Maria Thompson Daviess, granddaughter of Maj. William Daviess and Maria B. Thompson, was a noted author and suffragette in Kentucky and Tennesee. Kay Baker Gaston recently published an article on Maria Thompson Daviess's life and career in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly (Vol. LXX Fall 2011 Number 3), pp. 196-211. Kay has graciously given permission to share her article and photos with McAfee researchers (including several photos that were not published with the original article). Kay continues to research the life of Maria Thompson Daviess, and is particularly interested in locating Maria's personal papers, letters or other documents. Kay is also keen to locate the original Hergesheimer portrait of Daviess, which she suspects may be in Nashville. If you have any information on Maria, please email Kay at


by Kay Baker Gaston

Maria Thompson Daviess
(Portrait of Maria Thompson Daviess by Ella Sophonisba Hergesheimer,
frontispiece of Anne Ashley's master's thesis,
"Harpeth Valley in the Fiction of Maria Thompson Daviess," 1935.)

(Additional photos)

           In September of 1907, Maria Thompson Daviess began her first novel, entitled Miss Selina Lue and the Soap-Box Babies. Set in a sleepy river town upstream from Nashville, Tennessee, the novel revolved around Miss Selina Lue, a widow from Warren County who had purchased the River Bluff Grocery and ran what Daviess described as "a hospitable day-nursery conducted on entirely original and utterly unremunerative lines by its owner." 1 The grocery provided the setting for neighborhood gossip, romance, and the frustration of a plan to develop the Hill mansion for a golf club. The author brought her story up to date by incorporating the telephone and the automobile in her novel, as well as a gospel-boat meeting at the newly constructed Lock 2 on the Cumberland River. 2 Miss Selina Lue was the first in a long string of novels, stories, plays, and an autobiography that Daviess produced before her death in 1924.

           Given that her books focused on the concerns and interests of women, it was natural that Daviess became involved in the women's suffrage movement just as she blossomed as a writer. In Nashville she kept company with a group of women writers and artists who met regularly to criticize each other's work. By September of 1911 she, with several other members of the group, gathered to form the Nashville Equal Suffrage League, of which Daviess was elected Vice-President. She wrote The Elected Mother, a story that was published separately as a book in 1912, to promote the cause of women's suffrage, and she addressed the issue in The Tinder Box (1913) and other novels as well. She also attended meetings and supported the efforts of her friend, Anne Dallas Dudley, President of the Nashville League. Dudley eventually became President of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association, of which Daviess served as Honorary President. 3

           Daviess' path to becoming a writer was circuitous, and success was by no means a foregone conclusion; but she did have certain advantages of birth and education. Born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, in 1872, she came into the world "at one o'clock on Thanksgiving morning, the midst of a terrific snow storm." 4 Both sets of grandparents were present for the Thanksgiving feast: Major William Daviess and Maria Thompson Daviess (for whom she was named) who lived at Hayfields, a thousand-acre farm on the outskirts of Harrodsburg; and Mortimer and Emmeline Hamilton who had come from Nashville, part of the way by stagecoach. Her family lived in a cottage in Harrodsburg, where her father practiced law with his uncle and namesake, John Burton Thompson, who had succeeded Henry Clay as U. S. Senator from Kentucky.

           Daviess spent her first seven years surrounded by a large and powerful Kentucky family. She described herself as "about an average child with a personality developed a little beyond the ordinary." 5 But two traumatic events shattered her sense of invulnerability. The first was the death of her sister when Maria was four, followed four years later by the loss of her father, who was found dead in an empty horse stall of a gunshot wound that was deemed accidental. Her mother relocated the family, which now included two-year-old Hamilton, to Nashville. They moved in with Maria's uncle, Joseph Daviess Hamilton, who lived at Rokeby Place, in the home of his mother, Emmeline Hill Hamilton. Born in 1845, Hamilton had served briefly with the 20th Tennessee Infantry, C. S. A. , before entering the hardware business of his uncle, James M. Hamilton. His wife was Mary Gale McTyeire, the oldest daughter of Vanderbilt University founder Bishop Holland N. McTyeire. 6. The Daviess family also frequently visited the home of another uncle and aunt, Edward and Susie Hamilton Richardson, on Broad Street.

           Despite the hospitable reception by her Nashville relatives, young Maria's heart remained in Kentucky. When her family returned to Hayfields the following summer, Maria wrote, "I found my Grandmother Daviess, never to lose her again." 7 The child patterned herself after the elder Maria Thompson Daviess, a strong and vibrant woman who ran the farm after her husband's death, wrote a column for the Harrodsburg Democrat, 8 and lectured at the Harrodsburg Academy, while entertaining "the whole countryside, day in and day out." 9

           In the fall the younger Maria rebelled at returning to the confines of Nashville. She agreed instead to attend a boarding school in nearby Danville, Kentucky. The next year, in August of 1881, her Uncle Jo stepped in with an offer to send her to the Nashville College for Young Ladies, established in 1880 under the patronage of the Methodist Episcopal Church South by Dr. George W. F. Price. 10 When his eight-year-old niece balked at returning to Rokeby Place, Hamilton agreed to rent Maria's family the lower floor of a house across from the school. She kept his letter in her lock box. "You have shown decided symptoms of intellect, and I want you here by me so I can see it develop," he wrote.  "You are all the girl I have got and I want to make you into as great a woman as if you were a boy. You must be here to enter school by September 10th. I count on you." 11

           This marked the beginning of Daviess' formal education. In later years she remembered the Nashville College for Young Ladies as a good school, largely due to the tutelage of her cousin, Miss Kate Thomas, who taught her English grammar and general history. Friends Mamie and Sallie were enamored of the Elsie books, which they lent freely, but she preferred the more substantial fare offered by her aunt Susie Richardson, who read her excerpts from a Charles Reade story in Harper's Bazaar, or her aunt at Rokeby Place, who read Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, and Little Women to her on weekends. 12

           While at the College for Young Ladies, Daviess later wrote, she never once thought of a boy, and "in fact never saw or spoke to one of the creatures for the whole four years I was at Y-L-C's hot bed for strictly feminine young ideas." 13. When she was eleven she had her first crush on a math teacher at the school, most likely Miss Anna B. Lanius. 14 The spell was broken almost two years later, when the teacher brought tears to Mamie's eyes by sharply reprimanding her for a mistake at the chalkboard. 15

           Maria's mother, perhaps harking back to the clay birds her daughter had modeled at age four and the freehand drawing of an apple she had labeled "the tru vine" in her sixth year, 16 enrolled her daughter after school two afternoons a week in the art class of Sallie Thomas, sister of the aforementioned Kate. She later described how "suddenly while copying a bunch of grapes the fact of technique seared itself upon my brain and I have never lost it. By that sense of technique, so acquired, I managed to expose a miniature on the line in the place of honor at the Salon des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1904, after only two years' study, and I made a six months' best seller of the third novel I wrote. I feel that technique once learned in any art holds good for any other art forever and a day. It becomes a sense like the sense of smell, or taste, or perhaps balance. 17

           In May of 1885 Daviess accompanied Mary Hamilton House Thompson, 18 her aunt who lived at the palatial Glen Leven estate on Franklin Road, to a tent revival at 8th and Broadway in Nashville. The speaker was Sam Jones, 19 a Methodist evangelist and prohibitionist, who attracted thousands of Nashvillians to his tent throughout the month. When the queenly Mrs. Thompson, whom her niece described as "Nashville's great lady of that day...[who] possessed a goodly share of the city's wealth," stood up and shouted "'Speak on, Brother Jones,'" her niece became, as she put it, "religiously convinced. . Maria was deeply impressed by the sight of her aunt's "friends backing her up in her spiritual quest...and the rest of the crowd filling the gospel tent" and the "sheer display of power" at the revival. 20 She was not alone—Jones also converted Captain Tom Ryman, who raised funds to build the Union Gospel Tabernacle, now known as the Ryman Auditorium, to promote religion in Nashville. 21

           When a Methodist preacher told Maria's Uncle Jo that the Science Hill School in Shelbyville, Kentucky, was sending girls to Wellesley and Vassar on scholarships to train as teachers, he proposed that his niece attend the Hill School and her brother the nearby Kentucky Military Institute at Frankfort. Thirteen-year-old Maria accompanied her mother to Frankfort to enroll Hamilton in a summer class at KMI, where she met Jamy, a young man much older than she who was in charge of the summer camp. She recalled that their "particularly perfect companionship" set "a standard for all future demands to be made by me or upon me," although admittedly her feelings for him did not compare with the "glamour" she had felt for her teacher. 22

           Among Maria's special friends at the Hill School was Minnie Fox, sister of John Fox, Jr. , a native Kentuckian and Harvard graduate who became best known for The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, published by Scribner's in 1903. 23 Her algebra teacher was Dr. Wiley Taul Poynter, head of the school since 1879, whom she credited with building her confidence as well as improving her mind. Maria had many escapades as well. She developed a crush on Etta, danced with Ellice in the courtyard, bought contraband food from the cook, shot craps, sneaked out at night, and went on diets, all while becoming infatuated with "the Don," an older man who was a school trustee. 24 She incorporated her adventures into the novel, Sue Jane (The Century Company, 1912), which she dedicated to the memory of Dr. Poynter.

           Maria spent her seventeenth summer with her grandmother Daviess, who had rented out Hayfields and moved into a house she built at 122 East Poplar Street in Harrodsburg. When John Fox, Jr. , came over to gather material for a proposed article on the Bluegrass Hunt for Harper's Magazine, Maria and her thirteen male cousins took him on a possum hunt over the Kentucky River Cliffs. 25. Fox did not use the material in The Kentuckians, his first novel published in Harper's from July through October of 1897, although the hunt may have appeared in one of his stories. Daviess, however, relocated it to Middle Tennessee, putting it to good use in her own 1913 novel, Andrew the Glad . Chapter IV, entitled "Pursuing the Possum," begins vividly: "And as if in sympathy with the pursued possum, the thermometer began to fall in the afternoon and by night had established a clear, cold, windless condition of weather. The start for the Cliffs was to be made from the fork of the River Road, where cars, horses, traps and hampers were to be left with the servants, who by half past nine were already in an excited group around a blazing, dry oak fire, over which two score plump birds were ready to be roasted...." 26 The ensuing romp through the woods in the dark, laced with danger and romance and culminating in a sumptuous feast around the campfire, was pure Daviess—a joyous reminiscence of her unfettered life growing up in Kentucky.

           Daviess went off to college at Wellesley, near Boston, but declined to "waste many words" of her autobiography on the year she spent there. During commencement week, she helped entertain Rob, the brother of her senior chum Elinore. She and Rob got off to a rocky start but became great friends. In 1922 he would pay her several thousand dollars for the rights to The Golden Bird for a proposed film starring Marguerite Clark, who appeared in the film version of Daviess' novel Out of a Clear Sky in 1918. 27

           After returning to Nashville to break the news to Uncle Jo that her college career had come to a close, she and her mother traveled first to the Chicago Exposition and then to Monteagle, a popular resort on the Cumberland Plateau, for the summer. As a twenty-one-year-old, it seemed to her "that everybody who had an instituted influence in my life had been trying to smear education on me and rub it in, while all the time I hungered and thirsted for just raw life and being allowed to wolf it and then settle down to digest it. I wanted to make sallies and raids into human society to pounce on prey, but I wanted a deep hole of my own into which I could crawl to devour my adventures and sleep and ruminate and sleep again. In other words, I wanted a home." 28 Uncle Jo had explained to her that a permanent home was impossible because her mother's precarious health required that she spend several months of each year in Florida and the mountains.  Daviess accused her friends of conspiring to turn her into a "roly-poly" with excessive hospitality, and complained that her romantic life was non-existent. She cited her friend, the writer Mary Austin, who said "the most vital sex experience is to have none," but added that " coldness had made a wallflower out of me I might have goaded myself into a capturing warmth, but there always seemed to be plenty of men to take me to places...and I offered them loyalty and sympathy in return, with which they seemed more or less satisfied." 29

           She found plenty of social activity in Harrodsburg during the winter of 1894 when she and her mother moved in with her grandmother Daviess and Thompson aunt, "Sis Annie. . The season was the most brilliant since the Civil War, filled with debutante teas, dances, and a costume ball. The young people attended hunt breakfasts, rode with the hounds, and danced the night away. Maria stayed into the spring for a round of weddings and accompanying parties, while her mother returned to Rokeby Place, where her health continued to decline.

           At the start of June Maria and her mother set out for "White Cliff," an old hotel on the brow of the mountain at Monteagle. On June 18th Leonora Daviess told her daughter she wanted to start home the next day. She was helped into a bed in the back of a horse-drawn wagon to journey down a mountain road to the railroad station in the valley. As they descended the mountain, a trace snapped and the bed of the wagon swung out over the valley, then swung back and dumped them in the road. They started out again and reached the Nashville home of Susie Richardson, where Leonora Daviess roused only once before dying. Maria, Uncle Jo, his wife "Little Auntie," Aunt Susie Richardson, and her daughter Leonora accompanied Maria to Harrodsburg, where they buried Leonora Hamilton Daviess next to her husband and young daughter in the Spring Hill cemetery. 30

           Daviess returned to Harrodsburg during the summer of 1896 to care for her grandmother, who died around Christmas of that year. She was consoled by, and strongly attracted to, an older cousin who came for the funeral, but he, too, died not long thereafter. 31 Back in Nashville at the Richardson home, she devoted herself to planning social events for her nieces, while observing the not inconsiderable workings of Nashville society. William Waller's Nashville in the 1890s describes a dizzying catalog of social events, including theater parties, balls, coming out parties for debutantes, Christmas dinners, horse shows, nutting parties, moonlight rides on horseback, and dances on boats on the Cumberland. In February of 1897 Joe Howell honored Leonora Richardson and Elizabeth Howell with an unusual party that featured an hypnotic exhibition, followed by a Bohemian supper at Xavier Faucon's French Restaurant at 419 Union. 32

           "Of course," Daviess wrote, "on account of the death of my mother I went to none of these parties myself but from the background I had a great opportunity to observe the social institution of Nashville function. I was on a screened platform in the jungle and could watch unobserved the prowling and pursuit and captures with their oftentimes bloody dismemberment." 33 The festivities abated for Daviess after her cousin Leonora wed P. Perkins Baxter on June 29, 1898, and their friend Nina Bass Stratton married Edgar Martin Foster in January of 1899. 34 Feelings of worthlessness overcame her one Saturday night after a dance at the Hermitage Club. But soon "I came to myself and went to work," 35 she remembered, and by Monday she had decided upon a career in art.

           Leaving her party clothes at Aunt Susie's, she took basic necessities to Uncle Jo's at Glendale, ten miles south of Nashville on Franklin Pike. After the panic of 1897, he had moved his family into an old farmhouse on the Glen Leven estate at the invitation of his sister, Mary Hamilton Orr Thompson.  No longer a manufacturer, he had become Treasurer of the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Daviess loved the picturesque retreat on her aunt's farm, which "faced a brawling creek and a gnarled old locust grove, backed out into a rolling wheat field and sided towards the blue Harpeth Hills." 36 She also liked the convenience of the new interurban streetcar that ran along the other side of the field into Nashville.

           After registering in the School of Art at Peabody College, she bought paper and crayons and prepared to draw a head of the Venus de Milo. After a year of study she won prizes for her watercolor flower paintings and the Theodore Cooley prize for a small clay bas-relief of her friend Anne Dallas. 37 A year later—and only a week after Uncle Jo had deposited in her bank account $1,600 from her mother's estate—she began planning a trip to study art in France. Her uncle's advice was, "'Go ahead, you've got it in you, but remember you are using the last button on Gabe's coat. '" 38 Daviess was twenty-nine in September of 1902 when she set sail for Europe, "perfectly sufficient to myself and with an enormous confidence in myself." 39

           Daviess devoted a considerable part of Seven Times Seven, her 1924 autobiography, to this European adventure, which lasted almost two years. From London Daviess went directly to Paris and moved into the American Students Club (now Reid Hall), founded and subsidized by philanthropist Mrs. Whitelaw Reid to house American women studying art in Paris. Her first outing was to the Louvre to see the Venus de Milo, whose head she had sketched as a beginning artist. With a fellow student from Kentucky as tour guide, she saw all the sights, experiencing "the sense of expansion that I imagine a grub must feel on a summer's day slightly before it is to become a butterfly." 40 The first Monday she enrolled in a Jacques Delacluse studio exclusively for women. To make her money go further, she later rented a fourth floor apartment on the Rue des Dames, leasing some of her space to other students.

           Daviess spent the summer of 1903 at a colony for women artists in Rijsord, Holland, sleeping in a compartment over a cow shed. Here she met Sophonisba Hergesheimer, 41 who became an accomplished portrait artist and later moved to Nashville. Daviess visited the Hague with Sophonisba and Aileen, 42 a friend from Nashville who came to spend the winter with her in Paris. Daviess worked very hard, and eventually won a prized Salon des Beaux Arts award for one of her miniatures painted on ivory. While in Paris she also learned a technique for altering photographs to make them more like paintings, which she later utilized in her Nashville studio. In addition to these solid accomplishments, she further developed the skills, confidence, and independence to forge her own path. She returned home in triumph, greeted in Nashville by Uncle Jo and friends on July 4, 1904. 43

           With only six dollars in her pocket and a brother who had also spent his small inheritance, Daviess went to see her cousin Joseph Thompson, President of the Nashville Trust Company and son of her venerable aunt, the late Mary Thompson. Before she had to ask, he graciously asked how much money she needed. She requested and received a loan for $350, and then he added a personal check for $500. She gave all but $300 to Hamilton, using the remaining money to rent a room in Nashville, with a bath she could use for photo developing and plenty of space for her treasures.

           Her modest apartment became a gathering place for various arts activities. There, two plays were rehearsed, sculptress Belle Kinney received a commission to make a statue of railroad entrepreneur Jere Baxter, and the decision was made to keep as a permanent art gallery the Parthenon erected during the Centennial Exposition.  Most important to her personally, the Pen and Brush Round Table, a women's group comprising four writers and four illustrators, met there once a week to read manuscripts and exhibit sketches "for mutual inspiration." 44 One day in early spring Daviess surprised them all by presenting, not a sketch, but an 1,800-word story for juveniles entitled "The Sprigged Muslin," dealing with the relationship between a neglected grandmother and her spoiled granddaughter. Her friend Anne, now Mrs. Guilford Dudley, dropped by later that afternoon for tea, and asked Daviess to read it to her. Anne's reaction was so positive that "something strong rose up... and murdered the painter me," Daviess wrote. "I never took another professional photograph and I never painted another miniature." 45

           She still had a number of commissions, however, along with an offer to work with a photographer down the street, and a debt to pay. Unexpectedly, Miss Susan L. Heron and Miss Ida E. Hood, owners of Belmont College, called to ask if she could fill a vacancy in their faculty. They made her an offer, but on the way out the door asked her to bring an example of her china painting, since most of the pupils at their school worked in that medium. Not a china painter herself, Daviess rushed over to seek advice from a young woman who was. She executed a design of currants and leaves on a white plate, prepared it for firing, and packed it in her friend's oven before midnight. "I was proud of it when I when I took it out to Miss Hood the next day," she wrote, "and I am proud of it now as I glance at it over on my manuscript cabinet with three yellow apples reposing on its richness." 46

          With regular income from her new job as director of the School of Art at Belmont, Daviess closed her studio in June and moved back to Glendale, where she began churning out more stories in the "Sprigged Muslin" series. She sold the first two to Kind Words, a Baptist Sunday School paper, and marketed other juvenile stories to the Sunday School papers of other denominations. She also wrote love stories, many admittedly "half-baked," to try out on the Round Table. Looking back, she scarcely knew how to explain her newly discovered passion for writing but attributed it to her "racing horse ancestry" as much as anything. A race horse story of hers entitled "The Firebrand" had attracted the attention of the Wellesley English Department. She also recalled a day in Harrodsburg when her grandmother Daviess was writing her weekly article for Home and Farm in the study, her aunt "Sis Auntie" was writing a poem in the parlor, and aunt Hannah Pittman from St. Louis was working on a musical comedy in the dining room, while she, the younger Maria, scribbled away at a novel on the porch. Maria's mother accused them all of having writer's itch. 47

           Two years of teaching at Belmont left little energy or time for writing, although Daviess continued to bring a few contributions to Saturday afternoon meetings of the Round Table at the homes of its members. On one such afternoon at the home of Libbie Luttrell Morrow, Daviess dared to criticize a story, thereby creating a new dynamic for the circle. After writing an adolescent story over the Christmas holiday at Glendale, she decided on New Year's Eve to abandon teaching and take up writing full time. She slipped in to consult Uncle Jo, who was helping a Methodist bishop work out the details of a trip to China. "'Of course you can make good at writing if you think you can,'" her supportive uncle responded. "'Come on home and try it out? There is plenty of fuel and food and room and you can have as much money as we can scrape up.'" 48

           In June she was back at Glendale. For six months she wrote juvenile stories during the first half of each month, selling all twelve to Sunday School papers. During the second half of each month she wrote for adults, with her eye on the Century Company. Meanwhile, Daviess went on a rigorous diet and took a five-mile jog around the wheat field daily, losing sixty pounds in five months. Later this regimen would serve as material for The Melting of Molly, a novel published by Bobbs-Merrill in 1912 and turned into a Broadway play starring Alma Tell. 49

           As she walked across the wheat field one Thursday in mid-summer, Daviess had a premonition that something important was going to happen. Three days later Uncle Jo brought home on the trolley an encouraging letter from the editor of a projected magazine that would publish stories about children for adults. It was signed "Preston," the middle name of a man that she never publicly identified but who played a significant role in her career and personal life. Complimenting her naturalistic portrayals of child life, he expressed the hope that she would write a love story for adults with her "'portentous and delicious children all grouped around some kind of basic and human theme. '. This letter was accompanied by another from the Youth's Magazine, offering $300 for a story Preston had called to their attention. 50

           "I saw it as a whole as I trailed after Uncle Jo along the path," Daviess recalled, and before she reached home Miss Selina Lue and the Soap-Box Babies was coming alive in her mind. Its theme was inspired by an evening at the home of Anne and Guilford Dudley, when she was holding their baby, Trevania, on her lap. Along with a before-dinner cocktail Guilford handed her a compliment she had heard countless times, "'Miss Maria, you ought to have a dozen children of your own. '" So in late September of 1907 Daviess began writing the story of the childless widow at the Bluff Grocery who ministered to foster babies, their mothers, and the whole community. She completed her manuscript shortly before Thanksgiving, prepared a feast, and called in the Round Table to introduce Miss Selina Lue and simultaneously celebrate her own thirty-fifth birthday. 51

           The Century Company rejected the manuscript, but Preston, acting as her agent, sent Miss Selina Lue on to the Bobbs-Merrill Company in Indianapolis, which gave Daviess and her book a royal welcome. She dedicated the novel, copyrighted in 1909, to writer Harriet Hobson Dougherty and to her uncle, Joseph Hamilton Daviess, who had played such an important role in her success. Congratulations poured in from friends in Nashville and beyond. The fifty-five copies ordered by Nashville booksellers sold out by noon of the first day and more were shipped in from Indianapolis. Among the many parties given by her friends, Mr. and Mrs. Tillman's "was one of the carousels of my life," she wrote. "A whole roasted pig, with an apple in its mouth, sat on its well browned haunches at one end of the table, ...[while] a huge crisped-skin turkey that lay on its back with complacently folded legs and wings held the place of honor at the other, and I sat in between." 52

           Meanwhile, she and Anne Dudley had begun to read about the suffrage movement. Inspired by the writings of English philosopher John Stuart Mill and South African novelist Olive Schreiner, they read everything they could find about the woman suffrage movement in the United States. Theirs was initially a gradual awakening, but they were galvanized into action when their friend Ida Clyde Clarke returned from New York with instructions from Dr. Anna Howard Shaw to organize. 53

           In September of 1911 Daviess was the guest of honor at a meeting of the Tennessee Press and Authors Club in Nashville. There she encountered Mrs. J. D. Allen of Memphis, who asked her to gather a delegation of friends to discuss woman suffrage at the Tulane Hotel the next morning. These "Suffrage Pioneers" were Willie Richardson Williams, Louise Baxter, Amelia Territt, Libbie Luttrell Morrow, Ida Clyde Clark, Maria Thompson Daviess, and Anne Dallas Dudley. They became the nucleus of the Nashville Equal Suffrage League. At their first meeting on September 20, 1911, the group elected Anne Dallas Dudley president, Maria Thompson Daviess vice president, and Ida Clyde Clarke press correspondent. 54

           Daviess promoted the cause with The Elected Mother, A Story of Woman's Equal Rights, which Bobbs-Merrill published as a book by popular demand in 1912. In it Mrs. Pettibone, a country woman from Glenrose in the Harpeth Valley, explains to her neighbor what is wrong with woman's lot: "She's been downtrodden, geared up uneven, stalled up in a house over a cook stove, poked fun at by love-making and things of that kind until she is such a poor weak creature she is in danger of just going on permitting it and being happy in spite of it. . Mrs. Pettibone advises a young expectant mother who questions whether she should have waited for more generations to pass before getting herself elected mayor. Mrs. Pettibone tells her that few women could "run their woman-jobs and take up these cares of state, ...but neither could most men or can they ever." 55

           The Tinder Box, set in Glendale among "indolent, pleasure-loving Harpeth Valley Tennesseans" appeared in 1913. It was published by the Century Company and dedicated to Daviess' aunt, the St. Louis playwright and novelist Hannah Daviess Pittman. Evelina, a protagonist clearly modeled on Daviess herself, describes her mission to introduce feminist principles to this sleepy little community as "housekeeping in a tinder-box. " Quite a few sparks are struck, but the novel ends on a conciliatory note: "And truly if the world is in the dusk of the dawn of a new day, what can men and women do but cling tight and feel their way—together?" 56

           By January of 1912 Daviess had moved to town from the farm called Hamilton Place, where she had lived with her uncle and his family. In 1914 she purchased Sweetbriar Farm, just off Old Hickory Boulevard in Madison, a sixteen-acre retreat she owned until 1922. 57 Half of the land was unfit for cultivation, but its beauty captivated her, surrounded as it was "by a very ancient lichen-greened and grayed cedar rail snake fence, in whose corners grow sweetbriar roses, silver mullen, golden rod, blue asters, crimson poke and wild cherry." 58 At Sweetbriar she entertained friends and visitors, including woman's rights activist Elinor Byrns during the National Suffrage Convention held in Nashville on November 12-17, 1914. In 1915 she hosted a barbecue and organizational meeting of the Madison Equal Suffrage League. 59

           Sweetbriar Farm was also Daviess' laboratory for another interest, that of wartime food production. World War I had begun in Europe, and the need for increased food production was already apparent. At age 42, Daviess boasted that she was not only physically strong, but "had also a powerful, active serenity of nerves combined with an Žlan that would do and dare anything—for instance, dare to purchase a thousand dollar rooster, call him Equal Franchise, and go into the backwoods to build a farm around him." 60

           The chicken houses for one hundred white biddies were completed in November of 1914, the week after the suffragettes departed. She engaged a neighbor's teenage son and her brother Hamilton to care for the young hens, but they were not equal to the task. They allowed some to smother and others to get wet and freeze. "She who adopts a chicken business takes a serpent into her bosom, which lays tragedies as well as chickens," Daviess philosophized. 61 But the novel she wrote about Equal Franchise was serialized in The Delineator, published as a novel entitled The Golden Bird by the Century Company in 1918, and sold for a proposed film, more than offsetting the loss.

           She was joined in her campaign to promote an increase in wartime food production by Tennessee Governor Thomas C. Rye, who once came by Sweetbriar Farm to take Daviess to a food production rally up the road. 62 By nature hospitable, Daviess invited her friends to enjoy the farm with her from the second summer forward. "I gave parties and barbecues and chicken dinners and had week-end assemblies and editors and illustrators down from New York and we all lived riotously and well," she recalled. "I had an arbor built out under my cathedral trees near the summer kitchen and all of my waking, working and eating moments I spent out of doors." 63

           Daviess also enjoyed camping, canoeing, and fishing on Stony Lake Island in Canada, which she purchased in 1913 after enjoying a vacation there the previous summer, and she leased an apartment in Gramercy Park in New York in the winter of 1913-1914, as her friend Libbie Luttrell Morrow reported in the Book News Monthly of January 1914. Photographs accompanying the article show her fishing, cooking over a fire with friends, and, appropriately, paddling her own canoe. 64 Ten years later, in A review of Seven Times Seven for the New York Times, literary critic Edwin Clark described Daviess as "a very self-sufficient woman" with "a decided taste for such good things as mint juleps, Bakst, romantic sentimentalism, babies in fiction and the old Kentucky home. . He concluded that she should undoubtedly "be numbered among the pioneers of individualism in the aristocracy of the Modern South." 65

           Overall, Daviess published sixteen novels between 1909 and 1920, some of which also became plays and early films. Bobbs-Merrill Company published Miss Selina Lue and the Soap-Box Babies (1909), The Road to Providence (1910), The Treasure Babies, (1911), Rose of Old Harpeth (1911), The Melting of Molly (1912), and Andrew the Glad (1913). These were followed by The Tinder-Box (1913), Sue Jane (1913), and Phyllis (1914), published in New York by the Century Company; Over Paradise Ridge (1915), published by Harper and Brothers, New York; Daredevil (1916) and The Heart's Kingdom (1917), published by The Reilly and Britton Company, New York; Out of A Clear Sky (1917). published by Harper & Brothers; and The Golden Bird (1918), Bluegrass and Broadway (1919), and The Matrix (1920), published by th. Century Company. The short story "The Elected Mother" was printed separately in book form by Bobbs-Merrill in 1912. Twelve other stories were published between 1912 and 1918 in Century Magazine, Woman's Home Companion, Ladies' Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Harper's Bazaar, and Book News Monthly. 66 "All of my astral women heroines are made to stand heel to heel, back to back, with Miss Selina Lue," she wrote towards the end of her life, "and none of them seem quite as tall as she—none I fear ever will." 67

         In Seven Times Seven, first issued by Dodd, Mead and Company of New York in 1923 and reprinted in 1924 with a portrait of Daviess by miniaturist Sarah Eakin Cowan as the frontispiece, Daviess revisited her life and career. She began with the proposal that "wisdom is the radium which the upper and nether millstones grind out of the years...and at least some of the precious particles...are crushed out of each and every one of us." 68 She set down these gleanings while struggling with a prolonged illness that began with the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in 1919 and ended with her death from heart failure in 1924. 69 In the autobiography she attributed the failure of her health to her zealous promotion of food production. "I rented land and planted and canned and dried and gave and sold food until I more than doubled the quota of my valley," she wrote. "Then I dropped in my tracks, but with my hand on the plow." 70

           There is no evidence that Daviess ever established a lasting romantic relationship with anyone, although she devoted a good bit of time to sparring with Preston. Musing about the interplay between women and men, she concluded that it was fine for them to conduct their flirtations and select mates at appropriate times in their lives; but, otherwise, she questioned, why should they not "go hunting and fishing and plowing and sewing and reaping and building with all the rest of the herd regardless as to whether the person at the other end of the cross saw, tearing out lumber, or keeping tally of the ballots put in the box, is of their own sex or the opposite?" 71 She yearned for a gender-blind society, once taking New Yorkers aback "by remarking that women should not hesitate to propose to the men of their choice and that after marriage a couple should split the economic burden, each working half the time and doing house work the other half." 72

           Daviess generously supported aged family members and tried to watch out for her hapless brother, Hamilton, who predeceased her by several years. Her interest in educating southern mountain girls grew out of the writing of her last book. The Matrix was a biographical novel based on the life of Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks, presenting Hanks as a literate, spunky woman worthy to be the mother of a president. Daviess initiated the idea of building the Nancy Hanks Cottage at Lincoln Memorial University near Harrogate, Tennessee, where female students could specialize in crafts and earn money to pay their way. She donated the seed money to begin the project. 73

           Three years before her death, Daviess relocated to New York, moving into an apartment in the prestigious National Arts Club at 119 East 19th Street. She died there on September 3, 1924, attended by her cousins Leonora Richardson Baxter and her daughter, Susan B. Prescott, who had also moved to New York. Daviess left written instructions for her remains to be cremated and buried in the Harrodsburg cemetery alongside her parents and sister. This was done following a service at the National Arts Club, conducted by the Rev. Julius A. Ward. 74 A lengthy obituary in the Nashville Banner described her as "generous and charming, with rare social gifts, [and possessing] a personality as remarkable as her work." 75 Survivors in addition to Leonora Baxter and her daughter included Daviess' aunts Emmie Hamilton and Annie T. Daviess; cousins Dr. Davis M. Thompson and Col. John B. Thompson of Harrodsburg; Mrs. Edwin Warner, Mrs. Howard Frost, and Mrs. John P. Caldwell of Nashville; and descendants of the Thompsons of Glen Leven. 76

           Daviess left no papers and had no children. Her legacy is the large volume of work she produced, mostly set in her beloved Cumberland region. She described the homes, food, language, and way of life of country people and townspeople alike. Her friends and relatives initially rejoiced in her success, but later she may have fallen out of favor for drawing her characters too close to life. Or perhaps they simply lost touch with her career when she moved into her New York apartment and began to have successes on Broadway and in early films. Nonetheless, it is surprising that such a prolific, financially successful, and well connected writer has been virtually forgotten by historians and descendants of old families in Nashville. The only academic appraisal of her work is Anne Ashley's Harpeth Valley in the Fiction of Maria Thompson Daviess, a Peabody College Master of Arts thesis submitted in June of 1935, illustrated by a portrait of Daviess by her friend Ella Sophonisba Hergesheimer. 77 The whereabouts of that portrait, the sketch by Sarah Eakin Cowan in Seven Times Seven, and her other treasures such as the prize winning miniature she painted in Paris, are unknown.

           Having been seemingly consigned to oblivion, however, Daviess has in recent years experienced a renaissance online and in print. The Project Gutenberg Online Book Catalog lists eleven of her novels, including two "significantly different" versions of The Melting of Molly, 78 and the Kentuckiana Digital Library offers eight novels online. 79 Daviess has developed a following in Great Britain and the United States, where several of her books have been reprinted in both paper and hardback over the last few years, and some are available in Kindle editions. 80 Using words instead of a brush, she painted scenes of life in Middle Tennessee and Kentucky that continue to fascinate, entertain, and occasionally enlighten new generations of readers. What would Maria Thompson Daviess have to say about this? Probably her response to the news that Miss Selina Lue had found a publisher—"Radium!"—her word for an achievement of lasting value. 81


1 Maria Thompson Daviess, Miss Selina Lue and the Soap-Box Babies (NY: A. L. Burt Company, copyright The Bobbs Merrill Company, October 1909), 19. The grocery was located at the approximate site of the pioneer settlement of Haysboro. See Eastin Morris, The Tennessee Gazetteer (Nashville: W. Hasell Hunt & Co. , 1834), 68.

2 Lock 2 was completed on October 2, 1907. Byrd Douglas, Steamboatin' on the Cumberland (Nashville: The Tennessee Book Company, 1961), 222, 370.

3 Carol Lynn Yellin and Janann Serman, Irene Jones-Cornwell, Ed. , The Perfect 36:Tennessee Delivers Woman Suffrage (Oak Ridge, TN: Iris Press, 1998), 54, 139.

4 Maria Thompson Daviess, Seven Times Seven (NY: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1924), 13.

5 Ibid., 27.

6 Will T. Hale and Dixon L. Merritt, A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans, Volume V (Chicago and New York: 1913), 1421-1422; Nashville Tennessean, 4 September 1924, 7.

7 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 42.

8 These columns were later collected by her daughter Annie T. Daviess and published by the Harrodsburg Herald in book form as the History of Mercer and Boyle Counties in 1924, with subsequent printings in 1962, 1982, and 1998. Maria T. Daviess, History of Mercer and Boyle Counties (Harrodsburg, KY: Harrodsburg Herald, 1998), Publisher's Statement, n. p.

9 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 43.

10 Kay Baker Gaston, The Education of Mary Harriet Henry (privately published,1985), 3-4; see also Elizabeth Price, "The Founding of the Nashville College for Young Ladies by Dr. George W. F. Price," unedited manuscript c. 1943, TN State Library & Archives, 6, 10.

11 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 49.

12 Ibid., 49-51.

13 Ibid., 51.

14 Gaston, 12.

15 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 56.

16 Ibid., 33.

17 Ibid., 57.

18 Her aunt was widowed when her husband died on April 18, 1876. Their sons were John Thompson, Jr. (born August 14, 1852) and Joseph Hamilton Thompson (born January 14, 1854). After their mother died on June 23, 1901, the family of John Thompson, Jr. , continued to live at Glen Leven. Nashville A Family Town (Nashville: The Public Library of Nashville and Davidson County, 1978), 34, 37, 38.

19 See entries on Sam Jones (1847-1906) by Kenneth Fieth in The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1998), 494; and by David B. Parker online at jsp?id=h-1606&hl=y.

20 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 64-65.

21 The Tennessee Encyclopedia, 494.

22 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 61-62.

23 George Brosi, "John Fox, Jr. ," online at

24 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 61-62.

25 Ibid., 77-78.

26 Maria Thompson Daviess, Andrew the Glad (NY: A. L. Burt Company by arrangement with the Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1913), 259.

27 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 81, 87-88, 307. See the filmography of Marguerite Clark at The novel Out of a Clear Sky, one of Daviess' best, was published in May, 1917, by Harper & Brothers.

28 Ibid., 94.

29 Ibid., 95-96.

30 Ibid., 101-107.

31 Ibid., 108-112.

32 William Waller, Editor, Nashville in the 1890s (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1970), 124-128, 144. Faucon salad is still a favorite among native Nashvillians.

33 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 112.

34 Waller, Nashvillle in the 1890s, 315. Powhattan Perkins Baxter was the son of Edmund Dillahunty Baxter and his first wife, Eliza T. Perkins. Both father and son were attorneys. Edmund D. Baxter was the eldest son of Judge Nathaniel Baxter an Martha Hamilton. Hale Merritt, Tennessee and Tennesseans, Vol. IV, 933-935.

35 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 118.

36 Ibid., 119. The farmhouse was located on the site of the Glen Leven Presbyterian Church, 3906 Franklin Pike, Nashville, TN, as related to Kay Baker Gaston by Dr. Carroll Van West on 21 May, 2010.

37 Anne Dallas, b. 1876, became a leader in the movement for woman suffrage. She married Guilford Dudley on November 5, 1902. See Carole Stanford Bucy, "Dudley, Anne Dallas," TheTennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 263-264; and Waller, 348.

38 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 120-121, 122.

39 Ibid., 126.

40 Ibid., 131-132.

41 Ella Sophonisba Hergesheimer (1873-1943), a direct descendant of Charles Wilson Peale, attended the Philadelphia School of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and studied in Europe for three years. She received several commissions for portraits in Nashville, where she established a studio downtown on Church Street and later at Eighth Avenue and Broadway. Celia Walker, The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 420.

42 This may have been Aileen Tillman, a member of the Cotillion Club, which included Daviess' friends Anne Dallas, Nina Stratton, and Leonora Richardson. Waller, Nashville in the 1890s, 126.

43 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 127-206.

44 Ibid., 209.

45 Ibid., 210-211.

46 Belmont Collegiate and Preparatory School for women began operating in the old Acklen home in 1890 and was run by Miss Ida E. Hood and Miss Susan L. Heron. Waller, Nashville in the 1890s, 19. Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 212-215.

47 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 215-220.

48 Ibid., 225-229, 230-231.

49 Ibid., 231-233, 308-309.

50 Ibid., 235-236.

51 Ibid., 236-239.

52 Harriet Hobson Dougherty wrote "Paul Hamilton Hayne," BobTaylor's Magazine 3, No. 3 (1906): 237-254. Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 242, 246-247. The hosts may have been Mr. and Mrs. George N. Tillman. Mr. Tillman was vice-president of the Merchants Bank at 321 North College. Waller, Nashville, 1900 to 1910 (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1972), 105-106.

53 Ida Clyde Clarke (1878-1956) was a women's rights advocate and suffragist who wrote American Women and the World War (Appleton, 1918) and The LittleDemocracy: A Text-Book on Community Organization (NY: Appleton, 1918). Dr. Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919) was a national suffrage leader noted for her speeches.

54 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 250-251; A. Elizabeth Taylor, The Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee (NY: Bookman Associates, 1957), 33.

55 Maria Thompson Daviess, The Elected Mother: A Story of Woman's Equal Rights (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1912), 4, 24.

56 Maria Thompson Daviess, The Tinder Box (New York: The Century Company, 1913), 4, 78, 312.

57 Baptist and Reflector, Nashville, TN, 26 January 1912; Guy Alan Bockman, MadisonStation (Franklin, TN: Hillsboro Press, 1997), 102.

58 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 306.

59 Ibid., 311; Taylor, 62, 53.

60 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 304.

61 Ibid., 312.

62 Ibid., 307, 312-313.

63 Ibid., 314-315.

64 Libbie Luttrell Morrow. "Maria Thompson Daviess," Book News Monthly, January 1914, 223-226. Available online at Google Books.

65 Edwin Clark, "Tastes of a Self-Sufficient Woman," New York Times, 18 May 1924.

66 Anne Ashley, "Harpeth Valley in the Fiction of Maria Thompson Daviess" (1935: master's thesis, George Peabody College for Teachers), 184.

67 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 239.

68 Ibid., 1.

69 Harrodsburg newspaper obituary, Mercer County Historical Society clipping file.

70 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 318.

71 Ibid., 320.

72 Nashville Tennessean, 4 September 1924, 1.

73 Nashville Banner, 4 September 1924, 9; The Mountain Herald 26, no. 8 (1922): 4-6.

74 New York Times, 4 September 1924.

75 Nashville Banner, 4 September 1924, 9.

76 Ibid., Mercer County Historical Society clipping file, Harrodsburg, KY.

77 Ashley, "Harpeth Valley. .

78 These are the illustrated American novel (Etext No. 15817) and the non-illustrated British magazine version (Etext No. 15818). See

79 See Kentuckiana Digital Library at

80 Phyllis (1914), for example, reappeared in hardback editions by Bastion Books and Aegypan in 2008 and IndyPublish in 2006 and paperback editions by Oontro Classic Books, General Books, and Hard Press in 2010, with earlier paperback editions by Aegypan (2008), BiblioBazaar, LLC (2007), the Echo Library (2007), Dodo Press (2006), and IndyPublish (2005, 2006), and is also available in Kindle editions. See and for information about the availability of her work.

81 Daviess, Seven Times Seven, 239.