europe on the brink of World War II. The septicemia left Davis so weak that she finally had to accept the fact that she would not be able to return to Europe to cover the war. While recuperating at the Farm in 1939, Davis met her future husband, I. Bernard Cohen, who would become Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. They married in 1943 and had one daughter, Frances Cohen.

Davis wrote two autobiographical books. In 1940, Carrick and Evans, Inc., published My Shadow in the Sun, in which Davis recorded her experiences as a foreign correspondent in France and Spain in the late 1930s. In 1981, Kent State University Press published A Fearful Innocence, in which Davis attempted to reconcile the utopian vision instilled in her by her parents and the Farm family with the brutality of Fascism that she had witnessed in Europe.

Frances Davis died in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 2, 1982.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Personal and family
  2. Series II. My Shadow in the Sun
  3. Series III. The Book of the Farm
  4. Series IV. A Fearful Innocence
  5. Series V. Other writing and projects

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 88-M124, 89-M14, 92-M78, 2016-M25. Accession numbers 92-M78 and 2016-M25 were added in February 2016.

The papers of Frances Parsons Davis were given to the Schlesinger Library by her widower, I. Bernard Cohen, between August 1988 and May 1992, and by I. Bernard Cohen's second wife, Susan Johnson, in February 2016.


The following items have been removed from the collection and transferred to the Schlesinger Library book division, August 1991:

  1. Addams, Jane. Democracy and Social Ethics (MacMillan, 1902).
  2. Blackwell, Alice Stone. Songs of Russia Rendered into English Verse (1906).
  3. Davis, Philip. And Crown Thy Good (Philosophical Library, 1952).
  4. Elsmith, Dorothy. "Souk Shopping in Aleppo" from The Pilgrim Scrip, June 1957.
  5. Jones, Samuel M. Letters of Love and Labor, The Franklin Printing and Engraving Co., 1900).
  6. Singer, Dorothea Waley. Margrieta Beer, 1871-1951, A Memoir (Manchester University Press, 1955).


  1. Carton 1: 1-32
  2. Carton 2: 33-67
  3. Carton 3: 68-91
  4. Carton 4: 92-123
  5. Carton 5: 124-143
  6. Carton 6: 144-182
  7. Carton 7: 183-242
  8. Carton 8: 243-271
  9. Folio+ Box 9: 169f+, 262f+, 272vf+, 273f+
  10. Box 10: 274, 275

Processing Information

Preliminary inventory: July 1991

By: Doreen Drury

Updated and additional materials added: February 2016

By: Anne Engelhart

Davis, Frances. Papers of Frances Davis, 1899-1983: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

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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