Oberlin College Archives

EDITH BUNKER DAVIS, 1900-1991

FAMILY PAPERS, 1857 (1916-50)-1990


BIOGRAPHY

Edith Bunker Davis was born on May 31, 1900 in Amanzimtoti, Natal, South Africa. Her parents, the Rev. Fred Robert (1859-1946) and Isabel Helen (Richards) Bunker (1865-1950) were Congregational missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions stationed at the Board's Zulu Mission in Natal. The Bunkers' intended destination had been the struggling mission station at Inhambane, Mozambique, but because of health and other problems, the station was closed before the Bunkers' arrival in Africa in 1891. To establish a more favorable location for the mission, the Rev. Bunker and two other missionaries set out in an exploring party in 1892. The Mt. Silinda station (in present-day Zimbabwe) was selected, and mission work began there in earnest in October 1893. The work was difficult, as it involved constructing roads and mission buildings, adapting to an unfamiliar landscape, winning the trust of the native Bantu tribes, studying their several languages, and opening day schools. The Bunkers transferred to Beira, Mozambique in 1904, and to Durban in 1911, where the Rev. Bunker was appointed Mission Day Schools supervisor. The family returned permanently to the United States in 1917, living in Oberlin, Ohio (1917-19), Wilton, Connecticut (1920-32), and several other places in New England (932-43), including a summer home in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. In his retirement, the Rev. Bunker traveled New England, presenting illustrated lectures on his experiences in Africa. In the last years of their lives, Fred and Belle Bunker made their home in East Williston, New York, with their daughter and son-in-law, Edith and Ernest Davis. Fred Bunker died in Lancaster, New Hampshire in 1946; Belle Bunker died in 1950.

From 1910 to 1913, Edith Bunker lived in Oberlin, Ohio on furlough with her mother and four brothers: Paul Richard (1895-1960; A.B. Oberlin 1918), Wilfrid Herrick (1896-1981; A.B. Oberlin 1923), Kenneth Chandler (1899-1980; A.B. 1921), and Sydney Kittridge (1904-69; A.B. Oberlin 1925; L.H.D. Oberlin 1963). After spending the years 1913 to 1917 in Durban, South Africa, Edith returned to Oberlin, graduating in 1918 from Oberlin High School. Brothers Wilfrid and Paul were then serving in the First World War: Paul in the Oberlin College Unit of the U.S. Army Ambulance Service (June 1917-May 1919), and Wilfrid as a Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps (1916-19).

In the fall of 1918, Edith entered Oberlin College. She received the A.B. in English in 1922. Following graduation, she worked as Church Secretary for the First Congregational Church in Flushing, New York (1922-23) and as Y.W.C.A. Secretary in Williamsport, Pennsylvania (1923-24). During these years, she debated pursuing a missionary career.

In 1924, Edith Bunker married sales representative P. Ernest Davis (d. 1986) and settled on Long Island, New York. From 1929 to 1966, they lived in East Williston. Along with rearing their children, Edith and Ernest made their home a center of hospitality for friends, relatives, foreign students, and visitors from around the world--many of them connected to the missionary community. For forty-two years, Edith maintained a steady correspondence with friends and missionaries, began to write about the lives of her parents and the history of missions in Africa, and served in numerous volunteer capacities on Long Island and in the region. She was President of the Association of American University Women of Long Island, Vice-President of the Oberlin Women's Club of New York (1958-60), and Elder of the Community Church of East Williston. From 1966 to 1976, the Davises lived on seven acres in Royalston, Massachusetts. There, Edith served as Clerk of the First Congregational Church and as a volunteer at the local Historical Society. In 1976, the couple moved to New London, Connecticut and in 1984 to the Friends House Retirement Community in Sandy Spring, Maryland. P. Ernest Davis died there on October 26, 1986; Edith died on June 30, 1991.

Edith Bunker Davis had three children, all of whom survive her. They are: Virginia Davis Hodge (b. 1926; A.B. Oberlin 1948), Alison Davis Oldham (b. 1929; A.B. Oberlin 1951), and Fred Bunker Davis (b. 1931; A.B. Oberlin 1954).

SOURCES CONSULTED

Portion of Edith Bunker Davis' Student File, held by the Alumni Records Office, Oberlin College.

Strong, William E. The Story of the American Board (American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1910).

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