|Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary|
At a Glance
This collection is organized in one series arranged by format.
Scope and Contents
This collection contains diaries, address books, expense records, photographs, a copy of the 1946 Anglican Bishops Report from the Diocese of Rangoon, and other personal items relating to Davis's life before, during, and after her missionary work in Burma from 1899-1931. The bulk of the collection is diaries. Earlier diary entries (1892-1899) reveal the details of her final years at Franklin College, her announcement to her father of her intention to become a foreign missionary, and her entrance into the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Union's training program in Chicago. There are only two brief diaries from her time in Burma: one from February 1900, and a later entry on scrap paper from July 22, 1916. These entries, however, contain information including the weather in Burma, descriptions of the villages, relationships between Protestant and Catholic missionary stations, and folk tales from the Karen people, an ethnic group in Southern Burma. Most of the diaries in the collection document Davis's life after returning to the United States; spanning from 1932 to 1940, they discuss her life traveling locally and participating in various church-related activities, as well as the details of her family relationships, and records of the weather with great consistency and detail. In addition to diaries, the collection contains nine address books, six ledgers of Davis' expense records that date from 1916 to 1937, and three memo books containing a combination of addresses, expenses, notes, and diary entries, some of which relate to her time in Burma. The collection also includes an undated account of Davis' memories from childhood, some correspondence, a Longmans' Burmese Primer from 1933 with language exercises in Burmese phonetics, an undated class grade record, and a document entitled "Ecclesia Resurgens: Bishop's Report for the half year ending 31st Dec. 1945." Printed in 1946, this report was compiled by George Algernon West, Anglican Lord Bishop of Rangoon, who was one of the first British civilians allowed back into Burma after the defeat of the Japanese in World War II. It details his experience of post-war return, including an account of rebuilding his cathedral, which had been converted into a distillery for Japanese occupiers, the process of re-establishing the diocesan administration, and stories of Christian victory and persecution during wartime. There is also scrapbook of photographs, some of which are presumably from her time in Burma.
Burke Library record group:
Missionary Research Library Archives: MRL4, Southeast Asia
Using the Collection
Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary
Conditions Governing Access
This collection may contain some restricted material. Restrictions related to specific material are listed in the detailed contents list.
Conditions Governing Use
Some material in this collection may be protected by copyright and other rights. Information concerning copyright, fair use, and reproduction requests can be consulted at Columbia's Copyright Advisory Office.
Item description, MRL 4: Bertha E. Davis papers, 1892-1960 series #, box #, folder #, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Formerly part of the independent Missionary Research Library (MRL), these records were accessioned by the Burke Library at the time of the MRL's closure in 1976.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary
Metal clips and staples were removed from materials except for those that would have been further damaged by their removal. Materials were placed in new acid-free folders and boxes. Acidic items were separated from one another by interleaving with acid-free paper as needed. Books were placed in acid-free envelopes or wrapped. Any items in an advanced state of deterioration were placed in Mylar envelopes. The finding aid was created by Kristen Leigh Southworth in 2012 with the support of the Henry Luce Foundation, and edited by Leah Edelman in 2021.
2021-09-28 PDF converted to EAD and description updated by Leah Edelman.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
Bertha Ettie Davis was born on November 18, 1871 to a farming family in Livonia, Indiana. Davis graduated from Franklin College in 1896, and in September 1898 took her missionary entrance examination in Chicago; eight months later she completed her training with the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society. Davis was initially appointed to Tharrawaddy Station in Burma, and was later sent to Mandalay. She is documented as having lived in Burma from December 1899-April 1907, December 1908-August 1911, and May 1916-April 1922, but her diaries indicate that she served as a missionary until 1931, when she returned home from Rangoon to be close to her aging mother and family. Davis' missionary work was primarily in education. In a 1906 report she was acknowledged for the important help she gave in the high school, as well as her special supervision of the lower classes. The success of the primary department was credited to her as well. Davis was concerned with the preaching of the Gospel and with creating "civilized" Christian communities in contrast to her critical perception of Catholic villages. Three years after her return to the United States in 1934, she suffered from a gastrointestinal illness that doctors could not identify. She was hospitalized in Billings, Montana for nearly two months, and continued receiving tests and injections after her release with no known diagnosis. Davis never married, and continued traveling in the vicinity and pursuing local church work. After her mother died in December 1937, she admitted to never really feeling at home in Indiana and wanted to return to Burma. Instead, in 1939 she traveled extensively on the West coast before moving to Orlando, FL that same year. Davis later returned to Salem, IN, where she died in July 1970 at the age of 98.