Marguerite Inman Davis: first progressive first lady of Virginia

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Born to wealth, Marguerite Inman Davis (1870-1963), daughter of a New York cotton broker of Southern lineage, grew up in the best societies of Georgia and New York and studied piano in Bonn and Paris. After her marriage to Westmoreland Davis in 1893, she continued to travel extensively in Europe and the Orient. In 1903, after she and her husband purchased the 1,500 acre Morven Park estate in Loudoun County, Virginia, Mrs. Marguerite Inman Davis assumed the life of a hostess and pursued her talents as an equestrienne and gardener.

As first lady of Virginia during World War I, Marguerite Davis consciously set an example for women·of the state and nation to enter war work. She volunteered, as president of the Woman's Munition Reserve, to sew silk bags and fill them with smokeless gun powder at Seven Pines outside Richmond. Later she helped save a peach crop from ruin during the war labor shortage. In the course of the Spanish influenza epidemic which swept Richmond between October, 1918, and November, 1919, she served as a volunteer nurse in the pneumonia ward of the John Marshall Emergency Hospital. Yet, while Marguerite Davis played the role of a modern woman and patriot, she also maintained the tradition of southern gentility and hospitality. Entertaining groups of soldiers, students, politicians, and suffragettes, she democratically made the people of the Old Dominion very much at home in the executive mansion during the Davis administration (1918-1922).

From her husband’s defeat in the 1922 senatorial primary until her death, Mrs. Davis contributed generously to many philanthropic and social causes. Unable personally to work in the war effort of World War II as she had in World War I, Marguerite Davis donated two ambulances, several pedigreed Doberman Pinschers, and invested a large part of her husband's estate in war bonds. Throughout her life, Marguerite was generous in giving scholarships to deserving Virginia students.

Mrs. Davis retired from public life after the death of her husband in 1943, and moved to her sister's home in Branford, Connecticut. She continued, however, despite her advancing age to attack the state of Virginia politics. Inflamed by the laudatory eulogies heaped upon Senator Carter Glass at his death in 1947, Mrs. Davis publicly condemned both Glass and the Byrd organization. In establishing the Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation, Marguerite Inman Davis displayed enlightened philanthropic views by providing munificently not only for ordinary scholarships but to make historic Morven Park an endowed center. She remained at Branford, Connecticut, until her death on July 15, 1963.