Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Katharine Bement Davis 1860 ~ 1935


Katharine Bement Davis was born in Buffalo, New York. Her parents were Oscar B. Davis and Frances Bement. They moved to Dunkirk, New York when she was two years old. She was educated in the Dunkirk public schools, but moved to Rochester, New York, while she was in the high school, and graduated from the Rochester Free Academy. She returned to Dunkirk, New York, as a teacher of chemistry and physics in the high school, and taught there several years before she entered Vassar College, where she graduated in 1892. The year following her graduation she went to New York, where she taught sciences in the Brooklyn Heights Seminary in the morning; and studied chemistry at Columbia University afternoons and Saturdays.

In the spring, summer and fall of 1893 she conducted an experiment under the auspices of the New York State commission for the World's Fair, called "A Workingman's Model Home.'' The house was built and furnished to illustrate what a workingman could do in New York State, outside of New York City, who was earning $600 a year. Here she had a real family living, and gave demonstrations of the bill of fare which such a family could have.

In the fall of 1893 she went to Philadelphia as head worker in the College Settlement After four years there she went to the University of Chicago as a fellow in the Department of Political Economy. In 1888-1889 she held the European fellowship of the New England Women's Educational Association, studying in Berlin and Vienna. Returning to this country, she took, her doctor's degree at the University of Chicago in the Departments of Political Economy and Sociology in the spring of 1900.

At this time the New York State Reformatory had been incorporated, and was in process of construction. The board of managers, of whom Mrs. Josephine Shaw Lowell, of New York, was one, and whose president is, and was, Mr. James Wood, of Mt Kisco, were on the lookout for someone to accept the superintendency. They wanted someone who would conduct the institution along new lines, and not one who was institution trained. Through Mrs. Lowell Mrs. Davis became interested in the plan, and in the fall of 1900 accepted the superintendency, and has been in that position ever since.

Mrs. Davis has been a lecturer on penology, particularly as concerns women in the New York School of Philanthropy, since its organization. Happening to be in Sicily on a six-months, leave in the winter of 1906- 1909, at the time of the Messina earthquake, she acted as agent for the American Red Cross in Syracuse, Sicily, helping to organize relief work. She received medals, both from the American and Italian Red Cross for this service. At the International Prison Congress, held in Washington in 1910, she was elected to preside over the section on children. It is not customary to elect women to these positions, bat it was done on this occasion as a recognition of the important part that American women take in matters of penology.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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