WASHINGTON, Pa. (March 27, 2013)—Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) will remember Washington native and19th century journalist and literary pioneer Rebecca Harding Davis at a community celebration April 12-13 in the Dieter-Porter Life Sciences Building and Swanson Science Center, in the shadows of where Davis’ alma mater—the Washington Female Seminary—once stood.
The Symposium will include events at the LeMoyne House and the David Bradford House, where Davis was born.
Life in the Iron Mills is widely considered Davis’ most significant work, but she is credited with more than 500 published works. Life in the Iron Mills, published in the April 1861 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, was one of the first works to explore industrialization in American literature; the story launched Davis to fame.
The symposium will feature a variety of activities, including addresses by prominent speakers, historical tours, an original performance of the one-act play, “Rebecca and James,” and historical exhibits about Davis and the Washington Female Seminary. Author Harriet Branton and editor Emsie Parker will launch their new book, Washington County Chronicles: Historical Tales from Southwest Pennsylvania, which features a chapter on Davis.
“The highlight of the symposium will be the dedication of a new state historical marker near the intersection of Strawberry Alley and Lincoln Street,” said Jennifer Harding, associate professor of English at W&J and an organizer of the event for W&J, in cooperation with the Washington County Historical Society, David Bradford House, and Citizen’s Library. “The marker will make the legacy of Rebecca Harding Davis and the Washington Female Seminary visible and permanent in our collective memory.”
The marker will be dedicated by the commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Historical and Museum Commission, Washington Mayor Brenda Davis, W&J President Tori Haring-Smith, and Davis’ great-grandniece Rachel Loden.
The festivities begin at 4:30 p.m. April 12 when Rachel Loden, Davis’ great-grandniece and a distinguished San Francisco-based poet, reads from her collections Dick of the Dead and Hotel Imperium in the U. Grant Miller Library.
The symposium continues April 13 with the opening address, “Rebecca Harding Davis: Uncommon Woman, Uncommon Tales,” by Jean Pfaelzer, professor of American studies, Asian studies, English and women’s studies at the University of Delaware and author of Parlor Radical: Rebecca Harding Davis and the Origins of American Social Realism; The Rebecca Harding Davis Reader; and Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans, which was named one of the 100 notable books of the year by the New York Times.
Robin Cadwallader, associate professor of English at Saint Francis University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches American literature and theory, and co-founder and president of the Society for the Study of Rebecca Harding Davis and Her World and co-editor of Rebecca Harding Davis's Stories of the Civil War Era: Selected Writings from the Borderlands, will talk from 10:35-11 a.m., to be followed by the historical marker dedication at 11:10. The dedication ceremony will be followed by lunch and performance of the original one act play “Rebecca and James.”
Participants my select from a variety of activities after lunch, including walking tours and displays in the David Bradford House, the LeMoyne House, and the Swanson Science Center.
The day will end with a closing address at 3:15 by Robert S. Levine, general editor of The Norton Anthology of American Literature and professor of English and distinguished scholar-teacher at the University of Maryland. This talk will be followed by a closing reception and book signing.
Davis was born June 24, 1831. She graduated as valedictorian of the Washington Female Seminary in 1848. Davis wrote not only fiction, but also essays on a variety of social concerns, including women's issues, for a number of newspapers and periodicals, Harding said. Although she had been well-known in her own day, Davis’s work virtually disappeared from literary studies for almost eighty years after she was overshadowed by her famous son, the charismatic journalist Richard Harding Davis. Since the recovery of Life in the Iron Mills started her climb toward canonical stature, Davis has garnered increasing numbers of readers and critics who admire her groundbreaking writing on women of various social classes, industrial laborers, and Civil War soldiers. Today, Davis is regularly included in the major anthologies of 19th century American Literature. Many of her works, including Life in the Iron Mills and Margret Howth, are available in print or digital editions, and her memoir, Bits of Gossip, is available online through the Universityof North Carolina’s Documenting the American South site. Major critical studies include Parlor Radical: Rebecca Harding Davis and the Origins of American Social Realism by Pfaelzer and Rebecca Harding Davis and American Realism by Sharon M. Harris.
For more information on the Remembering Rebecca Harding Davis Symposium, visit http://www.washjeff.edu/event/2013/04/13/rebecca-harding-davis-symposium. Cost is $20 if registering before April 10 and $25 on the day of the event; $15 for senior citizens and students by April 10, 2013 ($20 on the day of symposium). Registration fee is waived for alumnae of the Washington Female Seminary. Act 48 credit is available for Pennsylvania teachers.