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Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr. letter to Murat Williams

 Collection — Folder: 1
Identifier: MSS 9829

Content Description

ALS from Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr., to Murat Williams about Davis' review of "Man from the Valley," written by Francis Pickens Miller but edited by Williams.


  • Creation: 1971-07-16

Biographical / Historical

Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr. (20 September 1897–17 September 1972), folklore collector and educator, was born in Petersburg, Virginia and was the son of Arthur Kyle Davis (1867–1953), president of Southern Female College, and Lucy Pryor McIlwaine Davis.

Davis, Jr. graduated from the Tome School for Boys in Port Deposit, Maryland, at age sixteen with the highest average in the school's history to that time. Davis earned a bachelor's degree with Phi Beta Kappa honors from the University of Virginia in 1917. He spent the following academic year in Alexandria presiding over Episcopal High School's Latin and Greek department and then entered Central Officers' Training School for Infantry at Camp Lee during the final months of World War I, leaving the service on 15 January 1919.

Davis returned to the University of Virginia, earned a master's degree in June 1919, and began his doctoral studies in the English department. In November of that year he won a Rhodes Scholarship. Davis studied at Balliol College, Oxford University, and received a bachelor degree of literature in June 1923. He then returned to the University of Virginia and in June 1924 completed his doctorate with a dissertation entitled "The Political Thought of Victorian Poets."

Arthur Kyle Davis Jr., as he styled himself to avoid being confused with his well-known father, never married and spent his entire professional career teaching at the University of Virginia.

He began his involvement with Virginia's folklore in 1923 when Charles Alphonso Smith, the ailing founder of the Virginia Folklore Society, asked him to take charge of finding songs that were then being played or sung in the state that had been cataloged in Francis James Child's multivolume work The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882–1898).

In 1929 Davis published the results of his work in the book "Traditional Ballads of Virginia." Davis began traveling around Virginia to record music. He employed a recording device that weighed almost 200 pounds that he carried on the back of his automobile and recorded songs on approximately 325 aluminum disks. He and the members of the society collected 2,529 items during the next decade. Davis published the catalog in 1949 as "Folk-Songs of Virginia." His work was widely recognized, and he often spoke about ballads and their collection at meetings around the state and region. He was president of the Southeastern Folklore Society in 1940–1941.

Davis began as an instructor of English in 1923 and rose to full professor seventeen years later. He entered the Naval Reserve in 1943 and by 1945 was a lieutenant commander in charge of the officers' training program at Duke University.

Davis completed his active duty on 14 December 1945, and returned to the faculty of the University of Virginia. He was one of three faculty members who completed a study in 1951 that advocated stopping the university's practice of granting sports-related scholarships and placing the athletic department under faculty control. The report received considerable press attention, but the following year the board of visitors declined to adopt its recommendations.

Davis wrote poetry throughout his life and published some of his poems. He also wrote the University of Virginia Glee Club song "Vir-ir-gin-i-a." His principal scholarly research after World War II focused on the work of the nineteenth-century British poet and critic Matthew Arnold. In 1968 Davis published "Matthew Arnold's Letters: A Descriptive Checklist," which received from the university's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa the prize for the best scholarly work by a faculty member.

During the 1955–1956 academic year Davis taught a graduate class on ballads, folksongs, and folklore. Three of the students later worked with Davis collecting songs identified after publication of Traditional Ballads of Virginia. One of the students was the emerging folk music-revivalist Paul Clayton Worthington, who performed under the name Paul Clayton. Davis published the research in 1960 as "More Traditional Ballads of Virginia," which was one of the three winners of the Chicago Folklore Prize in June 1961. During the 1960s Davis revived the Virginia Folklore Society, whose activities had declined in the years after World War II.

He retired from the University of Virginia in 1968 with the rank of professor emeritus but continued his research and writing. Arthur Kyle Davis died on 17 September 1972, at his university faculty apartment and was buried at University Cemetery two days later.

Sources Consulted: Birth date in World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards (1917–1918), Record Group 163, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; correspondence in Davis Family Papers, Accession 11386, correspondence, speeches, and other materials in Arthur Kyle Davis Papers, Accession 9829, 9829a, sheet music, texts, and phonographic recordings in Virginia Folklore Society Papers, Accession 9936, all in Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.; correspondence in Davis Family Papers (1844–1945), Accession 37973, and "Official Statement of Rhodes Committee of Selection," Virginia War History Commission, City Source Material (Petersburg-Miscellaneous), 1919–1927, Accession 37219, both Library of Virginia; Davis's publications include "English at Oxford," English Journal 17 (1928): 387–398, "Some Problems of Ballad Publication," Musical Quarterly 14 (1928): 283–296, and "On the Collecting and Editing of Ballads," American Speech 5 (1930): 452–455; Washington Post, 15 Dec. 1929 (portrait); University of Virginia Alumni News 50 (Nov. 1961): 10–12; Richmond Times-Dispatch, 20 June 1971; obituaries and memorials in Charlottesville Daily Progress and Richmond Times-Dispatch, both 18 Sept. 1972.


0.04 Cubic Feet (1 folder) : letter fits in 0.03 letter size folder but is in legal size folder 0.04 to fit into legal size document box.

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Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was purchased from Hearthwood Books by the Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia Library on 13 December 2018.

Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr. letter to Murat Williams
Ellen Welch
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States