Educational opportunities were scarce for young women of that era, so Davis set about educating herself. From an early age, she enjoyed reading and writing. However, she was limited by her rural environment, and thus, wrote stories mainly for herself.
While not incredibly prolific, Davis nonetheless followed her dreams of becoming a writer, publishing her first story at the age of thirty. Davis was greatly influenced by the push towards literary realism. In 1861, she published her first and most famous story, “Life in the Iron Mills.” Published anonymously in the Atlantic Monthly, “Life in the Iron Mills” is a narrative account of a frustrated iron mill worker who wants to be an artist, but eventually kills himself because his current working and living conditions are so poor. Davis published her first novel, Margret Howth: A Story of Today in 1862.
Soon after her marriage, she moved to Philadelphia. Davis did return to writing in 1868, publishing two books, Waiting for the Verdict, and Dallas Galbraith in that year. She also accepted an assistant editorial position on the paper her husband began editing in 1869, the New York Tribune. With these new jobs, the Davis family relocated to New York City.
Davis’s most notable work of this period was the novel John Andross, published in 1874. Critics were not kind to Davis in her the later years of her career. However, Davis continued writing, publishing well into the late 1890s. Writing was her passion, and no amount of criticism could keep her from doing what she loved. In addition to her fiction, Davis utilized nonfiction to act as a crusader for the poor and oppressed.
Davis passed away in September of 1910.
Limited by a lack of education, culture, and social intercourse with other literary figures for much of her life, Davis’s eventual success illustrates perseverance.
At the time of her death, Davis was staying with her son Richard. Because of their shared love of writing, Rebecca and Richard were especially close. Over the years, they provided guidance and inspiration for one another. The encouragement Rebecca’s son gave her was clearly appreciated, especially during times of intense criticism from outside sources.
Davis herself was a remarkable woman. Growing up in relative isolation, she relied upon her inner creativity to survive these trying early years. Upon getting published, Davis experienced her greatest success early on.
After taking time off to start a family, she returned to her passion for writing. Although her creative output is relatively small, the insights she provided into the changing social climate in America proved significant.
Quotes from others about the person
“Davis lived for her first thirty-two years the proper life of a middle-class spinster in the frontier industrial town of Wheeling, West Virginia, out of touch with literary circles, restricted in her social contacts. Yet she wrought out of this limited life a coherent theory of literary realism.” - Lawrence Jones
During her early years of literary success, Davis met and fell in love with a journalist named L. Clark Davis. They married in 1863, abruptly changing the direction of Davis’s life. Rebecca and Clark had three children during their marriage; Richard was born in April of 1864.