Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Washington, Washington County
Washington native, Davis is bestknown for her short storyLife in the Iron Mills (1861), which is considered one of the first examples of literary realism.
American novelist, journalist, and editor Rebecca Harding Davis was born in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1831. Self-taught, she began writing stories depicting unusual characters compared to those in the literature of her time and became a forerunner in developing literary realism. "Life in Iron Mills," published by Atlantic Monthly in 1861, is often referred to as her greatest work, and she went on to publish over 500 pieces, including additional short works and essays. After a prolific writing career, Davis died of a stroke on her son's New York estate in 1910.
Rebecca Harding Davis was born in Washington, Pennsylvania, on June 24, 1831. Her parents were Richard and Rachel Harding. In 1863, she married journalist L. Clarke Davis, with whom she had three children.
Davis' education was limited by her rural environment, as well as standards of the time. She was self-educated in reading and writing and was a great influence on subsequent literary realism. She published her first and most famous story, Life in the Iron Mills, anonymously in the Atlantic Monthly in 1861. This novella brought her admiring attention from the New England literary elite, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Davis' self-described literary forefather. Her first novel, Margret Howth: A Story of Today, was published in 1862. During this time she met L. Clarke Davis, and the two married in 1863. They moved to Philadelphia, where her husband was Managing Editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
It was not until 1868 that Davis published her next two novels, Waiting for the Verdict and Dallas Galbraith. A year later, she accepted a job as an Assistant Editor for the New York Tribune. In 1874, she published her most famous novel, John Andross, which portrayed the indictment of corrupt politics of the Whiskey Ring scandal. She also addressed other contemporary issues in her works such as the Civil War, slavery, and the rights of the poor. While some of her contemporaries (particularly Henry James) did not like the darker nature of her subject matter and style, these attributes have made her highly praised nowadays. As Janet Milner Laseter wrote for the Dictionary of Literary Biography: Her primary contribution was to the development of literary realism. Her steadfast employment of subject matter previously considered unsuitable for literature provoked criticism of her fiction from her contemporaries—on the same grounds for which twentieth-century readers and scholars praised her work. During this entire period, Davis was an accomplished journalist, as well as encouraging the literary efforts of her sons Richard and Charles.
According to Jennifer L. Larson's "A Groundbreaking Realist" article, Davis "believed that every person should write 'not the story of his own life, but of the time in which he lived.'" Rebecca Harding Davis passed away September 29, 1910, at the home of her son Richard Harding Davis in Mount Kisco, New York.
Life in the Iron Mills. Atlantic Monthly April 1861: 430-452.
Margret Howth: A Story of Today. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1862.
Waiting for the Verdict. New York: Sheldon, 1868.
John Andross. New York: Orange Judd, 1874.
Laseter, Janet Milner. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 239: American Women Prose Writers, 1820-1870. Eds. Katharine Rodier and Amy E. Hudock. Detroit: The Gale Group, 2001. pp. 55-70.
Rebecca (Blaine) Harding Davis. The Gale Literary Database: Contemporary Authors. The Gale Group. 11 February 2000. 20 September 2001. <http://www.galenet.com>.
Larson, Jennifer L. "Highlights: A Groundbreaking Realist: Rebecca Harding Davis."Documenting the American South.The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 2004. 28 October 2015. <http://docsouth.unc.edu/highlights/davis.html>.