Bessie was born on April 5, 1866, the eldest daughter of Michael Davis and Rebecca Ruth Mettam. Her father Michael was a German immigrant, and probably traveled to the U.S. sometime in the 1850s. Though Bessie's mother Rebecca was born in Maryland, her parents were English immigrants. Bessie's maternal grandfather Joseph Mettam was a well-known minister who served as the pastor of the Pikesville Baptist Church, now the Mettam Memorial Baptist Church, for over fifty years.
Michael Davis and Rebecca Mettam were married in Pikesville by Rebecca's father on October 8, 1863. By the 1870 census, the couple were living near Reisterstown and had three daughters, Bessie, Annie, and Carrie. Michael was a farmer and owned real estate valued at $7,500. A laborer, William Bean, was also living with the family.
The Davises would welcome two sons and another daughter in the coming years, before tragedy befell the family in November of 1877. Perhaps some illness struck, as three of the children died within weeks of each other: Annie, almost ten years old; Alice, just two weeks shy of her sixth birthday; and Henry, three years old.
In the 1880 census, Michael was now working as a carpenter. Bessie and her sister Carrie were attending school, while their mother Rebecca was keeping house with their new one-year-old brother, Reister.
Bessie graduated from Reisterstown High School, now Franklin, in 1886. The year prior, her father had purchased a plot of land for $240 along Central Avenue in Glyndon in trust for Bessie. There were some interesting conditions required in the deed. The Davises were not allowed to "make or sell any speritous or intoxicating liquors, except for medical use", nor to build a slaughter house, lime kiln, glue factory, bone mill, soap factory, or stable. Further, they would have to put in a board walk and plant trees along Central Avenue. For reasons unknown, Michael sold the land in 1887 for $300, this time without any conditions attached.
The following year, on September 18, 1888, Michael Davis passed away at the age of 52.
Around this time, Bessie began teaching history and civil government at the Reisterstown High School. In 1892, she was appointed assistant principal, a position she still held when the school was renamed Franklin High School a few years later in 1896. In the photo below, taken in 1898, Bessie is standing on the far left, with Principal Zachariah Ebaugh in the center of the group. Her youngest sister Katherine would graduate from Franklin the following year.
In early 1892, Bessie's mother Rebecca purchased a plot of land for $300 from John and Catherine Dean at the sharp curve near the south end of town, near present-day 500 Main Street. The location was marked "Mrs. Davis" on an 1898 map of Reisterstown.
In the 1900 census, 34-year-old Bessie was listed as a teacher, living with her mother and three younger siblings. Her sister Caroline was a music teacher, and brother Reister was a fireman.
Late in the evening on August 31, 1901, Bessie was returning home on the electric railway line on Main Street after visiting with friends. She missed the stop near her home, and hurried up to the conductor, asking him to stop the car. He told Bessie that he couldn't stop the car until the next stop on the line, and tried to grab a hold of her arm. As the conductor rang the bell to signal to the car's motorman, Bessie jumped off the moving car.
After stopping the car, Bessie was found unconscious on the side of the road, and carried to her home. She had suffered a concussion on the left side of her head from the fall, leaving the right side of her body paralyzed. Though she attempted to move her left arm a few times, Bessie never fully regained consciousness, and passed away the following day.
Because Bessie herself was never able to give a statement about what had caused her fall, an inquest was held to determine if she had jumped from the car, or had been thrown by the car's movement. Though the motorman and several of the passengers were unable to say for certain what had happened, the conductor and a few other witnesses testified that Bessie had jumped. While the conductor claimed that the car was moving at over twenty miles an hour, the motorman stated that the cars never go faster than fourteen miles per hour.
The inquest determined that Bessie had jumped from the car, but also stated that "this would have been prevented had the conductor been better acquainted with the road and people, which lack of acquaintance results from the system of the railway company in frequently changing conductors on this route."
A funeral service led by five local ministers was held at the Southern Methodist Church, which proved to be too small to hold the all of the mourners wishing to attend. Several members of Franklin High's alumni association served as pall bearers. Rev. William M. Waters, the church's pastor, sang "Nearer, Yet Nearer" and read a poem, "Fate", found in a notebook that Bessie had been carrying the night of the accident.
Bessie's siblings were:
- Annie Louisa Davis, 1867-1877
- Caroline "Carrie" Davis, 1869-1939, wife of Cardiff Tagart Hollingsworth
- Alice Barker Davis, 1871-1877
- Henry Davis, 1874-1877
- William Reister Davis, 1879-1958, husband of Clara Marie Chason
- Katherine Turner Davis, 1881-1963, unmarried
Ancestry.com (census records & map)
- Year: 1870; Census Place: District 4, Baltimore, Maryland; Roll: M593_569; Pages: 263B-264A.
- Year: 1880; Census Place: District 4, Baltimore, Maryland; Roll: 495; Page: 571A.
- Year: 1900; Census Place: District 4, Baltimore, Maryland; Roll: 606; Page: 3A.
- "Married." Date: 14 October 1863; Page: 2.
- "Death Of An Aged Minister." Date: 2 February 1888; Page: 6.
- "Died." Date: 19 September 1888; Page: 2.
- "Franklin High School." Date: 24 June 1898; Page: 7.
- "Franklin High School." Date: 24 June 1899; Page: 7.
- "Suburbs And County." Date: 2 September 1901; Page: 7.
- "Jury Says Miss Davis Jumped." Date: 3 September 1901; Page: 7.
- "Suburbs And County." Date: 4 September 1901; Page: 7.
- 1898 & 1901 Franklin High School Photos