Austin History Center

Davis Family Papers

An Inventory of the Collection

Collection Summary

Creator: Davis family
Title: Davis Family Papers
Dates: 1830-1970
Dates (Bulk): 1910-1970
Abstract: Nelson Davis and his son Theodore Davis ran a wholesale grocery business in Austin, Texas, called Nelson Davis & Son. This collection documents their personal lives and business affairs, as well as the lives of their wives, Emma Davis and Anita Davis. Dating from 1883 to 1974, the collection consists of correspondence, financial records, news clippings, real property records, and memorabilia.
Accession number: AR.E.005
Quantity: 1.8 linear feet (2 boxes, 2 oversize volumes)
Location: Archives Stacks, Oversize Volumes
Language: English
Repository: Austin History Center, Austin Public Library,
810 Guadalupe, PO Box 2287, Austin, TX 78768

Biographical Sketch

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.

Scope and Contents

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.


The collection is arranged into the following series:
Nelson Davis
Emma (Levison) Davis
Theodore Davis
Anita (Ebeling) Davis
Nelson Davis and Son


Access Restrictions

Open to all users

Use Restrictions

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.

Index Terms

Subjects (Persons)
Davis, Theodore Phillipson.
Davis, Nelson, 1858-1923.
Davis, Emma, -1954.
Davis, Anita.
Kell, Frank.
Lasker, Albert D.
Lasker, Loula Davis.
Proskauer, Joseph.
Ross, Ellen.
Subjects (Organizations)
Nelson Davis and Company (Austin, Tex.).
Nelson Davis and Son (Austin, Tex.).
Settlement Club (Austin, Tex.).
Grocery trade--Texas--Austin
World War (1914-1918)
World War I
Austin (Tex.)--Commerce
Document Types
Financial records.
Greeting cards.
Legal documents.
Real property records.

Related Material

General Collection

A 658.86 SM Wilbur L. Smither, A Study of Nelson Davis and Son. 1925.

Austin Files

AF Biography - Nelson Davis, 1858-1923

AF Subject - Groceries - Nelson Davis and Company G4200(10) T

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Davis Family Papers (AR.E.005). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.

Acquisition Information

Donor #: DO/1966/012

Donation Date: 1966

Processing Information

Final processing and finding aid by Kelly Hanus, December 2017.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Davis Family Papers, 1883-1974, undated

Nelson Davis, 1884-1922, undated
Box Folder
1 1 Correspondence, 1888-1922
2 Financial records, 1903, undated
3 News clippings, 1884-1893, undated
4 Real property records, 1889-1908
Emma (Levison) Davis, 1923, 1954, undated
Box Folder
1 5 Notes, 1954, undated
6 Correspondence received -- sympathy letters, 1923 March-April
7 Guestbook, desk diary, 1920s, 1948
Theodore Davis, 1913-1970
Box Folder
1 8 Correspondence sent, 1918-1965
9 Correspondence received, 1913-1970
Box Folder
2 1 Sympathy cards, 1954
2 Yale College Class of 1913 directory, passenger list and ship menu for S. S. Alcoa Cavelier, and assorted memorabilia, 1917, 1952
3 World War I scrapbook, 1918
4 Army certificates, 1917-1919
Anita (Ebeling) Davis, 1946-1954
Box Folder
2 5 Correspondence, 1946-1954
Nelson Davis and Son, 1883-1974
Box Folder
2 6 Correspondence and financial material, 1906-1923
7 News clippings, 1916-1974
Good & supplies lists (book), 1940-1941
The Mercantile Agency Reference Book, 1925 July
Desk diary/address book, 1951
Oversize Volumes Ledger (Nelson Davis & Co.), 1883 November - 1887 April
Ledger (Nelson Davis & Co.), 1895 October - 1897 March