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Mollie Moore Davis

Mollie Moore Davis, a successful author and poet, was well known for the French Quarter literary salon she led for writers and artists.

Mollie Moore Davis

Courtesy of 217 United Daughters of the Confederacy

Mollie Moore Davis. Unidentified

Poet, short-story writer, novelist, playwright, and memoirist, Mollie Moore Davis was one of the most commercially successful professional writers in turn-of-the-century New Orleans. Her work was published by Houghton Mifflin and appeared in magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly and the Saturday Evening Post. Along with George Washington Cable and Grace King, she helped create the image of Creole New Orleans in the American mind. In New Orleans, she was a regular contributor to Eliza Jane Nicholson’s Picayune, and her salon in the French Quarter attracted national literati, giving local writers opportunities for publication.

Born Mary Evelina Moore on April 12, 1844, in Talladega, Alabama, she was the second of nine children of John Moore, a physician, and his wife, Mary Ann Crutchfield. The Moore children were taught to read and write when young by their mother. In 1855, the family moved to rural Texas, ending up on a farm outside Tyler. Because of poverty, the children’s education was hit-or-miss, but her family saw her as a talented writer from the start.

After she moved into Tyler to attend and then teach school, Davis’s poems were first published in Texas newspapers in 1860. She signed her work “Mollie E. Moore.” Although Texas seceded from the Union at the start of the Civil War, Houston remained peaceful. The publisher of the Houston Telegraph, E. H. Cushing, and his wife became her mentors, inviting her to live with them for months at a time, taking her as far afield as New York City at war’s end, and sponsoring the publication of her work. By 1867, her literary reputation was established in the South with a collected volume of poetry, Minding the Gap and other Poems.

For the next several years, she cared for her ailing mother and younger brothers and contributed to the family’s expenses through her salary from a Galveston newspaper. After her mother died and the boys were on their own, she married Major Thomas E. Davis in 1874. In 1879 the couple moved to New Orleans, where he edited the Times and later the Picayune. They rented an apartment on Royal Street in the French Quarter, then a seedy older section of New Orleans, where she established a literary and social salon. Among the writers, artists, musicians, actors, and socialites who visited there were Ellsworth and William Woodward, Kate Chopin, Lafcadio Hearn, Eliza Jane Nicholson, Eugene Fields, Frances Willard, and Booth Tarkington.

Davis was also a mainstay of the city’s culture, supporting the opera, women’s clubs, the public library, Newcomb College, the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, the illustrated periodical Art and Letters, and the forerunner of Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré.

Writing as Mollie Moore Davis or M. E. M. Davis, she published three volumes of fictionalized memoirs (subtracting eight years from her age and adding a wealthy plantation background), two short-story collections, five novels, a travel series, poetry, and plays. Although largely unknown today, her work was instrumental in creating the romantic portrait of the French Quarter that still endures. She died January 1, 1909.