Oberlin College Archives


FAMILY PAPERS, 1857 (1916-50)-1990


The Edith Bunker Davis Family papers provide evidence of Mrs. Davis' concern to document the work in Africa (1891-1917) of her missionary parents, the Rev. Fred Robert Bunker and Isabel ("Belle") Bunker. The papers also supply information about the professional lives of Edith's brothers, Paul, Wilfrid, Kenneth, and Sydney. These men established successful careers in education, diplomacy, international business, and the Congregational ministry. Unfortunately, there is little information in the collection concerning the personal lives of Edith Davis and her husband, P. Ernest Davis.

The collection is organized into seven records series: I. Bunker-Richards Family Correspondence; II. Diaries; III. Bunker-Davis Family Miscellany; IV. Correspondence of Edith Bunker Davis; V. Writings of Edith Bunker Davis; VI. Photographs; and VII. Zulu Artifacts. Within series, papers are typically arranged chronologically, alphabetically by topic or type of material, or into subseries. The correspondence of Edith Bunker Davis is dated with recourse to postmark date, or, where possible, by consulting the perpetual calendar. Postmark dates are placed within brackets in the upper right-hand corner of the letter.

Among the earliest items in the collection are letters (1859-82) written by the family of Isabel ("Belle") Richards Bunker of Paw Paw Michigan. Correspondence includes letters from Belle's father, Chandler Richards (1829-82), to his wife, Adeline ("Addie") Richards (1829-1904) and to his sister, Helen Richards Clark, a missionary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Honolulu, Hawaii. Letters from Belle's Aunt Helen describe in detail her experiences in Honolulu and were an important influence on Belle's own decision to become a missionary.

Fred and Belle Bunker's residence in East and South Africa as missionaries for the American Board's Zulu Mission is best documented by the Rev. Bunker's diaries (1891, 1892, 1895) and circular letters (1891-1914) and by the diaries (1892-94) of Belle Bunker. Fred Bunker's 1891 diary describes his wedding on January 2, 1891 to Isabel Richards in Olivet, Michigan, the couple's journey to Boston and the purchase there of the missionary "outfit", their February 11 departure aboard the S. S. Teutonic, and their arrival at the port of Durban on March 26. The circular letters, written intermittently by Fred Bunker to his family in Michigan and to the Olivet Mission Board, detail the difficulties he and Belle faced in establishing a mission presence in the lowlands of Inhambane Bay. Bunker's pioneering journey from Beira, Mozambique to stake out a new mission site for the American Board in British-controlled Gazaland (Zimbabwe) is recounted in his diary for July-October 1892, which was edited by Edith Bunker Davis in 1954 but never published. Neither the circular letters nor the diaries are present in the original; they exist here in the form of photocopies or typed transcriptions. In some cases, only extracts of letters are duplicated. The original circular letters and the complete diaries (1887-1941) of Fred and Belle Bunker comprise a portion of the Fred R. Bunker Collection presently held at the Talladega College Historical Collections in Talladega, Alabama.

Although the bulk of the Bunkers' personal correspondence consists of incoming letters from family, friends, and fellow missionaries, portions of the correspondence provide information relating to the Bunkers' missionary work. Of particular interest is a 1903 journal letter (photocopy) written by missionary J.D. Taylor to Mrs. Taylor during a trip with the American Board Deputation to Africa, with Fred Bunker accompanying. Also present in Series I are letters written by Fred Bunker to his wife and children on furlough in Oberlin, Ohio from 1911 to 1913. During the Bunker family's residence in Oberlin (1917-19), Fred Bunker expressed his views on the situation in Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) in a letter (10 January 1919) to Oberlin College President Henry Churchill King (1858-1934), who was then in Paris serving as Chairman of President Woodrow Wilson's Inter-Allied Commission to Syria. The bulk of Fred Bunker's correspondence, including correspondence relating to his supervision of the Natal Day Schools of the American Board (1910-17), is located in the Talladega College Historical Collections. Correspondence and other materials, covering not only his life in Africa but also his missionary promotional work in Connecticut (1920-46), is held at the Houghton Library of Harvard University. It is not known whether Belle Bunker's letters from Africa to her parents in Paw Paw, Michigan have survived, either in the original or in letter-press.

Numerous loose photographs (1887-ca. 1940), eight photograph albums (1900-25) and seventy-nine glass plate negatives (1898-1917) offer a visual record of the Bunker family's residence in Africa and their travels. Photographs depict members of the Bunker and Richards families, the Bunker children, the Bunkers' 1900 journey to the United States, their 1910-13 residence in Oberlin, the family's 1917 trip from Africa to the United States by way of Japan and Vancouver, Edith Bunker's years in Oberlin as a student (1918-22), and the Rev. Bunker's home in Wilton, Connecticut (1920-32). Also present are photographs of the American Board missionaries and mission stations in the African field. The lantern slides used by the Rev. Bunker in his public lectures in Connecticut are located in the Talladega Historical Collections.

What distinguishes the Oberlin holdings from the Bunker papers housed elsewhere is the incoming correspondence of Edith Bunker Davis (1919-90). While the papers of missionaries are often silent with regard to the influence of the parents' careers on their children, the correspondence of Edith's brothers offers an opportunity to examine the choices made by the Bunker children and the extent to which the children carried forward or departed from the missionary ideals of their parents. Edith's brothers, all graduates of Oberlin College, were Paul Bunker (1895-1960), teacher, foreign service officer, international businessman, and Administrative Director in Munich of the American Committee for Liberation (1957-60); Wilfrid Bunker (1896-1981), a Congregational minister; Kenneth Bunker (1899-1980), a teacher, salesman, minister, and missionary in Natal (1932-34); and Sydney Bunker (1904-69), Congregational minister, Professor of Religion at Talladega College, Talladega, Alabama (1936-37), and Principal (1937-47) and President (1947-67) of Jaffna College in Vaddukoddai, Sri Lanka. Their correspondence covers such topics as their personal relationships, professional concerns, and the activities of their children. Correspondence written by Alma Asted Bunker from Natal (1932-33) to family in the United States describes the missionary work there undertaken by her and her husband, Kenneth Chandler Bunker.

Other family correspondents include Edith's parents, writing of their activities in retirement in Wilton, Connecticut (1920-32) and Gilmanton, New Hampshire (1932-43). Among the friends of Edith Davis who wrote frequently are Africa missionary Edith A. Conn of Waycross, Georgia, Tapera Nkomo, Erasmus and Athanasius Nkomo, and Mrs. Nokukhanya Lutuli, the wife of Nobel Peace Prize recipient (1960), Albert John Lutuli. There is also correspondence (1973-82) from Talladega College archivist, Leon Spencer, relating to the gift of the Fred R. Bunker papers to the college and to his research in African church history.

The outgoing correspondence of Edith Bunker includes her letters to her parents (1920-46), which are housed with the correspondence of Fred and Belle Bunker in Series I. Edith's letters from Oberlin College (1920-22) describe her classes, her friends, parties, and her work as the Vice-President of the Student Volunteer Union. Also present is a series of mimeographed Christmas letters (1957-90) sent by Edith and Ernest to their family and friends.

Additional materials relating to Edith Bunker Davis include an incomplete run of diaries and notebooks spanning the years 1914 to 1991, the year of her death. The diaries, often partially filled, record Edith's daily life as a mother, wife, woman of faith, and devoted friend. One diary dates from her student days in Oberlin (1917-20).

Edith Bunker Davis' unpublished manuscripts, housed in Series V, describe her parents' lives and the history of mission work in South Africa. Other writings include ms. drafts of book reviews and talks, as well as meditations written for inclusion in a "Daily Prayer Book for Women" (ca. 1980). A set of publications of the Bunker Family Association tracing the genealogy of the Bunker family from the sixteenth century to the present is housed in Series III.


Series I. Bunker/Richards Family Correspondence, 1857-1950, n.d. 1 l.f.

Organized into four subseries: 1. Calendar to the Correspondence; 2. Bunker Family Correspondence; 3. Circular Letters of Fred R. Bunker; and 4. Correspondence of Alma Asted Bunker. Subseries 2 includes the correspondence of the Chandler Richards family, as well as the incoming and outgoing correspondence of Fred R. and Isabel (Belle) Richards Bunker, chronologically arranged. Early letters are filed in front of accompanying transcriptions which were made by the donor. In Subseries 3 and 4, correspondence is chronologically arranged.

Series II. Diaries, 1887, 1891-95, 1914-91, n.d. 1 l.f.

Organized into three subseries by author and thereunder chronologically: 1. Diaries and Notes of Fred R. Bunker; 2. Diaries of Isabel Bunker; and 3. Diaries of Edith Bunker Davis. The diaries of Edith Bunker Davis are all in the original, while the diaries of her parents, with the exception of one ms. account, are either photocopies or transcriptions of the original. Original diaries are located in the papers of Fred R. Bunker at Talladega College, Talladega, Alabama, and at the Houghton Library of Harvard University.

Series III. Bunker-Davis Family Miscellany, 1887-1991 1.2 l.f.

Bunker family histories (published), autograph album, address and guestbooks, diplomas, birth, marriage, and death certificates, passports, maps, missionary leaflets, church bulletins, commencement and ordination programs, devotional booklets, travel postcards, and newspaper clippings gathered by the Bunker and Davis families. Materials are arranged alphabetically by topic or type of material.

Series IV. Correspondence of Edith Bunker Davis, 1919-90, n.d. .8 l.f.

Correspondence of Edith Bunker Davis, organized into two subseries and thereunder chronologically arranged. Subseries 1 includes the largely incoming personal correspondence of Edith Bunker Davis; Subseries 2 includes the outgoing Christmas letters (printed) of Edith and Ernest Davis.

Series V. Writings of Edith Bunker Davis, 1913, 1949-88, n.d. .4 l.f.

Ms. typescript drafts of unpublished stories, essays, book reviews, and meditations; incoming correspondence from editors relating to submitted manuscripts; and three bound notebooks containing ms. notes for a book on the Bunker family. Arranged alphabetically by type of material and thereunder by title.

Series VI. Photographs, ca. 1887-1982, n.d. 3.1 l.f.

Arranged by type of material into four subseries: 1. Film negatives; 2. Glass plate negatives; 3. Loose photographs; and 4. Photograph albums. Within subseries, materials are chronologically arranged. Glass plate negatives are housed individually and labeled by the donor. Three albums are disbound due to the advanced deterioration of leaves and bindings.

Series VII. Zulu Artifacts, ca. 1910, n.d.

One woven basket and two boxes of loose beads and necklaces, stored together.


The Edith Bunker Davis Family Papers were transferred by donors Virginia Davis Hodge, Alison Davis Oldham, and Fred Bunker Davis in one lot to the Oberlin College Archives in 1992. Two subsequent accessions occurred in June 1992.


As noted above, the researcher is directed to the papers of FredR. Bunker, held at Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama, and at the Houghton Library of Harvard University. The student records of Fred R. Bunker are held at Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan and those of Isabel Richards Bunker at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

For correspondence of other missionaries stationed in the African field, consult the papers of the Misses Alice and Elisabeth Little (30/7), the papers of Chauncey N. Pond (30/42), and the papers of Gertrude Jacob (30/85) in the Oberlin College Archives. Also consult the Goodenough family files (28). The student files (28) of Paul, Wilfrid, Kenneth, and Sydney Bunker contain additional biographical information about the Bunker family. The Oberlin College Library holds the annual reports of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions(1810- ). See Record Group 21, the Oberlin File, Section VII, for a diary account (1900-08) of missionary work in Mozambique. For additional holdings in the Oberlin College Archives related to missionary work in Africa, see the "Preliminary Guide to Missionary Records" (November 1989).

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Last updated: 30 July 1996