Sam Davis Home Executive Director Jenny Lamb began a new chapter in the history of the Sam Davis Home and Plantation by opening the archives for the first time to show what the lives of the Davis women were like in the late nineteenth century for Women’s History Month.
“It’s not just about Sam,” Lamb said at Out of the Vault: A Behind the Scenes Look at the Davis Women. “The Davis women were very strong, well educated, and fashionable.”
Lamb says that there has long been a misconception that the Davis family was middle class, but they were of the planter class, with over 50 slaves. What made them seem different to other planters is that they were hard workers and got out into the fields with their slaves.
“Sam’s mother, Jane Simmons Davis, was raised upper class and well educated,” said Lamb, “and she saw to it that both the boys and the girls were given an education. One sister, Margaret, attended Mary Sharp College in Winchester.”
Photos from the archives show that the Davis women were fashionable, and were wealthy enough to buy the latest styles. One photo, of Ruth Cordell Davis Glymph, shows her with her first husband, Sam’s half-brother Alfred, in the hottest style of the day – the Gibson Girl “pigeon dress,” which had a puffed front, tight waist, and bustled back.
“The women are often overshadowed by Sam’s story,” said Lamb, “but his tragic death thrust them into the limelight, causing them to have to mourn in public, and relive the loss again and again.”
Many artifacts from these ladies have been, until now, hidden away in the vaults. But Lamb plans to pull more out of the vaults, not just about the Davis women, but also about the slaves, and other people who lived on the plantation.
“I plan to have short term exhibitions in the museum of these artifacts we are showing today,” said Lamb, “and many other items.”
Some of the items shared included a long coil of hair from Andromedia (pronounced ANDRO – media) Davis, Sam’s sister-in-law; a beautiful handmade wedding ring quilt that his mother, Jane Simmons Davis, had created for Sam; and a shoe from Ida King Davis’ wedding ensemble.
“These women seem so real,” said attendee Margie Cagle Weatherford, after the event. “you really brought them to life.”
Weatherford also brought up some of the tragedy that followed the family after the loss of Sam. Ruth, Alfred’s second wife, came into the family after her sister, Lena, was killed by an estranged husband, who then committed suicide. Her own husband, Alfred, later committed suicide himself.
“But she continued to live into old age,” said Taylor Gentry, Director of Outreach and Programming. “And Media Matthews Sinnott, one of Sam’s nieces, was the first regent on the Board of Directors for Sam Davis Home, when it became a historic landmark in the 1930s. She lived into the 1980s.”
Surviving tragedy, building families, and creating beautiful things for their children, were only part of the story of the Davis women. They not only stood behind their men, but they helped to build the legacy of Sam’s story, hosting picnics for Civil War veterans on the lawns well after the war, and helping to build the museum that allows future generations to learn about the past.
Sam Davis Home and Plantation offers a number of educational tours, camps, and activities that happen on the farm.
Sam Davis Home Museum & Plantation
1399 Sam Davis Road
Smyrna, TN 37167
Cost: $10 to $15, Children under 6 Free
Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. January – May, September – December
9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. June -August