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Kenneth S. Davis Papers


Kenneth S Davis

The Kenneth S. Davis Papers were donated to the University Archives by his second wife, Jean Davis upon his death on June 10, 1999. The collection documents Davis' career as a prominent historian and writer. Davis' Estates holds the copyright to his work.

The Davis' Papers (1886; 1912-2000) are housed in 101 boxes and organized into 17 Series: 1) Writings/Journals; 2) Correspondence; 3) Awards/Certificates; 4) Organizations/Clubs; 5) Fellowships/Grants; 6) Speeches; 7) Literary Works; 8) Subjects; 9) Death and Memorial; 10) Davis Family; 11) Photographs; 12) Media; 13) Scrapbooks; 14) Oversize; 15) Maps; 16) Artifacts and Art; 17) Printed Material

A preliminary arrangement of the collection was made by Mary Ellen Titus, Executor of the Davis estate, prior to the papers being donated to the University Archives. Cindy Harris, Manuscripts/Collections Processor in the University Archives, processed the collection and prepared this finding aid. Student employees Lindsey Bird, Tamara DeRossi, and Mallory Peterson assisted her with the processing. The collection was assigned Accession Number P2003.09.

Davis' library was also donated. The volumes that he used extensively for his research containing his notes and comments were added to the Department of Special Collections. Other titles were transferred to the general collection of Hale Library.

Biographical Summary

Ken Davis lecturing

The Kenneth S. Davis Papers were donated to the University Archives by his second wife, Jean Davis, upon his death on June 10, 1999. The collection documents Davis' career as a prominent historian and writer, as well as other activities. Born in 1912 at Salina, Kansas, Davis has been called the most distinguished writer among the many graduates of Kansas State University, and possibly of the entire state, and one of the leading biographers in the country. He graduated from Kansas State College in 1934 with a degree in Agricultural Journalism. While at Kansas State College, Davis was a member of the Phi Kappa Phi. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa at Kansas State University in 1975.

Davis received his Masters of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1935 in Agricultural Journalism and an honorary doctorate of letters from Assumption College in 1968. He was the editor of the Newberry Library Bulletin in Chicago and a member of the State Department's UNESCO relations staff. Davis worked for a time as a reporter at the Topeka Daily Capital and served as an information specialist for the U. S. Department of Agriculture in Wisconsin and Iowa. He was a journalism instructor at New York University, adjunct professor of English at Clark University, and adjunct professor of history at both Kansas State University and University of Kansas. Davis worked as a speechwriter and advisor to Kansas State University President Milton Eisenhower and, also for United States presidential candidate Adlai E. Stevenson.

His first work, a novel published in 1942, titled In the Forests of the Night. It received a Friends of American Writers Award in 1943 and Davis considered it his best novel. Davis was urged by Milton Eisenhower to write a biography of Eisenhower's brother, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. When Davis was granted war correspondent status in London and Normandy during World War II, being attached to General Eisenhower's headquarters, he started collecting research material for his book. The biography, published in 1945, titled Soldier of Democracy: A Biography of Dwight Eisenhower, was the beginning of Davis' history writing career.

Ken Davis author of FDR: The Beckoning of Destiny

Davis was probably best known as the author of what has been called the most comprehensive biography ever written of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The first volume, FDR: The Beckoning of Destiny, 1882-1928: A History was published in 1972. It won the Francis Parkman Prize, which is considered one of the top awards in the field of history. This work was also a nominee for the National Book Award. Davis wrote four additional volumes on FDR titled, FDR: The New York Years, 1928-1933, 1974; FDR: The New Deal Years, 1933-1937, 1986; and FDR: Into the Storm, 1937-1940, 1993; and posthumous, FDR: The War President, 1940-1943: A History, 2000. The latter was completed by Mary Ellen and Ralph Titus and Robert Loomis after Davis' death. Volumes two and three were chosen as among the ten best books of the year by The New York Times.

Davis received a contract from Doubleday and Company to write a novel about Jim Lane, the militant abolitionist leader who lived near Lawrence during the years of "Bleeding Kansas" before and during the Civil War. Lane killed a man reputed to be the leader of the Underground Railroad forces smuggling escaped slaves north to freedom and often to Canada. Lane served under Lincoln during the Civil War and was a very colorful Kansas hero. This novel tentatively titled Mystic Chord was never published, because the publishers gave up on Davis when it took him nearly 30 years to complete approximately 300 pages.

Some of Davis' friends describe him as basically a shy person. Yet he could spin wonderful stories about historical figures, lacing them with personal details of other people. For example, many of the scenes and characters in The Years of the Pilgrimage and Morning in Kansas recreate the people and the surroundings typical of Manhattan, Kansas, or the country close by. Some say that Davis'characters derived from people like General Dan Casement, the elder Sikes who lived in Leonardville, Professor Lee who occasionally served as Episcopalian rector or Bluemont and Kansas State teacher, and whose daughter was long time Manhattan librarian. Generally, however, Davis did not exactly copy or parody a living character in total. He usually changed characters around to fit his plot or make his narrative point. Many who have read Morning in Kansas may note that the hero goes to Kansas State and has a hard time making his way.


1912        Sep 29, born in Salina, Kansas

1934        Editor, The Mirror, Kansas State College
            Graduated from Kansas State College with a degree in Agricultural Journalism, a member of 
               Phi Kappa Phi, received the Capper Award for the best journalistic writing of the year 
            Won scholarship to University of Wisconsin
            Reporter for Daily Capital, Topeka, KS

1935        Jun 24, Master of Science Degree in Agricultural Journalism from University of Wisconsin

1935-1940   Associate Information Specialist Soil Conservation Service, USDA, Upper Missouri Valley Region

1937        Feb 19, Married Florence Marie Olenhouse

1942-1943   Editor of the plant newspaper at Hercules Powder Company, Louisiana, Missouri

1943        Mar, Won Friends of American Writers Award for In the Forests of the Night, 1942

1944        Jan 17, Employed as temporary instructor in the Department of Industrial Journalism and Printing at 
               Kansas State College 
            Elected associate editor of the Kansas Magazine

            Mar 31, Resigned position as temporary instructor in the Dept of Industrial Journalism and Printing
            Signed contract with Doubleday Doran Publishing Company to write biography of General Dwight Eisenhower 
            War correspondent attached to SHAEF by Doubleday and Company, New York City and assigned to London and
               Normandy during World War II

1945        Biography of General Dwight Eisenhower appears in the July issue of the American Magazine

1945-1946   New York University, Instructor of Journalism 

1946-1947   Kansas State College, half-time Assistant Professor in the Dept of Industrial Journalism and Printing 
            Part-time College editor 
            Part-time federal appointment as assistant to President Milton Eisenhower in his capacity as 
               chairman of the United States national commission for the United Nations Educational Scientific 
               and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 
            Member of the UNESCO staff of the State Department

1948        Lecture, Kansas State College Recreation Center titled, "United States and Russia in World Politics"

1949        Jun 20-25, In charge of the third annual Missouri writers workshop at Missouri University, Columbia 
            Half-time College Editor
            Federal appointment ended

1951        May, Resigned as College Editor to devote full time to writing

1955-1956   Member of Presidential Candidate Adlai E. Stevenson personal staff in Chicago, as speech writer & advisor

1955-1959   Editor Newberry Library Bulletin, Newberry Library, Chicago

1959        Moved to Princeton, Massachusetts

1960        May 27, Honorable Mention, Thormod Monsen Award for The Hero, Charles A. Lindbergh and the American Dream

1962        Became member of The Century Club in New York.  His membership was promoted by Adlai E. Stevenson

1963        Centennial Award for Distinguished Service to Kansas State University	
1968        Jun 08, Honorary Doctors of Letters, Assumption College

1973        Received Francis Parkman Prize for FDR: The Beckoning of Destiny, 1882-1928

1974        Listed on pg 89 of Directory of Fellows 1925-1974, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation as a Fellow

1975        Moved back to Kansas to work on the book Kansas: A History, commissioned by the American Association 
               for State and Local History during the United States Bicentennial 
            Apr 01, Elected to Phi Beta Kappa at Kansas State University

1976        Clark University, taught The Art of Biography

1977        Kansas State University, visiting professor, History of Journalism and History Seminar 
            Achievement Award from the Kansas Authors' Club

1986        Apr 26, Certificate of Recognition from the State of Kansas

1987        First wife, Florence Olenhouse Davis, passed away

1990        Jul 21, Married second wife, Jean Stafford Dormer Davis

1991        Clark University, taught Magazine Article Writing

1992        Returned to live in Manhattan, Kansas to be near his beloved Flint Hills

1994        Sep 29, Named adjunct professor in the Dept of History at Kansas State University by vote of the 
               department faculty and with the concurrence and approval of the Dean of the College of Arts and 

1997        Participant in FDR Symposium sponsored by the K-State Department of History

1999        Jun 10, Died of cancer in Madison, Wisconsin at age 86

Scope and Content

Ken Davis with manuscript

The Kenneth S. Davis Papers (1886; 1912-2000) documents Davis's career as a prominent historian and writer. Davis's Estate holds the copyright to his literary works. The majority of the collection is related to his writings. The collection is organized in 17 Series: 1) Writings/Journals; 2) Correspondence; 3) Awards/Certificates; 4) Organizations/Clubs; 5) Fellowships/Grants; 6) Speeches; 7) Literary Works; 8) Subjects; 9) Death & Memorial; 10) Davis Family; 11) Photographs; 12) Media; 13) Scrapbooks; 14) Oversize; 15) Maps; 16) Artifacts and Art; 17) Printed Material.

The Writings/Journals Series (1919; 1935-1967) consist of one box and includes some of Davis's early writing efforts when he was seven years old. Davis kept journals for the years 1935, 1937, 1941, 1953 through 1955, 1961, and 1966 through 1967. In 1958, Davis began keeping a journal with his wife Florence (Flo) Olenhouse Davis and they continued writing in the same journal through 1959. This series also includes some of Flo's writing efforts. While she was never published, Flo was a highly skilled and diverse writer who wrote about topics that interested her such as trains, souvenirs from Chicago, and relatives.

Contained in 12 boxes the Correspondence Series (1934-1999) includes letters between Davis and his agents and publishers and editors, and other correspondence. The agents letters are arranged chronologically in one box while the publishers/editors are arranged alphabetically and stored three boxes. Other correspondence is arranged alphabetically, consists of eight boxes, and includes letters from historians David McCullough, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and William Shirer. Some other correspondence of interest includes letters from Kansas individual such as Dave Kendall host of the PBS show Sunflower Journeys, Bill Koch, Karl Menninger of the Menninger Foundation, and Richard Seaton of The Manhattan Mercury newspaper. Davis received letters from K-State individuals such as Betty Bailey, Earle and Kay Davis, George Kren, Don Mrozek, Homer Socolofsky, Ralph Titus, President Jon Wefald, and Dent Wilcoxon.

The Awards/Certificates Series (1935-2000) is housed in one box and includes the Friends of American Writers Award that Davis won in 1943 for his fiction novel In the Forests of the Night, the 1960 Thormod Monsen Award for The Hero, Charles A. Lindbergh and the American Dream, and the 1973 Francis Parkman Prize for FDR: The Beckoning of Destiny, 1882-1928. In 1963 Davis received the Centennial Award for Distinguished Service at K-State, he received an Honorary Doctorate degree from Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1968, and in 1975 he became a member of Phi Beta Kappa at K-State. Between 1967 and 2000, Davis was often listed in the Marquis Who's Who in America.

Housed in one box, the Organizations/Clubs Series (1952-1999) includes Davis's membership in Society of American Historians, Bohemians, Inc., Century Club, and Dickens Fellowship and some other documents related to the organizations. Of interest in the Society of American Historians is correspondence from Kenneth T. Jackson announcing in 1973 that Davis won the Francis Parkman Prize and had been elected to membership in the society. Davis presented programs to the Bohemians including "What's Wrong With The Press," "The Problem of a Biographer," and "Puritan Kansas: New England Influence" and gave a speech about remembering Clarence Daigneau. Adlai E. Stevenson proposed Davis as a member of the Century Club in New York City and William Shirer also played an instrumental role in Davis's election into the club. Davis and his wife, Flo, were active in the Dickens Society in Worcester, Massachusetts and this section includes newspaper clippings about the Society's Christmas dinners.

The Fellowship and Grants Series (1953-1982) is contained in one box that includes documents on Guggenhiem Fellowships, National Endowment for the Humanities grants, the Stern Family Fund, and the Woodrow Wilson Scholar. In 1961, Davis applied for a Guggenhiem Fellowship, however, it was not granted and in 1974, he received a $12,000 grant. In 1980, Davis applied for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, but he did not the grant.

Contained in four boxes, the Speeches Series (1942-1998), includes Davis's 1943 acceptance speech for Friends of Americans Writer Award he received for his novel In The Forests Of The Night. Other speeches of interest in this series include Davis's 1947 speech for the Topeka Chapter of the League of Women Voters titled "UNESCO-Its Nature and Function," his 1971 speech for Assumption College titled, "Thinking About FDR: Some Problems Of A Biographer," his 1975 speech at the Kansas State Historical Society Dinner titled, "Portrait of a Changing Kansas," and his 1994 Lou Douglas Lecture at K-State titled, "Mass Communication and the American Democracy." Davis and his wife, Flo, were actively involved in the Dickens Society and speeches of interest to this group include the 1962 "Of Dickens and 'Bleak House'" and the 1968 "Edwin Drood Concluded, Again," speeches.

Ken Davis working, 1968

Literary Works (1934-2000) is comprised of 51 boxes containing Davis's works of published and unpublished articles, manuscripts, book reviews, essays, poems and short stories. The series is chronological within each section, except for the published books, which are in alphabetical order. The most notable of the literary works is Davis's Franklin D. Roosevelt manuscripts, which includes his research for the series of books, working drafts, and manuscript chapters. A sub-category of the FDR manuscripts is the 1997 FDR Symposium at K-State that includes the book from the symposium, correspondence, invitation, programs, and the speech Davis gave at the Symposium. Those who participated in the symposium with Davis were Nancy Kassebaum Baker, James MacGregor Burns, Doris Kearns Goodwin, William E. Leuchténburg, and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Other subjects Davis wrote about that are of interest include Kansas history, Clarence Darrow, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Robert H. Goddard, James Lane, Charles A. Lindbergh, Adlai E. Stevenson, Eli Thayer and topics such as the birth control pill, fire departments, Kansas history, social security, stone walls, and UNESCO.

The Subjects Series (1942-1971) is housed in five (5) boxes and consist of information pertaining to Milton Stover Eisenhower (K-State President and his work with UNESCO, Alexander Meiklejohn who was a professor of Davis's at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Adlai E. Stevenson, who lost by landslides in two races for president against Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1962. The files contain correspondence between Davis and each of the individuals, speeches that Davis wrote for Eisenhower and Stevenson, other correspondence, newspaper clippings and programs.

Death and Memorial Series (1999) is stored in two boxes and consist of Davis's death certificate, eulogies, funeral papers, memorial service, obituaries and sympathy cards. Davis Family Series (1907-1999) is comprised of nine (9) boxes. Two (2) boxes are made up of family documents, three (3) boxes contain French souvenir postcards that Charles Davis collected during World War I, and four (4) boxes contain family correspondence. Correspondence of interest are the letters between Charles and Lydia Davis while Charles was stationed in France during World War I.

The Photographs Series (ca. 1912-1999) is stored in two (2) boxes and arranged alphabetically. The majority of photographs are of family members.

The Media Series (ca. 1972-1999) is comprised of three (3) boxes. Included are 3 1/2 inch disks and 5 1/4 inch disks, and the files that where able to be retrieved from these disks. Documents retrieved from the disk include correspondence and manuscript that are not found anywhere else in the collection. Items of interest are correspondence between Davis and his last editor Robert Loomis of Random House and some drafts of Davis' first FDR books.

There are three (3) Scrapbooks in the collection: In The Forests Of The Night, 1942, Soldier of Democracy, 1945, and A Prophet In His Own Country, 1957. Because of their fragile conditions, the scrapbooks were taken apart and photocopied. Each scrapbook includes book reviews and correspondence.

The Oversize Items (1927-1997) is stored in one box. The Oversize Items includes Davis's 1927 Junior High School Diploma, his 1930 High School Diploma, and his 1934 Kansas Agricultural College Diploma. It also includes the 1973 Francis Parkman Prize certificate, the 1994 Lou Douglas Lecture Poster (Davis was the speaker), 1996 Presidential prints of President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore, and two posters from the 1997 FDR symposium.

The Map Series (1919-1985) is stored with the Oversize Items and includes National Geographic Society magazine maps and a few maps from France dated 1919.

The Artifact and Art Series (1955-1997) is housed in (1) box and includes two caricatures of Davis, one by his first wife, Flo, and one by F. Mason. Other items include award plaques, badges, a guest book, and jewelry.

Printed Material is made up of four (4) boxes, one being a flat box for oversize documents, and consists of journals, leaflets, newspapers, pamphlets, and the Davis Family Bible dated 188 that is in the Swedish language.

Container List

LtoR: Charles Hostetler, Ken Davis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker, Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Julie Hostetler