Biographies > Oberlin College
Davis, Lydia Lord

Lydia Lord Davis was born in Ravenna, Ohio, on August 31, 1867. After graduating from Ravenna high school in 1885, she attended the Normal School in Ada, Ohio (now Ohio Northern University) and received a teaching certificate. Returning to Ravenna, she taught second grade from 1886 until the summer of 1889, when she met Francis Ward Davis (1857-1900).

Francis Davis had committed himself to a foreign missionary career while studying at the Oberlin Theological Seminary. He was accepted by American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and appointed to serve at the mission in Fenzhou, Shanxi Province, China. This mission had been established in 1887 by the Oberlin Band of missionaries. Davis graduated with the B.D. in 1889 and, subsequently, was ordained a Congregational minister. While serving as a guest preacher in Ravenna, Ohio, he met and courted Lydia Lord. She also wished to pursue missionary work and had previously applied for an American Board post as a single woman. Following their marriage on 14 August 1889, Francis and Lydia Davis sailed for China from San Francisco, arriving in Fenzhou in late November.

The Oberlin missionary enterprise in China was primarily an educational one. The missionaries were guided by the conviction that biblical instruction was only possible among the literate. As the Chinese believed girls should not receive an education, the pioneer work of Lydia Davis among Chinese women broke with native tradition. In 1893, Lydia Davis founded at Fenzhou the first girls' school in Shanxi Province under the auspices of the American Board. When the Fenzhou school was reestablished in 1904, after the Boxer Rebellion, the school was renamed "The Lydia Lord Davis School for Girls."

In the spring of 1897, Lydia, Francis, and their two sons, William P. Davis (1893-1975) and John Lord Davis (1896-1994) returned on furlough to the United States. A third son, Lewis E. Davis (1897-1993), was born in Ravenna, Ohio, later that year. All were physically weakened by eight years of inadequate medical attention. Following advice from her physician, Lydia did not return to China with Francis in September 1899, but instead she remained in Ohio to convalesce. The news that Francis had been killed in the Boxer Rebellion reached her on September 8, 1900. Afterward, Lydia Lord Davis dedicated herself to reopening the Shanxi mission and to continuing the work begun by the slain missionaries of the Oberlin Band.

In 1903, Lydia Davis settled in Oberlin, Ohio. There, in 1908, she helped to establish the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association (O.S.M.A.) under the leadership of Oberlin College President Henry Churchill King (1858-1934). In 1912, she organized the Ping-An Club for High School Girls in Oberlin for the purpose of raising money for the mission school and hospital in Fenzhou and for O.S.M.A. and its school at Taigu. Davis was appointed Field Secretary for O.S.M.A. in 1926. In 1929, she became Executive Secretary, serving until her retirement in 1941. During her tenure, the curriculum, faculty, and student body at the Taigu school were strengthened and new buildings erected. Teaching, coaching, and other activities expanded at Ming Hsien, the school built on land received by the American Board as restitution for losses in the Boxer Uprising.

In addition to her advocacy work for O.S.M.A., Lydia Davis became a well-known speaker and fundraiser for the American missionary work of the Congregational Church in the Midwest. In 1927, she was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Home Department of the A.B.C.F.M., a post she held until 1932. Beloved by several generations of Oberlin College students who had sought her counsel and hospitality, Lydia Lord Davis died in Oberlin on November 30, 1952.

For more information, see: Oberlin College Archives

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