Birth and Early Childhood
At the age of ten, Josephine and her sister gave their first concert in the English Opera House in Indianapolis. Later, in 1910, the two sisters opened a studio in Bloomington teaching voice, piano, violin and the organ (Shutt 4). Around this time the girls also played accompaniment for a silent movie theater and then spent a year touring with a singing group known as the Chautauqua Dunbar Singing Orchestra (Miller 5).
Since the girls lived in a "college town", they were asked out on many dates by the local students. A man that was called "Davie" by his friends asked Josephine out on a date. She "wasn’t very impressed at his unkempt appearance- but since he had been playing tennis she supposed he was excusable". "Davie" was also on the football team, enjoyed music and could play the piano, saxophone and clarinet himself. He was also in school to get his medical degree. "Davie" turned out to be Dr. Merrill S. Davis, from Marion and one of the top men in his class. Once he graduated, he went straight to Josephine’s house to show her his recent accomplishment (Shutt 5). In 1913, two years after Dr. Davis graduated, the happy couple married. At this time, Dr. Davis was a successful surgeon (Miller 9). The couple had two sons, Joseph Davis, who grew up in Marion and became a doctor like his father and helped with the Davis Clinic founded by his father, and Richard Davis, who also became a doctor like his father but moved out to California (Smith 1).
Several years later in 1929, Josephine helped organize the Marion Municipal Art Association, Inc. She wanted Marion and the rest of Indiana to have some form of art in their communities, just like in the Hoosier Salon in Chicago. She wanted to showcase an artist’s work and have them come and give a speech about their work in hopes children will be inspired to be more creative and get involved in the arts. She "thought Marion should have some of that. Love of beauty is a thing of the spirit. It’s shared by the rich and poor, by the educated and uneducated. It makes us all kin." She began painting again around this time. Her paintings went on to Chicago and passed seven years in a row by the Hoosier Salon Juries. She went around Indiana and talked about "Taking High Hat Out of Art" to try to show children the joy in art (Miller 4).
In 1932 and 1933, Josephine was appointed to the "Century of Progress Committee of the Chicago World’s Fair" by Governor Harry G. Leslie and Paul V. McNutt (Miller 5). While being involved in this, she helped find some of the art work at the fair a home. She was a part of the Indiana Commission and she helped move Thomas Hart Benton’s "World’s Fair" murals to the Indiana University campus in Bloomington where they are now are permanently on display (Smith 1). Years later, in 1948 and 1958, Governor Ralph F. Gates appointed her to the Economic Council Committee on Recreation and The Governor’s Youth council, and the Governors Commission on the Arts. She also helped with the auditions for the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in 1957 (Miller 5).
Marion Easter Pageant
In 1937, Josephine helped establish the Marion Easter Pageant and she was it’s first musical director. (Smith 1).. This is one of the things for which Josephine is most famous. L. Hewitt Carpenter, a lawyer in Marion, said "She did a remarkable job with the formation of the Easter Pageant. Her son, Richard, recalls how she "would use music chosen to fit each sequence of the activities to tell the story as the pageant developed in action." Other duties included keeping the peace between the cast members and making sure that there were understudies for each part just incase someone could not make it for one reason or another (Davis). "She was the inspiration of the pageant." James Moritz recalls some of the dancers messing up during a practice and Mrs. Davis "running to them, ripping both ends off a cup, and talking to them and dancing with them" (Smith 1). About a week before the actual pageant, Richard remembers his mother having different people from the community come in and help her out with setting up for the show. She even had off duty police officers assisting her with the big job to get the Coliseum turned into the stage. Several years after the pageant was started, Dr. Davis was involved at Indiana University. He helped in hiring a new Dean, Dr. Wilfred Baine, a well know choral director, with whom the family became close. Josephine asked if he would like to be a part of the pageant and bring some students from the University. She thought this could bring in larger audience and maybe some of the students would come to Marion to see the presentation (Davis). Among her many other accomplishments, she helped establish the Hostess House in 1950. Located on Fourth Street and Garfield street, the Hostess house was a social organization where local women would gather and events would be hosted. The house is still standing and is still used as a gathering place by many. She was also given the Art Patron of the Year Award in 1963. Eleven years later she was presented in the Marion Exchange Club’s Book of Golden Deeds Award.
Josephine Davis lived a full life. She said, "I was never president of anything I ever organized. I don’t need to be president" Even at 88 she said she was only "slowing down a little". She believes that she got her hectic life from her mother and seven brothers who all made it high up in their professions. "They knew how to do things, and I think that’s where I got my push" (Miller 8). Her son, Richard, wrote a letter that mentioned that "Mother never would allow publicity to mention her name. She felt that it was a community project in which everyone participated and that no one person should take any personal credit over anybody else." Richard Simons knew Mrs. Davis and spoke about many accomplishments and said "For more then 60 years she helped shape the community. It was well known in Marion if you wanted something done you went to Josephine Davis." (Smith 8). When Jerry Miller, a reporter for the Chronicle Tribune, asked her "what else she might like to tackle in her life" she replied "I’d like to take hold of that square down there and do something. Who wouldn’t have fun?" (Miller 8).
- Davis M.D., Richard M. Letter to Barbara Love. 18 Mar. 1999.
- "Josephine Dacis Dies At Her Home." Chronicle-Tribune 17 Dec. 1983: 12.
- Miller, Jerry. "Josephine Davis: a Visit with Marion's Matriarch of the Arts." Chronicle-Tribune 1980: 8-9.
- Shutt, Betty D. "As Long as She's Busy, She's Happy." Cronicle-Tribune Magazine 14 Dec. 1975: 4-5.
- Smith, Sherie. "Community Honors Cultural Leader." Chronicle-Tribune 19 Dec. 1983, Community ed.: 1+.
This article was written by Megan Harrell and submitted on June 5, 2007 for Mr. Munn's AP US History Class at Marion High School