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Bert Byron Davis Collection

Identifier: RH-A-3564

Scope and Contents

This collection covers the time period during B.B. Davis’ life in the Philippines in the 1930s to mid-1940s. The majority of the collection contains correspondence between B.B. Davis and his wife to family and friends living in and around Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, MI, in particular Areta Williams Hibbard. Many of the letters were written to Mr. & Mrs. Ralph Lorenzo Hibbard, the latter of whom was a sister to B.B. Davis.

The letters from the 1930s give an interesting insight into the life of missionary educators in the Philippines during a period in which the institutions and civic organizations designed to facilitate Filipino aspirations for independence were being established. A number of letters elucidate B.B. Davis’ personal views regarding Filipino independence, racial equality, and colonial administration, and reflect a fairly progressive opinion regarding Filipino national aspirations. In particular, a number of letters note Davis’ disapproval of the Hare–Hawes–Cutting Act (1933), in particular, clauses that would have economically debilitated the nascent Filipino state. The collection also contains a large manuscript entitled, “65 Letters That Were Never Sent,” organized by his wife Rosella Davis following his death in February 1944, in Baguio, Philippines. The collection also contains the original letters that would later be organized by Davis’ wife into the aforementioned manuscript. The letters and manuscripts cover the period from 1941-1944, in particular the Japanese invasion and subsequent occupation of the Philippine Islands during World War II, and the condition of Americans in Japanese internment camps established in Baguio, and more generally in other Philippine cities.

The descriptions of life in the internment camps provide a nuanced and complex view of the manner in which Imperial Japanese forces treated civilian POWs. In particular Davis notes the sometimes very human interactions with guards and officers, and at other times notes increasingly worsening conditions, both inside and outside the camps, as the war dragged on.

A number of photographs contained in the collection also depict the Davis’ house in Baguio, as well as their live-in servants, along with photos of native Filipino communities living in the rural environs around Baguio. In particular a number of photos show the somewhat isolated nature of the Davis’ home and its environs. As well as photos, the collection contains a small amount of printed material related to the Philippine Union College, at which B.B. Davis was an instructor and administrator. In particular a large poster soliciting enrollment from potential Filipino students emphasizes the isolated location of the school and its activities, and its denominational roots tied to the Seventh Day Adventist church. Also included in the collection, is a letter received by Janette Hibbard, describing what appears to be an attempt to rescue a refugee from Europe during the height up World War II. The “refugee” in question, Dr. Harry Loeffler, appears to be located in London at the time the letter and accompanying paperwork were received by Janette Hibbard.

Interestingly, the collection also contains small number of artifacts from the Davis’ home and their excursions into Manila bazaars, including seeds and various plant materials mailed home, along with a collection of textiles, used by Rosella Davis to sew clothing and other items.


  • Creation: 1930-1940


Biographical / Historical

Bert Byron Davis was born on April 24, 1880 to Maxon and Laura Hibbard Davis. Maxon Davis, born in 1836, married Laura Hibbard Davis (born 1843) in 1859. They had a total of three children: Bert Byron Davis, Harriette Janette Davis, and Jeanette Davis. Harriette Janette Davis, a recipient of many of the letters, was born on Janury 6, 1872. She married Ralph Lorenzo Hibbard (born Feb. 14, 1878 – died Sept. 30, 1970) on June 12, 1900, himself a cousin to both Bert and Harriette. Ralph was the son of Samuel A. Hibbard (born Sept. 23, 1828 – died Oct 24, 1893) and Helen Sylvania Brewer (born May 13, 1841 – died Feb. 17, 1892). Ralph remarried in the mid-1940s to Ruth Scudder. Bert Byron Davis received his early education in a various “public schools,” in the Kalamazoo area, before attending the State Normal School of California, Walla Walla College, and later enrolling in universities in California, Nebraska, and Chicago. Born and raised as a Seventh Day Adventist, Davis possessed a strong personal faith that was as much a part of his personal and professional life as his dedication to learning and education. B.B. Davis married Rosella Snyder (herself an art teacher) in 1904. Davis taught at a number of denominational schools, beginning with a church school in Fresno, California in 1904. Around 1913, Davis was selected to teach at Walla Walla College, where he would serve as Normal Director for five years. From 1920-1923 he taught at the Atlantic Union College, and from 1923-1926 served as Normal Director of Union College. In 1920, Davis received his MA from the University of California for the completion of his Master’s Thesis entitled, “The Curriculum, Methods, and Teacher Training for Elementary Seventh Day Adventist Schools.” From 1926-1931 Davis worked in the West and East Michigan Conventions as Educational Secretary in the former, and Missionary Volunteer and Educational Secretary in the latter.

In April of 1932, Davis accepted an appointment to the Far Eastern Division, and joined the Philippine Union College as the Director of the Normal Department. During his 1937 furlough, he became ill and returned to the United States for a short period of time, before returning to the Philippines. When the Japanese invaded the Philippines (1941), following the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, Davis along with other missionaries and Americans living in the Philippines were rounded up by Imperial Japanese Army forces and interned in concentration camps in and around Baguio. Following several months in detention, Davis and his wife Rosella were released and permitted to live (under supervision) within a private home in Baguio. Davis died on February 11, 1944, still a POW in Baguio, and was survived by his wife, who was freed along with the other POWs when American forces liberated the Philippines in 1944-45. His wife, Rosella would pass away in May 23, 1958 in Orlando, Florida.


2.0 Cubic Feet (4 Boxes)

Language of Materials


Physical Description

This collection is approximately 2 cubic feet and is made up of 4 boxes, as well as a map folder containing a poster measuring approximately 3 square feet. The collection consists of a completed manuscript, post cards, and letters, along with photographs and some ephemera associated with the Davis’ Baguio home and the Philippine Union College.

The majority of the letters and photos are in very good condition, however many of the envelopes have begun to deteriorate and become quite fragile. The ink used on a small portion of the letters has leaked through to the opposite side, thus making those particular letters somewhat difficult to read, however, the overall condition is still sound. The manuscript is in very good condition with only minor fraying of the pages along the edges. All metal paper clips and staples have been removed and replaced with plastic archival clips. Photographs have either been encapsulated or placed in acid-free archival folders. The plant materials and seeds have been kept in their original envelopes, or if necessary placed in archival-quality photo sleeves. The textiles have been encapsulated and placed in acid-free folders.

With continued preservation and the careful handling of the materials, the collection should remain in good condition.

Bert Byron Davis Collection Finding Aid
Andrew Archey
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Repository Details

Part of the Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections Repository

Charles C. and Lynn L. Zhang Legacy Collections Center
1650 Oakland Drive
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5307 US
(269) 387-8490