Davis, Paulina (Kellogg) Wright
DAVIS, Paulina (Kellogg) Wright
Born 7 August 1813, Bloomfield, New York; died 24 August 1876, Providence, Rhode Island
Daughter of Captain Ebenezer and Polly Saxton Kellogg; married Francis Wright, 1833 (died 1845); Thomas Davis, 1849
Paulina Wright Davis spent her early childhood in the opening territories of western New York state. When her parents died, before she was seven, Davis was sent to LeRoy, New York, to live with her aunt who reared her in orthodox Presbyterianism and encouraged her to become a missionary. Instead, Davis married Francis Wright, a Utica, New York, merchant, and with him began her life's work of activism on behalf of the causes of antislavery, temperance, and women's rights. The rights of married women and health reform were particular interests of hers.
After Wright's death in 1845, Davis supported herself by lecturing about health and physiology, illustrating her talks with a female anatomical model that shocked many of her audience (and inspired others). In 1849 Davis married Thomas Davis, a Providence, Rhode Island, jewelry manufacturer and member of the Rhode Island legislature. A beautiful and charming woman, Davis was admired by the Providence community, although her ideas were more radical than her neighbors'.
Davis helped organize and presided at the first National Woman's Rights Convention in Worcester, October 1850, and at many later conventions she was similarly involved. In February 1853 she began to publish, almost entirely at her own expense, the monthly woman's magazine, the Una, "A Paper Devoted to the Elevation of Woman," as an alternative to the current popular magazines, commenting: "Women have been too well, and too long, satisfied with Ladies' Books, Ladies' Magazines and Miscellanies; it is time they should have stronger nourishment." For two years, with the help of a sister, Davis undertook the full responsibility for the publication; when this became too burdensome, she planned to discontinue the journal but was enabled to carry on an additional nine months through the editorial assistance of Caroline Dall, a regular contributor.
Issues which elicited Davis' editorial comments were equal pay for equal work, the need for equality within marriage, the opening of professions to women, and the need for respect and equal treatment of women in all phases of life. These were ideals shared by all feminists of the period, and Davis gave them intelligent and forceful expression: "Women have to exchange the noblest rights of their humanity for the paltry privileges and fulsome flatteries which they…receive… .Why need women becramped, crippled and crushed into idiocy to make them lovely and beloved?"
After the demise of the Una, Davis, suffering increasingly from rheumatic gout, traveled in Europe, studied painting, and continued to work for women's rights. In 1868 she helped found the New England Woman Suffrage Association, and served as president of the Rhode Island suffrage association until 1869. She supported Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony when the national suffrage association split, contributing lively articles to their short-lived journal, The Revolution.
Davis died at sixty-three. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the chief speaker at a memorial service held for a large group of friends at Davis's home.
Frankel, N., and N. S. Dye, eds., Gender, Class, Race, and reform in the Progressive Era (1991). Hanaford, P., Daughter of America (1882). Harper, I. H., The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (1898). Lutz, A., Created Equal: A Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1940). Lutz, A., Susan B. Anthony (1959). O'Connor, L., Pioneer Women Orators (1954). Riegel, R. E., American Feminists (1963). Stanton, E. C., et al., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. I (1881). Wyman, L. B. C. and A. C. Wyman, Elizabeth Buffum Chace, 1806-1899 (1914).
Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
American Phrenological Journal (July 1853). NEQ (Oct., 1930).
—KAREN F. STEIN