Rebecca Harding Davis Biography

Rebecca Blaine Harding Davis (June 24, 1831–September 29, 1910; born Rebecca Blaine Harding) was an American author and journalist. She is deemed a pioneer of literary realism in American literature. She graduated valedictorian from Washington Female Seminary in Pennsylvania. Her most important literary work is the novella Life in the Iron Mills, published in the April 1861 edition of the Atlantic Monthly which quickly made her an established female writer. Throughout her lifetime, Harding Davis sought to effect social change for blacks, women, Native Americans, immigrants, and the working class, by intentionally writing about the plight of these marginalized groups in the 19th century.

Rebecca Blaine Harding was born in Washington, Pennsylvania, on June 24, 1831, to Richard and Rachel Leet Wilson Harding. Rebecca was the eldest of five children. After an unsuccessful entrepreneurial spell in Big Spring, Alabama, the family finally settled in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1836. At the time, Wheeling was developing into a productive factory town, the concentration of which was iron and steel mills. The environment of Rebecca's home town would later affect the themes and vision of her fiction, like Life in the Iron Mills. Despite Wheeling's productivity and its accessible location along the Ohio River, Davis described her childhood as having belonged to a slower, simpler time, writing in her 1904 autobiography Bits of Gossip that, "there were no railways in it, no automobiles or trolleys, no telegraphs, no sky-scraping houses. Not a single man in the country was the possessor of huge accumulations of money".