Scope and arrangement
The collection (1928-1978; bulk dates 1936-1955) of letters, writings, printed material and photographs, primarily documents the relationship between Edgar Lee Masters and Alice Elizabeth Davis. The Masters-Davis Correspondence, 1936-1944, chronicles their close relationship, particularly from the perspective of Masters. These letters date from their meeting in the lobby of the Hotel Chelsea during the Great Depression through the period of Masters' impoverishment during the 1940s. Although Masters lived until 1950, no other letters were passed between the two of them, due to changed personal circumstances of their lives. With few exceptions, the letters are from Masters to Davis. Since both parties lived in the Hotel Chelsea, many of the letters were written when one or the other was away on business or personal matters.
Articles written about Masters indicate that he could appear abrupt in manner or reserved in public. However, his letters to Davis reveal a side to his personality not often seen by others; the tone is poetic, the manner, light and playful. Often Masters wrote whole pages of poetry to Davis without any accompanying correspondence; other letters appear as if they were part of a diary. Masters occasionally signed his favorite nickname: "Lute Puckett". Several months after they met, in a letter dated September 20, 1936, Masters gave Davis the copyright of his "Anita" poems; Anita was one of his favorite pen names for her. Masters also enjoyed referring to Davis as a "precious hen" or "sweetest hen". Once in a while, Masters sketched pictures of a rooster chasing a hen. On Valentine's Day, Masters showered Davis with several Valentine cards declaring his love for her (signed in pseudonym). Only one of Davis' responses to these letters is in this collection.
From late 1943 to 1944, the period during which Masters' mental and physical health began to deteriorate, he continued to write to Davis. His letters were finally reduced to pencil notes in an almost illegible hand. Despite these dire conditions, his letters to her remained upbeat. In the one extant from Davis to Masters, dated February 4, 1944, she hints at the trouble in both of their lives. In her opening statements, she asks about his health, remarking that it has been two months "since you embarked upon your illness". Davis does not specify what the illness is. The tone of the letter is one of despair over the fact that Masters is no longer living at the Hotel Chelsea and that she is alone. She quickly shifts the subject to World War II and anguishes over the United States' involvement in the war. Throughout this four-page typewritten letter, Davis covers a number of topics, including local gossip and family matters, finally returning to Masters' state of health. This is a most interesting and revealing letter marking the breakup of their relationship.
The remainder of Masters' letters consists of correspondence with friends and colleagues; the most prominent correspondent is H. L. Mencken, a friend to both Masters and Davis. Masters' writings consist of a poetry scrapbook (1935-1936) and an assortment of miscellaneous poetry.
Alice Elizabeth Davis' one surviving letter to Masters discloses little about her relationship with Masters. Her General Correspondence is more revealing with regard to this aspect of her personal life as well as to her relationships with others. The bulk of the letters are incoming to Davis. These indicate that she had an extensive group of friends and colleagues separate from Masters. For example, the prominent illustrator and traveler Edward C. Caswell sent Davis close to a dozen beautifully illustrated letters, an indication that they were good friends. Among the friends that Davis and Masters shared were Theodore Dreiser and H. L. Mencken. Mencken's letters (1942-1955) to Davis indicate that the two shared many sociable evenings together and that he gave her moral support during the years of Masters' declining health. A dozen interesting letters were sent by Dorothy Fitzgerald (Mrs. James Edward) in response to letters sent from Davis. (There is one surviving copy of a Davis letter to Fitzgerald in this series.) Fitzgerald's letters are not dated. However, they were evidently written shortly before and after Masters' death. One undated letter (c. 1949) was written shortly after Davis married her first husband; Fitzgerald's comments appear to based on what Davis told her. In reply, Fitzgerald writes back, "Of course I don't expect you to make this marriage last, it does not sound like you in the least; but it sounds like what it needed to be a drug, a stop-gap, a bridge between one life and another..." In other letters, Fitzgerald reminiscences about what Masters said about Davis. In an undated letter to Fitzgerald, Davis writes about Masters' awkward social skills with people and his uneasy and distant relationship with his children.
Another interesting side of Davis' personality is the relationship she developed with Masters' relatives, including his children. One of the most revealing letters is one written by Davis when she was 70 years old to Hardin Masters, Edgar Lee Masters' son. Davis wrote about the difficulties she faced after her breakup with his father. Other letters from Masters' relatives reveal a cordial relationship with her. Davis' relationship with Hardin appears to be particularly close; she corresponded with him sporadically from 1944 to 1978. Other relatives wrote as well, including Marcia Masters, Edgar Lee Masters' daughter. While this collection is highly reflective of Masters and Davis' relationship with one another, and to a certain extent their relationships with others, it sheds little light on Masters' relationship with his two wives, and provides very little information about his children. The same may also be said about Davis' feelings about Masters' wives and about her relationship with her own family and relatives.
The collection contains writings by Davis, including her manuscripts for Evenings with Edgar, (typed with handwritten annotations), "After Spoon River - What? " and "Scrutiny of a Port". A photograph album contains pictures of Davis, Masters and others with annotations. The balance of the material consists of an assortment of printed material chiefly pertaining to Masters, and photographs of Masters taken at various locations (see: Photoprints list).
Three series: I. Edgar Lee Masters Correspondence and Poetry; II. Alice Davis Journal and Correspondence; III. Printed Material