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Jean Scobie Davis papers


Held at: Bryn Mawr College [Contact Us]Bryn Mawr College Library, 101 N. Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr 19010

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Bryn Mawr College. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Jean Scobie Davis, a 1914 graduate of Bryn Mawr College, taught economics and sociology at Agnes Scott College, Vassar College, Pierce College, Wells College and the American Women's College in Beirut. A lifetime interest in prison reform resulted in her work at the New York State Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York.

Jean Scobie Davis was born in 1892 to John D. Davis and Marguerite Scobie. John D. Davis, an 1879 graduate of Princeton, taught Semitic Languages at the Princeton Theological Seminary. Marguerite Scobie, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1884 and studied singing at the Leipzig Conservatory and Paris. Jean Scobie Davis received her education from Miss Fine's School in Princeton, Bryn Mawr College, graduating in 1914, and the University of Wisconsin, earning her master's degree in 1921 and her doctorate in 1929. In 1906 and 1907, Davis spent time in Europe.

In the fall of 1910, Davis's education at Bryn Mawr College commenced. She majored in history and minored in economics. She graduated in 1914 and travelled with her family to Neuchâtel, Switzerland, with the intention of studying French in preparation for taking graduate courses in history in Paris. The outbreak of World War I altered her plans and she instead studied economics and international law at the University of Geneva during the winter of 1914-1915. She also became active in working with students from Russia and the Balkans who were stranded in Switzerland due to the war. In March 1915, Davis left Switzerland for Paris and after a brief stay, returned to the United States in July.

During the winter of 1915-1916, Davis volunteered in Greenwich Village, NY performing "settlement-house work." She spent the summers of 1915 and 1916 working at a summer camp for low-wage earners. She then worked as an Instructor in economics and sociology at Agnes Scott College in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. During her time in Georgia, Davis' interest in prison reform developed and she and a colleague spent weekends visiting the State Reformatory for girls, as well as jails and labor camps. During the summers of 1918 and 1919 and the winters of 1919 to 1921, she pursued graduate studies in economics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, earning her Master's Degree in 1921. Her chief interests while at Wisconsin were the history of economic thought, and problems of labor in industry.

In 1921, she returned to Bryn Mawr as a tutor in economics at the first session of the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry. In September of the same year, she went to Vassar College as Instructor in Economics. In 1922, she returned to Agnes Scott College as Associate Professor of Economics and Sociology, and the next year was promoted to Professor.

During the following five years living in the south, Davis studied and researched the development of professional social work in Atlanta, the history of organized labor, and the cotton mills and their villages, where most of the workers, "poor whites," were illiterate and had not yet formed unions. Her method of study involved dressing in gingham and living in the mill boarding houses with the workers, posing as "a teacher on vacation." Because teachers in Georgia and South Carolina at the time were very poorly paid, no one was surprised that she had chosen cheap boarding houses in which to survive the wage-less summer. In this way, she gathered material for her doctoral dissertation on Labor Management in Southern Cotton Mills.

In 1927-1928, she served as research assistant to Professor Paul Douglas of the University of Chicago, who later became a U.S. Senator from Illinois, and also took part in a seminar in American History given by Professor William Dodd.

In September 1928, she became Professor and Chairman of the Department of Economics and Sociology at Wells College in Aurora, New York, where she remained until retirement in 1957. In 1929, she received her Doctorate in Economics at the University of Wisconsin. She spent the summer vacations of 1932 and 1938 in England, visiting factories and prisons, reformatories and other public institutions; and for two months in 1935, she pursued similar studies in Russia and Finland. Using a special leave of absence from Wells in 1946-1947, she travelled to Greece which was still recovering from World War II and in a state of civil war, and combined teaching at Pierce College with reconstruction work, principally at the Women's Prison in Athens.

After retirement and a second visit to Russia, she taught for a year at the American Women's College in Beirut. She travelled again to Europe, visiting England, Paris, Italy, Greece and Crete. She was to say of these trips, "My visits to Europe have never been as a tourist, but always as a student, an observer of correctional institutions, a teacher, or as a guest of relatives or friends—long leisurely visits, during which I came to feel at home in other cultures and other centuries."

From the early 1930s on, her chief "outside interest," which she would say was actually an "inside interest, was in women's prisons and reformatories for teenagers. Her interest gained her entrance where few were admitted, and successive Governors of New York State appointed her to serve for thirty-six years on the Board of Visitors of the New York State Reformatory for Women at Bedford Hills, New York.

Davis died at her home in Aurora, NY in 1985. She was described by Carolyn Bunn Wood, the recipient of the 1999 Alumnae Award at Wells College as, "a legend … [and] one of the most brilliant women [she has] ever known," (Wood). In honor of Davis, Wells College awards the Jean Scobie Davis Prize to a member of the graduating class who majors in either economics or sociology, and who shows "both the fine understanding of facts, and the social implication of the subject involved, so characteristic of Miss Davis," (Wells College).


Well College Catalog, page 55. ( 10.pdf) [accessed December 8, 2009]

Wood, Carolyn Bunn, 1999 Alumnae Award Acceptance Address, [accessed December 8, 2009]

The Jean Scobie Davis papers is a collection consisting largely of Jean Scobie Davis' diaries and correspondence covering nearly all stages of her life. The collection, which dates from 1892 to 1985, is divided into seven subseries: "Autobiographical Material;" "Correspondence;" "Diaries;" "Family History;" "Photographs;" "Prison Reform;" and "Scrapbooks and Guestbook." Material found in the collection is diverse, and consists of letters, reports, bound diaries as well as loose diary pages, photographs, scrapbooks, and handwritten notes.

The first series in the collection is "Autobiographical Material." This material is Davis's attempt to compile and write her own autobiography. Within this series are "1900 to 1985;" "1907;" "1929 February 14;" "Study Abroad While the Kaiser Reigned;" and "Notes," which contains Davis' undated notes.

The next series is "Correspondence," which dates from 1913 to 1982. This series contains the correspondence of both Jean Scobie Davis and her mother, Marguerite Scobie Davis. Jean Scobie Davis' correspondence begins in 1913 and ends in 1982. Davis' correspondence covers almost the entirety of her adult life, ranging from letters she sent from her travels in Europe, and letters to her mother received on her ninetieth birthday. Marguerite Scobie Davis' correspondence is largely to and from her children, as well as correspondence between her and her husband's family.

The third series is "Diaries, notes and other accounts," and this series comprises the bulk of the collection. While the bulk of this series consists of Davis' diaries, there are some diaries composed by Marguerite Scobie Davis. Jean Scobie Davis' voluminous diaries cover the years from 1910 through 1982. She describes with great detail and emotion her travels, work, and personal experiences. Marguerite Scobie Davis' diaries date from 1887 through late 1939, and describe her life as a mother and wife at the turn of the century.

Following is "Family History: Davis, Scobie, and Shaw families." This series contains Davis' effort to write the history of her family, going back to 1750. The series is divided by family name, and includes a number of original family documents and diaries. Much of Davis' writings are her own versions of the Davis, Scobie, and Shaw family history.

The "Photographs" series primarily contains images of Jean Scobie Davis and members the Davis family. Of note are the "Family Albums" which include photographs of trips taken abroad. There are also tintype images of unidentified family members contained within a small box.

The "Prison Reform" series contains numerous records kept by Davis related to her passion for this cause. This series is the strength of the collection as it contains unique records of prison life during early twentieth century America. Included in the "Collected Material" subseries, is an assemblage of materials Davis collected from her studies, such as writings of prison reformers, specifically Hans von Hertig and John R. Commons. Also included are bound reports from various prisons, and her collected material from the Fredrick A. Moran Memorial Institute and State of New York Department of Corrections. Davis studied several aspects of the American prison system, and this range of interest is reflected through the next three subseries "Juvenile Reform," "Probation Material," and "Women's Reform." She also gave talks on the subject of prison reform, two of which are included in the subseries "Talks by Jean Scobie Davis." Davis was also heavily involved with the Board of Visitors at Westfield State Farm (a prison in Westchester County, NY), and records related to this post can be found in the subseries "Westfield State Farm". The Westfield State Farm material contains reports, minutes, and accounts of life for not only inmates, but employees and staff inside a mid-century prison.

The "Scrapbooks and Guestbook" series includes Davis's home guestbook from 1940 to 1983, as well as two scrapbooks she assembled during 1914 and 1917 respectively. Her 1914 scrapbook is titled "Europe" and includes photographs of her time spent in Geneva, Switzerland for academic study. The 1917 scrapbook titled, "The Book of Efficient Living" contains images of floor plans, gardens, and other domestic scenes.

The Jean Scobie Davis papers is an outstanding collection for researchers studying women's history and social issues. Davis' diaries document the struggles of women as scholars and in academia, as well as her own personal experiences and reflections as a woman. This collection also holds material rich in the history and development of prison reform in the 20th century in the United States.

Gift of Joanne Bentley, 1988.

The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project.

This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.

Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.

Bryn Mawr College
Finding Aid Author
?, Melissa Torquato
Finding Aid Date
2010 January 22
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project.
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.

Collection Inventory


The "Autobiographical Material" series was arranged in the following manner to preserve original order of the collection as it was found by the processors.

Box 1 Folder 1
Box 1 Folder 2
1929 February 14.
Box 1 Folder 3
Study Abroad While the Kaiser Reigned, undated.
Box 1 Folder 4
Notes, undated.
Box 1 Folder 5-10

Box 1 Folder 11
Europe, 1914-1915.
Box 1 Folder 12
Box 1 Folder 13
Box 1 Folder 14
Box 1 Folder 15
Letters to Mother, 1917.
Box 1 Folder 16
Agnes Scott College, 1918.
Box 1 Folder 17
Box 1 Folder 18-20
Box 1 Folder 21
Box 1 Folder 22
Box 1 Folder 23
Box 1 Folder 24
Box 1 Folder 25
Box 2 Folder 1
Box 2 Folder 2
Letters to Mila Hruba, 1940-1941.
Box 2 Folder 3
Box 2 Folder 4
Box 2 Folder 5
Europe, 1952.
Box 2 Folder 6
1953 June - 1953 July.
Box 2 Folder 7
1954 January.
Box 2 Folder 8
Letters to Jean Scobie Davis, 1954-1955.
Box 2 Folder 9
1956 May.
Box 2 Folder 10
90th Birthday Cards, 1982.
Box 2 Folder 11
Box 2 Folder 12
Marguerite Scobie Davis

Marguerite Scobie Davis is the mother of Jean Scobie Davis.

To her children, 1914.
Box 2 Folder 13-14
To her children, 1934.
Box 2 Folder 15
Family letters, 1914-1915.
Box 2 Folder 16

College Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior years, 1910-1913.
Box 2 Folder 17
1911 October.
Box 2 Folder 18
1912 February.
Box 2 Folder 19
1913 January-1913 April.
Box 2 Folder 20
1913 April-1913 December.
Box 2 Folder 21
Senior Year, 1913.
Box 2 Folder 22
Box 2 Folder 23
Senior Year II, 1914.
Box 2 Folder 24
Spring and Summer, 1915.
Box 2 Folder 25
June to July, 1915.
Box 2 Folder 26
1914 August-1915 March.
Box 3 Folder 1
Box 3 Folder 2
Box 3 Folder 3
December, 1916.
Box 3 Folder 4
Box 3 Folder 5
Box 3 Folder 6
Wisconsin, 1920-1921.
Box 3 Folder 7
Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry, 1921.
Box 3 Folder 8
1927 December-1929 April.
Box 3 Folder 9
Spring, 1929.
Box 3 Folder 10
1929 May-1929 September.
Box 3 Folder 11
1931 April.
Box 3 Folder 12
1931 July.
Box 3 Folder 13
1932 January.
Box 3 Folder 14
1932 May.
Box 3 Folder 15
1932 June.
Box 3 Folder 16
1932 August.
Box 3 Folder 17
1932 October.
Box 3 Folder 18
1933 January.
Box 3 Folder 19
1933 September.
Box 3 Folder 20
1933 April.
Box 3 Folder 21
Box 3 Folder 22
1934 January-1934 March.
Box 3 Folder 23
1934 March.
Box 3 Folder 24
1934 May.
Box 3 Folder 25
1934 June.
Box 3 Folder 26
1934 August.
Box 4 Folder 1
1934 November 12-1934 Autumn.
Box 4 Folder 2
1935 March.
Box 4 Folder 3
1935 May-1935 November.
Box 4 Folder 4
Box 4 Folder 5
Box 4 Folder 6
Trip to Russia, 1936.
Box 4 Folder 7-8
Finland, 1936.
Box 4 Folder 9
Box 4 Folder 10-11
Box 4 Folder 12
Box 4 Folder 13
Box 4 Folder 14
1941 August.
Box 4 Folder 15
1941 November 22.
Box 4 Folder 16
Box 4 Folder 17
1942 February.
Box 4 Folder 18
1942 April.
Box 4 Folder 19
1942 June-1942 September 10.
Box 4 Folder 20
1942 September.
Box 4 Folder 21
Box 5 Folder 1
Box 5 Folder 2-3
1944 September-1944 October 15.
Box 5 Folder 4
Box 5 Folder 5-6
1945 March.
Box 5 Folder 7
Accounts of Greece, including prisons in Greece, 1946.
Box 5 Folder 8
Box 5 Folder 9
Box 5 Folder 10
Box 5 Folder 11
Travels Abroad, 1952.
Box 5 Folder 12
Box 5 Folder 13
1958 October.
Box 5 Folder 14
Box 5 Folder 15
1965 October.
Box 5 Folder 16
Box 5 Folder 17
1966 August.
Box 5 Folder 18
Box 5 Folder 19
Box 5 Folder 20
Box 5 Folder 21
Box 5 Folder 22-23
Box 6 Folder 1
Box 6 Folder 2
Box 6 Folder 3
Box 6 Folder 4-5
Box 6 Folder 6
Box 6 Folder 7
Box 6 Folder 8-9
Box 6 Folder 10
Box 6 Folder 11
Box 6 Folder 12
Box 6 Folder 13
Box 6 Folder 14
Box 6 Folder 15
Box 6 Folder 16

Family History

The folder titles in this series are consistent with the original folder titles of this collection.

"James Davis and the Albany Davises", 1750-1800.
Box 7 Folder 1
"John Davis, the Cracker Baker", 1795-1899.
Box 7 Folder 2
"A Princeton Childhood-Silver Bay", 1850s-1900s.
Box 7 Folder 3
John D. Davis of Princeton, 1854-1926.
Box 7 Folder 4
"Princeton Childhood: Presbyterian Sundays", 1892-1910.
Box 7 Folder 5
Manuscript notes on John D. Davis, circa 1900.
Box 7 Folder 6
Philip Haldone Davis Memorial Book, 1940.
Box 7 Folder 7
House on 40th Street, Pittsburgh, undated.
Box 7 Folder 8
Letters to Joanne Bentley, undated.
Box 7 Folder 9
James Scobie, 1836-1902.
Box 7 Folder 10-11
Marguerite Scobie, undated.
Box 7 Folder 12
Research notes on J. M. Scobie, undated.
Box 7 Folder 13
"Scobie's Freshman Year", undated.
Box 7 Folder 14
Box 7 Folder 15
Family documents, undated.
Box 7 Folder 16
Subseries d. Assorted family material.
Box 7 Folder 17-19

Jean Scobie Davis, 1892-1985.
Box 7 Folder 20-21
Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Peniston Davis, 1930.
Box 7 Folder 22
Davis Family, undated.
Box 7 Folder 23-25 Box 8 Folder 1
Family Albums (unidentified), undated.
Box 8 Folder 2-5
Family (tintypes in case), undated.
Box 8 Box 6
Classmates, students, and Professors of Jean Scobie Davis, undated.
Box 8 Folder 7

Internships in Correctional Institutions, 1933-1934.
Box 8 Folder 8-9
The Limits of Penal Treatment by Hans von Hentig, Director of Colorado Crimes Survey, University of Colorado, 1940.
Box 9 Folder 1
Frederick A. Moran Memorial Institute, 1954.
Box 9 Folder 2
"Perspectives on Delinquency Prevention" Report, 1955.
Box 9 Folder 3
Questionnaire on Correctional Institutions, 1955.
Box 9 Folder 4
State of New York: Department of Correction Annual Report, 1967.
Box 9 Folder 5
Assorted documents, undated.
Box 9 Folder 6
Bound Reports, undated.
Box 9 Folder 7
Friends of Framingham, Massachusetts, undated.
Box 9 Folder 8
Italian Lecture on Penology, undated.
Box 9 Folder 9
Writings and Notes of John R. Commons, undated.
Box 9 Folder 10
Regarding visits to reformatory schools and prisons (outgoing and incoming), 1954-1955.
Box 9 Folder 11
Juvenile Court in New York State, undated.
Box 9 Folder 12
"The treatment of the young delinquent" by Reverend J. Arthur Hoyles, undated.
Box 9 Folder 13
Federal Probation Quarterly, 1949 March.
Box 9 Folder 14
California Probation and Parole Association Reports, 1955.
Box 9 Folder 15
Contra Costa County Probation Department Reports, 1955.
Box 9 Folder 16
Assorted documents, undated.
Box 9 Folder 17
"St. Margaret's and prison experience" given to Presbyterian Women, 1969 October.
Box 9 Folder 18
Talk to Faculty Club on women's prisons, 1976 March 19.
Box 9 Folder 19
Box 9 Folder 20
Box 9 Folder 21
Box 9 Folder 22
Minutes of Board of Visitors' Meetings, 1958.
Box 9 Folder 23
Box 9 Folder 24
Minutes of Board of Visitors' Meetings, 1959.
Box 9 Folder 25
Minutes of Board of Visitors' Meetings, 1960.
Box 9 Folder 26
Minutes of Board of Visitors' Meetings, 1961.
Box 9 Folder 27
Box 9 Folder 28
Minutes of the Secretary, 1961-1963.
Box 9 Folder 29
Minutes of Board of Visitors Meetings, 1962.
Box 10 Folder 1
Box 10 Folder 2
Reports, 1963.
Box 10 Folder 3-4
Minutes of Board of Visitors Meetings, 1963.
Box 10 Folder 5
Rules and Regulations for Visitors, Inmates, and Employees, 1963, 1965.
Box 10 Folder 6
Minutes of Board of Visitors Meetings, 1964.
Box 10 Folder 7-8
Reports, 1964.
Box 10 Folder 9
Minutes of Board of Visitors Meetings, 1965.
Box 10 Folder 10
Reports, 1965.
Box 10 Folder 11
Reports, 1966.
Box 10 Folder 12
Minutes of Board of Visitors Meetings, 1966.
Box 10 Folder 13
Reports, 1967.
Box 10 Folder 14
Minutes of Board of Visitors Meetings, 1967.
Box 10 Folder 15
Reports, 1968.
Box 10 Folder 16
Minutes of Board of Visitors Meetings, 1968.
Box 10 Folder 17
Box 10 Folder 18
Committee on the Care and Training of Delinquent Women and Girls, 1933-1938.
Box 10 Folder 19
Federal Reformatory for Women, Alderson, West Virginia, 1953-1954.
Box 10 Folder 20
Newspaper Clipping, 1954.
Box 10 Folder 21
Wisconsin Home for Women Report, 1954.
Box 10 Folder 22
Sleighton School for Girls, 1954.
Box 10 Folder 23
Paper on Women's Prisons, read to Wells College Faculty Club, 1967 March 19.
Box 10 Folder 24
Ventura School for Girls, undated.
Box 10 Folder 25

Guestbook, 1940-1983.
Box 10 Folder 26
Scrapbook, Europe, 1914.
Box 10 Folder 27
Scrapbook, "The Book of Efficient Living", 1917.
Box 10 Folder 28

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