Descriptive inventory for the William J. Davis, Will J. Davis, and family photograph collection, 1860-1920

William J. Davis, Will J. Davis, and family photograph collection

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Descriptive inventory for the William J. Davis, Will J. Davis, and family photograph collection, 1860-1920

Prepared by Kathelijne Zadrozny, 2008.
Please address questions to:
Chicago History Museum, Research Center
1601 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614-6038
Instructions for accessing this collection

Collection Overview +/-

Title: William J. Davis, Will J. Davis, and family photograph collection, circa 1860-1920 (inclusive)
Creator: William J. Davis
Dates: circa 1860-1920 (inclusive)
Accession number: 2007.0124.2-10
Bib number: 00209229
Call number: 2007.0124 PPL
Size: 6 linear feet, including 910 images (23 boxes)
Language of material:Collection is written in English.

Provenance statement:

Gift of Mrs. Alison Carroll on July 29, 2003 (Accession number: 2007.0124.2-10).

Terms governing use:

No known restrictions.


Collection is available for research.

Please cite this collection as:

William J. Davis, Will J. Davis, and family photograph collection, 1860-1920 (Chicago History Museum) plus a detailed description, date, and box/folder number of a specific item.

Additional Materials +/-

Related material:

Related materials at Chicago History Museum, Research Center, include additional photographs in the William J. Davis family photographs (2002.0058); and photographic portraits of family members in composite collections, filed by name. Related manuscript materials include the Chicago fire narrative by William J. Davis; the William J. Davis papers; and the William J. Davis family items [manuscript]. There also are separately cataloged items under Davis's name, including the "Scrapbook of clippings on the appearances of the Chicago Church Choir Company in Pinafore, 1879," which Davis compiled. There also are materials donated by the estate of William J. Davis that are cataloged separately, including the Napoleon B. Bartlett letters, 1864; and the Henry Warren papers, 1846-1858 (collected by Davis).

Collection Summary +/-

Photographs relating to William J. Davis of Chicago (Ill.), who managed theaters and theatrical troupes in Chicago and on tours. The collection includes views of interiors and exteriors of the Iroquois Theater in Chicago (Ill.) prior to the 1903 fire and interior and exterior views of the Haymarket Theatre in Chicago (in box 21) as well as many photographs of Davis family members, including his mother; his wife, famed opera singer Jessie Bartlett; and their son, William. Family-related materials include views of family outings, buildings, and landscapes at Davis's farm, Willowdale, near Crown Point (Ind.), and family pets and livestock, including horses and cows.

A large section of the collection is composed of professional portrait photographs of actors and actresses collected by Davis and some autographed or inscribed to him. Many of these photographs were made for publicity purposes; some show the performers playing a role, which is identified in a label. These portraits include actors and actresses who appeared in Chicago and other United States sites, Canada, and portraits probably collected during Davis's travels and an international tour that included New Zealand, Australia, London, British Columbia, Honolulu, as well as San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Names in the collection may be confusing. The family included several men named William J. Davis and called Will or Willie. William James Davis (1844-1919) was often called Will J. Davis and his son, William Jesse Davis was sometimes called William J. Davis, Jr. Jessie Bartlett Davis had two sisters who became singers: Arabella Bartlett (1855-1874) and Josephine Bartlett Perry (1859-1910). Jessie Bartlett Davis's niece also became a singer. She was Belle Bartlett (1879-1901).

Biographical/Historical Note +/-

William J. Davis managed theaters and theatrical troupes, primarily in Chicago (Ill.) during the late 1800s, working mainly for the theatrical production partnership Klaw & Erlanger and its successor, known as the Theatrical Syndicate. He was at various times associated with the Grand Opera House, the American Opera Company, and the Haverly, Columbia, Haymarket, Illinois, and Iroquois theaters.

In 1880, Davis married opera singer Jessie Bartlett. They met in 1879, while Davis was managing her acting troupe of the opera H.M.S Pinafore, where Bartlett played her debut operatic role, Buttercup. Bartlett’s most famous role was as Alan a-Dale in the opera Robin Hood (1890), and she recorded popular parlor songs in 1900. William and Jessie had one son who survived them, William Jesse Davis, who worked with his father in theater management as an adult. The Davis family owned a home on Grand Avenue in Chicago as well as a farm, named Willowdale, near Crown Point, Indiana.

Davis was manager of the Iroquois Theater at the time of the 1903 fire, which caused 604 deaths and remains the worst single-building fire in U.S. history. In 1902, Davis and Harry J. Powers had leased the theater building located at 24-28 West Randolph Street (between State and Dearborn streets) in Chicago, Illinois. Davis managed this theater, eventually called the Iroquois Theater, for Frohman, Klaw, and Erlanger. The theater was advertised as "Absolutely Fireproof" on its playbills and was equipped with an asbestos curtain to block the audience from any fire that began on the stage. Despite these precautions, on December 30, 1903, a devastating fire broke out during a matinee showing of the musical, Mr. Bluebeard. Over 1,900 patrons were in the audience, most of them women and children.

Catalog Subject Headings +/-

Livestock -- Indiana -- Crown Point -- 1860-1920.
Actors -- 1860-1920. Actresses -- 1860-1920.
Families -- Illinois -- Chicago -- 1860-1920.
Families -- Indiana -- Crown Point -- 1860-1920.
Farms -- Indiana -- Crown Point -- 1860-1920.
Opera -- Illinois -- Chicago -- 1870-1910.
Singers -- 1860-1920.
Theater -- Illinois -- Chicago -- 1860-1920.
Theatrical managers -- Illinois -- Chicago -- 1860-1920.
Travel -- 1870-1910.
Women singers -- United States -- 1870-1910.
Davis, Jessie Bartlett, 1859-1905 -- Portraits.
Davis, Will J. -- Portraits.
Davis, William James, 1844-1919 -- Homes and haunts.
Davis, William James, 1844-1919 -- Portraits.
Haymarket Theatre (Chicago, Ill.) -- Photographs.
Iroquois Theater (Chicago, Ill.) -- Photographs.
Willowdale Farm (Crown Point, Ind.)
Albumen prints.
Cabinet photographs.
Cartes de visite.
Gelatin silver prints.
Group portraits.
Photograph albums.
Photographic prints.
Portrait photographs.
Chicago (Ill.) -- 1860-1920.
Chicago (Ill.) -- Social life and customs.
Crown Point (Ind.) -- 1890-1920.
Madison (Wis.) -- Social life and customs.

Organization and Arrangement of Collection +/-

The collection is arranged in two series.

Click on heading to view series description.

Series 1. Family and farm (box 1-4)
Series 2. Theater (box 5-22)

About This Finding Aid +/-

Creation: Finding aid encoded by Dana Lamparello using Oxygen editor, 2015.
Language: Finding aid is written in English.
Other Finding Aids: Finding aid also submitted to Explore Chicago Collections portal.
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