Davis, Rebecca Harding

Davis, Rebecca Harding

Davis, Rebecca Harding, 1831-1910, American novelist, b. Washington, Pa.; mother of Richard Harding Davis. Her early nonfiction pieces, particularly those collected under the title Life in the Iron Mills (1861), and her first novel, Margaret Howth (1862), foreshadowed the naturalistic techniques of later 19th-century writers by showing how a dismal environment can warp character.

See her autobiographical Bits of Gossip (1904); biography by G. Langford (1961).

Rebecca Blaine Harding Davis (1831-1910; born Rebecca Blaine Harding) was an American author and journalist. She is deemed a pioneer of literary Realism in American literature. Her most important literary work is the novella Life in the Iron Mills published in the April 1861 edition of the Atlantic Monthly. Throughout her lifetime, Harding Davis sought to effect social change for blacks, women, Native Americans, immigrants, and the working class, by intentionally writing about these marginalised groups' plight in the 19th century.

Life and Work

Rebecca Blaine Harding was born in Washington, Pennsylvania on June 24, 1831, to Richard and Rachel Leet Wilson Harding. After an unsuccessful entrepreneurial spell in Big Spring, Alabama, the family finally settled in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1836. Wheeling's rapid transformation into a factory town in the first half of the nineteenth century profoundly affected the themes and the vision of Davis's later fiction.

When she was 14, she was sent back to Washington, Pennsylvania, to attend the Washington Female Seminary, from where she graduated as class valedictorian in 1848. After returning to Wheeling, she joined the staff of the local newspaper, the Intelligencer, submitting reviews, stories, poems, and editorials, and also serving briefly as an editor in 1859.

Life in the Iron Mills, published in the Atlantic Monthly in April 1861, is regarded by many critics as a pioneering document marking the transition from Romanticism to Realism in American literature. The successful publication of the short story also provided her with acclaim in the literary circles of her time.

On her journey back from a meeting with her publisher, James Fields, Rebecca met L. Clarke Davis in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, whom she married on March 5, 1863. The following year she gave birth to their first son, Richard Harding Davis, who was to become a writer and journalist himself. Their second son, Charles Belmont, was born in 1866; their daughter, Nora, in 1872.

From 1869 onwards, Rebecca Harding Davis was a regular contributing editor to the New York Tribune and the New York Independent. In 1889, however, she resigned from the Tribune in order to protest editorial censorship of her articles.

On September 29, 1910, Rebecca Harding Davis died of a stroke at her son Richard's house in Mt. Kisco, New York.



  • Margret Howth (1861)
  • Waiting for the Verdict (1867)
  • Kitty's Choice or Berrytown and Other Stories (1873)
  • John Andross (1874)
  • A Law unto Herself (1878)
  • Natasqua (1886)
  • Kent Hampden (1892)
  • Silhouettes of American Life (1892)
  • Doctor Warrick's Daughters (1896)
  • Frances Waldeaux (1897)
  • Bits of Gossip (1904)

Short Fiction

  • "Life in the Iron Mills" Atlantic Monthly (1861)
  • "David Gaunt" (1862)
  • "John Lamar" (1862)
  • "Paul Blecker" (1863)
  • "Ellen" (1865)
  • "The Harmonists" (1866)
  • "In the Market" (1868)
  • "A Pearl of Great Price" (1868)
  • "Put out of the Way" (1870)
  • "General William Wirt Colby" Wood's Household Magazine (1873)
  • "Earthen Pitchers" (1873-1874)
  • "Marcia" (1876)
  • "A Day with Doctor Sarah" (1878)


  • "Men's Rights" (1869)
  • "Some Testimony in the Case" (1885)
  • "Here and There in the South" (1887)
  • "Women in Literature" (1891)
  • "In the Gray Cabins of New England" (1895)
  • "The Disease of Money-Getting" (1902)

Online Texts


External links

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