Davis Family Papers
An Inventory of the Collection
Nelson Davis was born in Albany, New York, in 1858, and grew up in Galveston, Texas. In 1884, he moved to Austin, Texas, and founded the firm Nelson Davis & Company, a wholesale grocery store. He and his wife, Emma Levison Davis had one son, Theodore Phillipson Davis, who was born in 1892.
After a prolonged battle with cancer, Nelson Davis died in 1923. His son Theodore had joined him in the family business in 1916 and the business was renamed Nelson Davis & Son. Emma was active in many civic organizations, and was one of the founders of the Settlement Club. She died in 1954.
During World War I, Theodore served in the Army as a captain in the air service in France and England. He married Margaret Batts in 1920, but they later divorced. Theodore was one of the founders of the Austin Country Club, a founding member and director of Capital National Bank, and very active in the Austin Chamber of Commerce. In 1951, he married Doris Anieta “Anita” Ebeling. Anita majored in English and psychology at the University of Texas and was social director at the Austin Country Club for several years. During World War II she had worked with the USO at Camp Swift. After Theodore’s death in 1974, Anita remarried to Henry Louis Hilgartner, Jr. She died in 1985.
While the Davis family was Jewish, there is not much information available nor very many references to their ethnicity and religion. The family members were buried in Oakwood Cemetery in the grounds set aside by Beth Israel.
While Theodore Davis was an only child, he was very close to his cousins Ed, Harry, and Loula Lasker, as well as the prominent New York executive and philanthropist Albert D. Lasker.
The Davis Family Papers date from 1883 to 1974 and are arranged by family member. Materials relating to the family business Nelson Davis & Son (previously Nelson Davis & Company) are arranged together separately, though some correspondence relating to the business may be in personal correspondence for Nelson or Theodore as the line was somewhat blurred between their personal lives and business lives.
The materials documenting Nelson Davis date from 1884 to 1922 and include correspondence, financial records, news clippings, and real property records. The correspondence consists primarily of received letters, though there are some letters written by Nelson Davis to various customers and family. Of note is a letter written by Nelson on June 27, 1922, in which someone (likely Theodore) wrote: “The last letter written by Father.” The received correspondence is from family, friends, and colleagues. One letter describes the illness and death of his cousin Harry Lasker. Also of interest is correspondence from the War Orphans Bureau in 1922 regarding Nelson Davis’s “adoption” of a 10-year-old Jewish war orphan, including a letter written by her and her photograph. There are only a few documents relating to finances, mostly undated lists of deposits, assets, and liabilities. The news clippings date from 1884 to 1893 and relate to Albert D. Lasker, Nelson Davis, and Austin business happenings. Real property records make up the largest amount of the Nelson Davis material. Dating from 1889 to 1908, the property records include warranty deeds and title abstracts. The abstracts of titles are for lots 7 and 8 of block 29 of the city of Austin, which are on the northwest corner of Colorado Street and 4th Street.
Emma Levison Davis’s materials date from the 1920s to 1954 and consist of notes, correspondence, a guestbook, and a desk diary. The correspondence makes up the majority of her materials, and are mostly sympathy letters she received from March to April 1923 after the death of her husband.
The materials which document Theodore Davis’s life include correspondence, assorted memorabilia from college and travels, and items related to his time in the Army. The correspondence dates from 1913 to 1970 and includes letters he sent to friends and parents during his service oversees, letters sent to his mother during his father’s illness, and a letter to the board of Nelson Davis & Son. The received correspondence primarily consists of letters of condolence after his father’s death in 1923 and after his mother’s death in 1954. There are also dozens of sympathy greeting cards collected from after his mother’s death.
Of interest in Theodore’s assorted materials is memorabilia from a cruise he and Anita took in 1952 aboard the S. S. Alcoa Cavalier. Prominent Austinite Edgar H. Perry was also on board. Additionally, a couple of items from Yale, calling cards, an identification card, and a vaccination register are included in Theodore’s assorted materials. A World War II scrapbook consists of numerous newspaper clippings from 1918. An army identification card, officer’s record book, and two military certificates from 1919 are also included in his collected materials.
Anita Davis’s materials consist of received correspondence. She received a letter of gratitude from the commanding officer at Camp Swift after her resignation in 1946. She also received multiple letters from the Settlement Club following Emma Davis’s death in 1954, in which they offered condolences and wished to commemorate Emma Davis at their meetings.
The Nelson Davis & Son materials consist of financial statements, correspondence, receipts, news clippings, a reference book, and a desk diary dating from 1916 to 1951. There are also two account books/ledgers of Nelson Davis & Company which date from 1883 to 1897.
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The Austin History Center (AHC) is the owner of the physical materials in the AHC collections and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the AHC before any publication use. The AHC does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.
Davis Family Papers (AR.E.005). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/1966/012
Donation Date: 1966
Final processing and finding aid by Kelly Hanus, December 2017.
Detailed Description of the Collection