Friday, July 5, 2019

Susan Rich Davison, an independent woman

Susan Rich Davison Ackiss
(photo from Ackiss Braithwaite 
tree in by
Member Name aecarswell)
The 52 Ancestors theme this week is “independent.”

Susan Rich Davison, daughter of Alexander Hamilton Davison Sr. and Ida M. Dorsey, was born on July 5, 1892 in Athens, Clarke County, Georgia. She was one of six children—Albert Edward Davison, Susan Rich Davison, Alexander Hamilton Davison Jr., Reuben Davison, Maria Davison, and one unknown. My connection to Susan, which runs through my Hobbs line, is a distant one—1st cousin 5x removed of step grandmother. We have no common relative. Susan, named for her grandmother, went by Susie, at least as a child. She was born 127 years ago today!

On June 9, 1900, Susan and her family lived on Prince Avenue in Athens. Her 41-year-old father was a merchant. Susan’s parents had been married for 15 years. Her mother, enumerated as “Alex H. Davison” with the word “wife” written beside it, had given birth to three children, all of which were living. Both Susan and her brother Albert were attending school. The census enumerator noted that Susan’s paternal grandfather was from Ireland and her maternal grandmother, Susan R. Dorsey, lived with them. The “R” must have stood for “Rich.”

Photo from The Banner,
Athens, Georgia, May 28, 1907

By the time Susan was 14-years-old, she was already performing charitable work in Athens according to the article “Davison-Nicholson Company and Its Magnificent Success” published in The Banner on May 28, 1907. Susan’s father was the founder of the Davison-Nicholson Company, a dry goods store in Athens. Susan’s mother was active in the missionary circle of the First Methodist Church in Athens. The article didn’t specify what charitable work Susan was doing but perhaps she was following in her mother’s footsteps working with the missionary circle.

On April 19, 1910, Susan and her family still lived on Prince Avenue in Athens, although the house number was different—740 vs. 708. As noted above, her father was a dry goods retail merchant. Her brother Albert, now 23 years old, was a shoe store salesman, most likely at the Davison-Nicholson Shoe Store. The last 10 years brought much sadness to the Davison household. The census enumerator records Susan’s mother as having had six children with only three living. These children were born after the 1900 census was taken and did not survive infancy. Reuben and Maria are buried at Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens. I haven’t found the name of the sixth child, nor its final resting place. Susan still lived at home on Prince Avenue in Athens but was listed separately in the 1912 Athens City Directory. She wasn’t working.

Photo from The Banner,
Athens, Georgia, May 28, 1907
As far as I can tell, Susan sought higher education at the Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia during the academic years 1916 and 1917. It was perhaps while in Virginia that she met her future husband, the Rev. Ernest Lee Ackiss, son of William Harrison Ackiss and Mary Ann Seneca. They announced their engagement in several newspapers in late January, early February 1918. At the time, Ernest was a “professor in Richmond college, Virginia, and recently appointed chaplain in the United States Navy.” With the U.S. at war, the family quickly arranged for a small wedding to take place on February 5, 1918 at the Athens home of Susan’s parents. Their marriage was widely reported in the society columns in Athens and Atlanta:
“Athens Daily Herald,” Feb. 5, 1918: Davison-Ackiss. A wedding of interest to a large circle of friends is that of Miss Susan Rich Davison and Rev. Ernest Lee Ackiss, U.S.N., which takes place this evening at 9 o’clock at the home of the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. A. H. Davison, on Prince avenue. The wedding will be a very pretty one, yet very quiet, the invitation list including only the relatives and a few friends. Mrs. Davison will be her daughter’s matron of honor, other attendants being Mrs. Albert Davison, Miss Sara Cobb, Miss Elsie Davison, of Comer, and little Miss Stark Davison and Master Richard DuPree. The groom will be attended by Mr. J. Foster Barnes, of Richmond, Va., as best man. Rev. John Davison, of Selma, Ala., will perform the ceremony. Among the out-of-town guests will be Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Davison and family, Mr. and Mrs. Julian Davison, and Mr. Emmett Davison of Woodville; Mrs. M. Colclough, of Penfield, Mr. and Mrs. T. C. Davison and family, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Rowe, of Comer.
“Athens Daily Herald,” Feb. 6, 1918: Davison-Ackiss. The details of the marriage of Miss Susan Rich Davison, only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. H. Davison, and Rev. Ernest Lee Ackiss, U.S.N., were so complete, while maintaining the simplicity that war demands, that the wedding could not have been lovelier. The beauty of the home was enhanced with United States flags, palms, ferns, festoons of smilax, many white flowers and lighted white candles. The drawing room, converted into a bower of green, was the scene of the ceremony. The altar, arranged in front of a bank of palms, was massed with palms and ferns, baskets of Easter lilies and roses alternating with cathedral candelabra. This pyramid of exquisite green and white was topped with a gracefully draped U.S. flag. In the hall, the same loveliness prevailed in the decorations, the stairway being draped with the stars and stripes, the walls wreather in Southern smilax. Mrs. Albert Davison, Misses Sara Cobb and Elsie Davison, carrying lovely bouquets of white roses, formed an aisle through which the bridal party marked from the stairway to the altar. The ceremony was performed by Rev. John E. Davison, pastor First Baptist church Selma, Ala., and the wedding march played by Haughey’s orchestra. The bride was given away by her father, her mother being the matron of honor and he (sic) sole attendance. The groom entered with his best man, Mr. J. Foster Barnes, of Richmond. The bride’s wedding dress was of exquisite ivory satin embroidered in roses. Her veil of rare lace was adjusted with a spray of orange blossoms, and she carried brides roses arranged in a shower of swansonia. Mrs. Davison wore a lovely gown of white crepe de chine, rose point lace adding a finishing touch. The dainty little niece of the bride and only grandchild in the family, dressed in white net, and Master Richard DuPress, in a white navy suit, held streamers of tulle which marked the pathway of the wedding party. After the ceremony, a reception was held, the table in the dining room having for its artistic centerpiece a large mirror outlined with a tracery of green and bearing a white satin ship filled with tiny monogramed boxes containing wedding cake. Other decorations were patriotic in detail, the red and white carnations about the room and pennants floating from the miniature battleships, suggesting our country’s colors. The bride is a charming and talented young woman and with so many friends to be interested and such ample excuse for congratulations, she and Mr. Ackiss are a center of cordial and sincere felicitations from a wide circle of admirers.
"The Atlanta Constitution," February 10, 1918: DAVISON-ACKISS. Athens, Ga., February 9.—(Special.) The marriage of Miss Susan Rich Davison and Rev. Earnest Lee Ackiss, U.S.N., was solemnized in a beautiful home ceremony Tuesday evening at 9 o’clock at the home of the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. A. H. Davison, on Prince avenue. Promptly at the appointed hour to the strains of Mendelssohn, played by Haughey’s orchestra, the bridal party descended the stairs and proceeded to the drawing room where the service was performed. Mrs. Albert E. Davison, Miss Sarah Cobb and Miss Elsie Davison stood at intervals between the stairs and the improvised altar, holding clusters of white roses, and as the tulle bearers, little Miss Mary Stark Davison and Master Richard Dupress marched an aisle was formed, marked by the tulle and flowers. Mrs. Davison, the bride’s mother, was matron of honor and entered alone. She was followed by the bride, who came in with her father, Mr. A. H. Davison. They were joined at the altar by the groom and his best man, Mr. J. Foster Barnes, of Richmond. Dr. John A. Davison, pastor of the First Baptist church, Selma, Ala., performed the ceremony, using the ring service. During it Rubenstein’s melody in F was softly played by the orchestra. The bride wore an exquisite gown of ivory satin, embroidered in roses. Her veil of real lace was held in place by a coronet of orange blossoms and she carried roses showered with swansonia. 
Following the ceremony a reception was held, attended only by relatives and a few close friends. Among those serving were Mrs. Albert E. Davison, Miss Louise Dorsey, Miss Grace Talmadge, Miss Elizabeth Harris and Miss Elsie Davison. Miss Sarah Cobb kept the bride’s book. Rev. and Mrs. Ackiss left for a wedding trip, after which they will, for a while, be at home in Annapolis.
Davison-Ackiss marriage license, Clarke County, Georgia

Twelve days after the wedding, Ernest reported for active duty at the U.S. Naval Shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts. His time in Boston was probably spent preparing for duty aboard the USS Pocahontas, where according to his Navy department bio, he would be sent in April. While Ernest was out to sea (on several different ships), Susan spent time between Athens, Georgia and Norfolk, Virginia, a large naval community. In May 1919, she was able to visit with Ernest in Norfolk while he was between overseas trips. They both headed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the summer of 1919.

Ernest Lee Ackiss Sr.
(photo from Ackiss Braithwaite
tree in by
Member Name aecarswell)
On January 28, 1920, the census enumerator recorded Susan living as a boarder in Philadelphia at 2004 Shank Street, in the home of 37-year-old Florence M. Mallalieu, a widow from Georgia. The census enumerator incorrectly listed Susan’s birth state as Pennsylvania that day. He also recorded Ernest as an officer (Lieutenant) stationed aboard the ship USS New Hampshire. Back in Athens in June 1922, Susan, an artist, used her talents to provide “hand painted souvenirs” for a Mother’s Day celebration of the Woman’s Missionary Society of the First Methodist Church that was hosted by her mother, according to an article published in the Banner-Herald on June 4. In early 1923, Ernest reported to seminary school in New York City. He was sent to the Virgin Islands later that year which is where Susan gave birth to their first child, a daughter they named Mary Dorsey Ackiss, on December 8, 1923. It was reported in the Banner-Herald on December 16, 1923:
Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Ackiss of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, West Indies, are receiving the congratulations of their friends upon the birth of a little daughter at St. Mary’s hospital December the 8th, who has been named for her two grandmothers, Mary Dorsey. Mrs. Ackiss is very pleasantly remembered here as Miss Susie Davison.
In 1925, Susan, Ernest, and Mary left for Washington, DC where he was assigned to the Bureau of Navigation. Susan’s father, Alexander, passed away in Athens, Georgia on January 10, 1926. His obituary that ran in The Atlanta Constitution noted that he was “president of the Davison-Nicholson company, department store, and prominent Athens citizen for 40 years.” Alexander was buried at Oconee Cemetery in Athens. While in Washington, DC, a second daughter, Susan Lee Ackiss, was born on February 24, 1927. Ernest’s tour in Washington, DC lasted until November 1927. In December, Ernest was assigned to the USS Saratoga which meant the family moved to the west coast, landing on Orizaba Avenue in Long Beach, California.

SS Lurline: The Matson Lines passenger liner SS Lurline
approaching Pier 10 at Honolulu in the 1930s.
Note Aloha Tower in the background. Public domain.
The Ackiss family stayed on Orizaba Avenue for a year before moving to Gladys Avenue in Long Beach where the census enumerator found them on April 2, 1930. There was a servant/nurse named Anna B. Coleman living in the home with them. Ernest was enumerated as a chaplain on the USS Saratoga. A month later on May 6, 1930, Susan gave birth in Los Angeles to her third child, a son they named Ernest Lee Ackiss Jr. Sadly, her mother Ida would not get the chance to meet him as she passed away in Athens, just four days after his birth, on May 10. Ida was buried beside her husband at Oconee Cemetery. Ernest’s service aboard the Saratoga ended in July 1930. He was then ordered to the Naval Training Station in San Diego, California. While there, the family lived at 3634 Jackdaw Street. Ernest spent the next four years in San Diego before being assigned to the USS Nevada for one year. In June 1936, Ernest was ordered to the Fourteenth Naval District in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where he remained until 1939. In May 1937, Susan threw a Japanese themed party for Ernest Jr.’s seventh birthday. The family lived on Parker Place in Honolulu at the time. They later moved to 2366 Liloa Rise in the Manoa neighborhood. They returned to the States aboard the SS Lurline. His next duty assignment was aboard the USS Pennsylvania in Long Beach, California.

Mary Dorsey Ackiss
(photo from Mills College
yearbook, Oakland,
California, 1943)
On April 4, 1940, Susan and her family lived on Roswell Avenue in San Diego, California. Ernest was a commander in the U.S. Navy. His tour on the Pennsylvania ended and his next assignment was aboard the USS Indianapolis at Pearl Harbor. On November 21, 1940, Susan, Ernest, and their three children boarded the SS Matsonia in Los Angeles and traveled first class to Honolulu, arriving on November 27. This tour ended in August 1941 and they returned to Los Angeles aboard the SS Lurline on October 3, 1941. Three years later, the family celebrated the marriage of daughter Mary, officiated by Ernest, on April 2, 1943. Mary married Lee Dillard Goolsby in Alameda, California. The Oakland Tribune reported that “The bride’s family are among the old families of the deep South and have been making their home in Coronado.” In May 1943, Ernest received his next assignment and was off to San Francisco. I haven’t found any records showing that they moved there however. That assignment lasted until November 1944 when he was next assigned to the Chaplain Division of the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, DC so they headed back to the east coast.

Susan Lee Ackiss
(photo from Berkeley
Hill School yearbook,
Berkeley, California, 1944)
Susan’s second daughter, also named Susan, also chose April for her wedding. On April 5, 1947, she married William Savale in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Susan was a long-time member of the National League of American Pen Women, a “nonprofit organization of professional women in arts, letters, and music that was founded in 1897” according to their website. In October 1948, she was a guest at a meeting of the Reno, Nevada branch. The Nevada State Journal reported that she “brought greetings from her branch [Washington, D.C.] and also told of several of their projects.” In November 1948, Susan and her daughter Susan attended a meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Both were apparently members of the Army and Navy chapter in Washington, D.C.

Ernest Lee Ackiss Jr.
(photo from Virginia
Military Institute yearbook,
Lexington, Virginia, 1955)
By 1956, Susan and Ernest had moved to Atlanta, living at 322 North Colonial Homes Circle NE according to the Atlanta City Directory. Ernest was a director of military personnel of the Baptist Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, a job he’d had since 1953. Susan was a writer of short stories and poetry and was a member of the Atlanta Writers Club. In 1954, she won an award from the Georgia Writers Association for a short story published in 1953. In February 1956, she won first prize for a short story published annually by the club. In March 1957, Susan won an honorable mention award from the Atlanta Writers Club for a piece of serious poetry. She also won an award in the jokes and humor entries category.

Susan’s husband Ernest died in an Atlanta area hospital on September 17, 1961. He was buried September 22 on Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

Markers at the top of Chaplains Hill, Arlington National Cemetery

In December 1961, Susan won second place in a short story competition of the Atlanta Authors Guild. She also received an honorable mention for poetry in the competition.

Susan died on August 28, 1988 at the age of 96, living a month shy of 27 years after Ernest’s death. The only death record I find for her is the obituary published in The Washington Post on September 1 stating that she “died following a short illness, at the Army Distaff Residence Hall” which I believe is a military retirement facility in Washington, D.C. Susan was buried beside her husband at Arlington National Cemetery on September 7, 1988. Susan was survived by her three children. I visited the cemetery several years ago and looked all over for her grave. I was just about to give up when a tourist tram drove by and I heard the tour guide say “Chaplains Hill is over there.” We followed the tram and sure enough, there it was. I found her grave at the base of the hill, near the road if I remember correctly.

Susan and Ernest's grave at Arlington National Cemetery

Full disclosure, I have never experienced military life so have no idea what it takes to be married to a career military officer. Susan’s husband was a Navy chaplain for 33 years and was stationed in many different cities. This would have required Susan to move her family and all their belongings and have to settle into a new community often. She probably also had to deal with his being deployed and traveling. Marriage to a military man would have had its ups and downs and I imagine it takes a very independent woman to deal with all that comes with that. In addition to being a military spouse, Susan was a mother, volunteer, artist, and a poet.


  • “A. H. Davison Dies at Athens Home,” The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, January 11, 1926.
  • “Chaplain Ackiss and Family Sail Friday,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Honolulu, Hawaii, June 1, 1939.
  • “Circle Two Celebrated Mother’s Day,” Banner-Herald, Athens, Georgia, June 4, 1922.
  • “Davison-Ackiss,” The Athens Daily Herald, Athens, Georgia, February 5, 1918.
  • “Davison-Ackiss,” The Athens Daily Herald, Athens, Georgia, February 6, 1918.
  • “Davison-Ackiss,” The Athens Daily Herald, Athens, Georgia, January 31, 1918.
  • “Davison-Ackiss,” The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, February 3, 1918.
  • “Davison-Ackiss,” The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, February 10, 1918.
  • “Davison-Ackiss,” The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, January 31, 1918.
  • “Davison-Nicholson Company and Its Magnificent Success,” The Banner, May 28, 1907.
  • “Ernest Lee Ackiss Celebrates Birthday,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Honolulu, Hawaii, May 15, 1937.
  • “Feast of the Dolls,” Long Beach Independent, Long Beach, California, March 3, 1940.
  • “For Slaton Enthusiastic Club Formed Last Night,” The Athens Banner, Athens, Georgia, July 29, 1914.
  • “Ladies Who Will Take Part in the Parade,” The Athens Daily Herald, Athens, Georgia, April 5, 1918. 
  • “Mary Ackiss Becomes Naval Officer’s Bride,” Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California, April 5, 1943.
  • “Missionary Circle First Methodist Church,” The Banner-Herald, Athens, Georgia, September 26, 1923.
  • “Mrs. Ernest Ackiss Has Aloha Lunch,” The Honolulu Advertiser, Honolulu, Hawaii, September 4, 1938. 
  • “Navy Chaplain to Mainland,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Honolulu, Hawaii, June 3, 1939.
  • “Pair Tie for Authors Guild Poetry Prize,” The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, December 15, 1961.
  • “Reno Pen Women Make Plans for Year,” Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada, October 15, 1948.
  • “Robert Emmett Davison,” The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, October 3, 1928.
  • “Songs Feature Program of DAR Group,” Reno Evening Gazette, Reno, Nevada, November 25, 1948.
  • “Susan Davison Ackiss,” The Washington Post, Washington, DC, September 1, 1988.
  • “Writers Cite 5 Georgians for ’53 Published Books,” The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, June 19, 1954.
  • “Writers Club Lists Awards,” The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, March 22, 1957.
  • “Writers Club Lists Winners in Annual Spoken Magazine,” The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, February 17, 1956.
  • Army Distaff Foundation,
  • Athens, GA, marriage announcement, The Atlanta Constitution, March 24, 1918.
  • Athens, Georgia, City Directory, 1912.
  • Atlanta, Georgia, City Directory, 1956, 1957.
  • Dr. Ernest L. Ackiss obituary, The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, September 19, 1961
  • Ernest Lee Ackiss bio, Naval History and Heritage Command;
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( accessed June 29, 2019), memorial page for Susan Rich Davison Ackiss (5 Jul 1892–28 Aug 1988), Find A Grave Memorial no. 48998543, citing Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA ; maintained by John C. Anderson (contributor 47208015).
  • History of Reynolds Plantation,
  • Industrialist Dies at 79, Kingsport News, Kingsport, Tennessee, January 14, 1954.
  • Long Beach, California, City Directory, 1928, 1930.
  • National League of American Pen Women website;
  • Register of Graduates and Former Students, 1893-1941: Listed Alphabetically and According to Classes and to Geographical Distribution, Volume 410.
  • Rice, Thaddeus Brockett, History of Greene County, Georgia, p. 341, 1961.
  • San Diego, California, City Directory, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1935.
  • SS Lurline (1932);
  • SS Lurline photo;
  • Susan Ackiss, Honolulu, Hawaii, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1900¬1959.
  • Susan Rich Davison and Ernest Lee Ackiss marriage license, Georgia, Marriage Records from Select Counties, 1828-1978.
  • Susan Rich Davison, U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775–2006.
  • U.S. Federal Census, Athens, Ward 4, Clarke County, Georgia, 1900, 1910.
  • U.S. Federal Census, Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California, 1930, 1940.
  • U.S. Federal Census, Philadelphia Ward 48, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, 1920.
  • U.S. Federal Census, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, Military and Naval Forces, 1920.
  • USS Indianapolis (CA-35);
  • Who’s Who in the South, Susan Rich Davison Ackiss, p. 24, Mayflower Publishing Company, Inc., 1927.
  • “News of Society,” Athens Daily Herald, March 9, 1918.
  • “Society Events, The Athens Banner, Athens, Georgia, July 2, 1919.
  • “Birth of Mary Dorsey Ackiss,” Banner-Herald, December 16, 1923.
  • Susan Davison Ackiss obituary, The Washington Post, September 1, 1988.

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