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Richard Harding Davis

journalist, novelist, playwright

Richard Harding Davis

Richard Harding Davis was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 18, 1864, the son of Lemuel Clarke Davis, a newspaper editor and abolitionist, and Rebecca Harding Davis, a respected conservative feminist novelist. His mother actually provided most of the family's income, thanks to her 500+ published works. Richard was a popular and active student at both Lehigh and Johns Hopkins University, but never achieved anything close to academic merit.

Given the profession of his father and the fame of his mother, it was little surprise that Richard would desire to be a writer. He got his start in 1885, when his father got him a job as correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He moved to the Philadelphia Press in December 1886, and to the New York Sun in 1889. During this period he gained fame by infiltrating a gang of thieves, and with his coverage of the 1889 Johnstown Flood. By 1890 he was managing editor of Harper's Weekly, and in 1895 he became a correspondent for the New York Herald.

In 1898, William Randolph Hearst, owner of the Herald, sent Davis to Cuba to report on the Spanish-American War. While aboard the U.S. Navy flagship New York, Davis reported an early scoop to the Herald on the bombing of Mantanzas and earned the ire of the U.S. military, which subsequently banned reporters from ships for the remainder of the war. The military's action actually helped Davis, however, as he went on to file some of the war's most enthralling stories, based on the exploits of Theodore Roosevelt and the "Rough Riders." He also gained a reputation as a very active war correspondent when, while covering the action at Las Guasimas, he personally directed the fire of about half a dozen soldiers towards the Spanish forces and fired some 20 rounds from a borrowed gun himself. He also wrote one of the best narratives ever recorded of the Battle of San Juan Hill.

Although Davis ended up resigning from the Herald before the end of the war because his articles were being altered to create sensation in America, his journalism career did not end. He continued to travel the world and cover major events, including the Boer War in South Africa and World War I.

In addition to his work as a journalist, Davis also gained fame as a novelist and playwright. His first novella, Gallegher, featured a character based on a true-life copy-boy who rose from obscurity after solving a murder. Published in 1890, it was followed a year later by Gallegher and Other Stories. Many of his subsequent books and plays were based on his own experiences as a journalist.

Richard Harding Davis died of a heart attack at his home in Mount Kisco, New York, on April 11, 1916. He is buried in Leverington Cemetery, Roxborough, Pennsylvania.

His Major Writings
Gallegher and Other Stories (1891)
The King's Jackal
(1891) -- made into the 1924 movie Honor Among Men
The West From A Car Window
Three Gringos in Venezuela (1896)
Cuba in War Time (1897)
Soldiers of Fortune (1897)
The Lion and the Unicorn (1899)
The Bar Sinister (1903) -- made into the 1955 movie It's a Dog's Life
The Dictator
(play, 1904)
Miss Civilization (play, 1906)
Notes of a War Correspondent
Peace manoeuvres; a play in one act (play, 1914)

The Literature Network
The Spanish-American War Centennial Website

Spanish-American War
Theodore Roosevelt
World War I

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The Robinson Library >> Linguistics, Languages, and Literatures >> American Literature >> 19th Century

This page was last updated on 04/10/2018.