Florence Harriet Brennan was born October 26, 1868 in Merrickville, Ontario, the daughter of Edward and Joanna Branick Brennan. She came to Pembina County, Dakota Territory, in 1880 along with her parents, five brothers, and two sisters.
Florence attended school at Pembina and Bathgate, Pembina County and secured a teacher's certificate in 1888 to teach near Cavalier. Later that same year, she attended the elementary school course at the University of North Dakota and then continued her rural school teaching near Hamilton and Tyner until 1893 when she married Allen Baldwin, hardware store owner, at Bathgate. They had one child, Elaine, born in May 1894. Allen Baldwin died July 1, 1895, presumably of tuberculosis.
Elaine went to live with her maternal grandparents at Bathgate while Florence continued to teach in Pembina county rural schools. She attended a Minneapolis business school, but the date is unknown. Nevertheless, in 1900 she was engaged in secretarial work for UND Professor of Biology, Melvin Brannon. She became an active Women's Club member in the Monday Night Club of Grafton. She moved to Bismarck in 1903 where she was employed by several state officials and as secretary of the North Dakota legislative assemblies.
Florence married Larimore lawyer, Albert A. Davis, formerly of Bismarck, on October 12, 1908, in the Governor's mansion. They had one child, Brennan Briggs, born July 8, 1912. Elaine graduated from Larimore High School in May 1912 and entered UND the fall of that year. Florence was again widowed, however there is no death date available for Davis. Florence and son Brennan moved to St. Thomas where her sister, Amelia, (Mrs. Archie O'Connor) resided. In 1913, Florence, Brennan and grandmother Brennan moved to Grand Forks to join Elaine where they stayed until Elaine graduated from UND in 1916. It was then that Florence entered the University of Wisconsin Library School. Brennan was left in the care of his grandmother at St. Thomas. Florence completed library training and became the first librarian at the Bismarck Public Library, September 1917. She moved on to become the librarian of the State Historical Society in 1925 where she remained until retirement on December 31, 1949, at the age of 81.
Davis was active in the North Dakota Federation of Women's Clubs beginning in 1900 and held many offices. She was a member of the Bismarck Fortnightly Club, the Arts and Letters Club, Garden Club, and helped to organize the Bismarck chapter of the Pioneer Daughters. After retirement, Davis made her home with her daughter, Elaine, Mrs. Alvin Derby in Norfolk, Virginia. Florence Davis died March 8, 1958 at Richmond, Virginia.
The Florence H. Davis Papers consist of correspondence from 1894 to 1945. The correspondence is scattered; there is no long run of letters from any one correspondent. The majority are letters from family members to Davis. The collection contains only two letters written by Davis, one to her sister, Amelia Brennan O'Connor, of St. Thomas, North Dakota in 1894 and the other to her niece, Mary Brennan Harstad, and her husband, Kenneth, in 1936. Family member correspondents include Davis' mother, Joanna Branick Brennan, Bathgate, North Dakota; her sister, Amelia; her daughter, Elaine Baldwin Derby, Shidler, Oklahoma; her son, Brennan Briggs Davis, Savage, Montana and Moscow, Idaho; a brother, Stephen Brennan, who had been sent to California to recuperate from tuberculosis and died there; a brother, James P. Brennan, and his wife, Margaret, Savage, Montana; cousins Mary Jane Brennan, Merrickville, Ontario, Canada and Martha Scott, Smith Falls, Ontario, Canada; and various friends.
The letters relate to a variety of family activities and concerns and date primarily from the late 1890s to the late 1920s and early 1930s. They describe life in small town North Dakota, births and deaths, marriages, illnesses, particularly tuberculosis, schooling, social life, and general news of family and neighbors. Her daughter, Elaine, often wrote about life in the Oklahoma oil fields in the late 1920s. Her brother-in-law, Archie O'Connor, and brother, James P. Brennan, corresponded about Democratic politics in North Dakota and Montana respectively.
The correspondence in the Davis collection is arranged by the relationship of the correspondent to Florence Davis and also chronologically. The two letters written by Davis precede those written by close family members to Davis. These are followed by incoming letters from distant relatives and friends arranged chronologically. Correspondence between family members other than Davis concludes the letters.