Lisa A. Long
Rebecca Blaine Harding Davis was born in the home of her maternal aunt and namesake, Rebecca Wilson Blaine, in Washington, Pennsylvania, on June 24, 1831. Rebecca and her parents, Richard Harding and Rachel (Leets) Harding, spent five years in Big Springs, Alabama, before settling in Wheeling, West Virginia, where Richard became a businessman and civic official. In her late- life autobiography, Bits of Gossip, Davis remembers her childhood in Wheeling wistfully, as an "isolated and calm life" (5). Her British father, a sometimes distant figure, transmitted his literary enthusiasm to his eldest daughter, reciting Shakespeare and weaving romantic tales for his children. Rebecca and her four brothers and sisters were educated at home by their mother, a member of a prominent Pennsylvania family, whom Davis ardently admired as having "enough knowledge to fit out half a dozen modern college bred women" ( Bits 9). Davis returned to her aunt's house to attend Washington Female Seminary from 1844 to 1848. Yet while Davis's brother continued his education at Washington College, Rebecca, her class valedictorian, returned home.
Legend has it that the unknown Davis burst upon the literary scene thirteen years later with the publication of the highly acclaimed "Life in the Iron-Mills." Yet we now know that Davis spent at least some of the years between her graduation and her Atlantic Monthly premiere honing her craft as a poet, reviewer, and sometime editor for the Wheeling Intelligencer, the largest newspaper in western Virginia. James T. Fields, the renowned editor of the Atlantic, had nothing but praise for Davis's first "serious" effort; he sent her $50 for "Life," eagerly solicited future work, and secured an exclusive agreement with