Poet, short-story writer, novelist, playwright, and memoirist, Mollie Moore Davis was one of the most commercially successful professional writers in turn-of-the-century New Orleans. Her work was published by Houghton Mifflin and appeared in magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly and the Saturday Evening Post. Along with George Washington Cable and Grace King, she helped create the image of Creole New Orleans in the American mind. In New Orleans, she was a regular contributor to Eliza Jane Nicholson’s Picayune, and her salon in the French Quarter attracted national literati, giving local writers opportunities for publication.
Born Mary Evelina Moore on April 12, 1844, in Talladega, Alabama, she was the second of nine children of John Moore, a physician, and his wife, Mary Ann Crutchfield. The Moore children were taught to read and write when young by their mother. In 1855, the family moved to rural Texas, ending up on a farm outside Tyler. Because of poverty, the children’s education was hit-or-miss, but her family saw her as a talented writer from the start.
After she moved into Tyler to attend and then teach school, Davis’s poems were first published in Texas newspapers in 1860. She signed her work “Mollie E. Moore.” Although Texas seceded from the Union at the start of the Civil War, Houston remained peaceful. The publisher of the Houston Telegraph, E. H. Cushing, and his wife became her mentors, inviting her to live with them for months at a time, taking her as far afield as New York City at war’s end, and sponsoring the publication of her work. By 1867, her literary reputation was established in the South with a collected volume of poetry, Minding the Gap and other Poems.
For the next several years, she cared for her ailing mother and younger brothers and contributed to the family’s expenses through her salary from a Galveston newspaper. After her mother died and the boys were on their own, she married Major Thomas E. Davis in 1874. In 1879 the couple moved to New Orleans, where he edited the Times and later the Picayune. They rented an apartment on Royal Street in the French Quarter, then a seedy older section of New Orleans, where she established a literary and social salon. Among the writers, artists, musicians, actors, and socialites who visited there were Ellsworth and William Woodward, Kate Chopin, Lafcadio Hearn, Eliza Jane Nicholson, Eugene Fields, Frances Willard, and Booth Tarkington.
Davis was also a mainstay of the city’s culture, supporting the opera, women’s clubs, the public library, Newcomb College, the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, the illustrated periodical Art and Letters, and the forerunner of Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré.
Writing as Mollie Moore Davis or M. E. M. Davis, she published three volumes of fictionalized memoirs (subtracting eight years from her age and adding a wealthy plantation background), two short-story collections, five novels, a travel series, poetry, and plays. Although largely unknown today, her work was instrumental in creating the romantic portrait of the French Quarter that still endures. She died January 1, 1909.Author: Patricia Brady
Cite this entry
Chicago Manual of Style
Brady, Patricia "Mollie Moore Davis." In knowlouisiana.org Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published December 14, 2010. http://www.knowlouisiana.org/entry/mollie-moore-davis.
Brady, Patricia "Mollie Moore Davis" knowlouisiana.org Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 14 Dec 2010. Web. 26 May 2018.
Bonner, Judith. “Art and Letters: An Illustrated Periodical of the Nineteenth Century,” Southern Quarterly 27 (January 1989).
Brady, Patricia, “Mollie Moore Davis: A Literary Life,” in Louisiana Women Writers: New Essays and A Comprehensive Bibliography, edited by Barbara Ewell and Dorothy Brown. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992
Bridges, Lamar Whitlow. “A Study of the New Orleans Daily Picayune Under Publisher Eliza Jane Poitevent Nicholson, 1876–1896.” Ph.D. diss., Southern Illinois University, 1974.
Hardy, D. Clive. The World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. New Orleans, LA: The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1978.
Jackson, Joy J. New Orleans in the Gilded Age: Politics and Urban Progress, 1880–1896. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.
Jahncke Family Papers, Mollie Moore Davis Collection, The Historic New Orleans Collection.
Kendall, John Smith. “Old Days on the New Orleans Picayune,” Louisiana Historical Quarterly 33 (January–October 1950).
“Social Bee,” Daily Picayune, 1880–1900.
Townsend-Stanton Family Papers; William Beer Papers, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University.
Wilkinson, Clyde W. “The Broadening Stream: The Life and Literary Career of Mollie E. Moore Davis” Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois, 1947
Major Works of Mollie Moore Davis
Minding the Gap and Other Poems (1867, 1869, 1872)
In War Times at La Rose Blanche (1888)
Under the Man-Fig (1895)
A Christmas Masque of Saint Roch (1896)
Under Six Flags (1897)
An Elephant’s Track and Other Stories (1897)
The Wire-Cutters (1899)
The Queen’s Garden (1900)
Jaconetta: Her Loves (1901)
A Bunch of Roses and Other Parlor Plays (1903)
The Little Chevalier (1903)
The Price of Silence (1907)
The Moons of Balbanca (1908)
Selected Poems (1927 – published after her death)