This photo of Rosa Alice Davis was made about 1914. The child in her lap is Flonnie Bell Smith, who was born in 1913.

A woman long-suffering

I call Rosa Alice Davis a woman long-suffering because she was married to James Henry Smith, a violent and abusive man. Rosie was born November 1888 according to a website, 1 November 1887 according to her daughter-in-law Gladys Hall, and 16 November 1887 according to her daughter still living. The date 16 November 1888 is on her tombstone, and the census records consistently indicate she was born in 1888. She was born in Wayne County, Kentucky. She was the daughter of  Newton or Newcumb Berry Davis, born April 1853 in Slickford, Wayne County, Kentucky, and Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Marsh, born May 1864 in Wayne County,

Rosa Alice Davis married James Henry Smith in Bartow County, Georgia, on 1 October 1911, and died 27 February 1947 of pneumonia. She is buried, alone, in the East View Cemetery in Adairsville, Georgia. It is said that her sons refused to allow their father to be buried next to her.

A woman in Kentucky did extensive research on the Davis and Marsh families, although at the time I collected her information she did not know what happened to Rosa Alice after she left Kentucky. Unfortunately, I lost her email address. For details on Rosa Alice’s family, see “Newton Berry Davis and Mary Elizabeth Marsh.”

Her daughter still living thought there might be some connection between Rosa Alice Davis and Missouri, because Rosie would get mad at Jim and refuse to speak to him. When she did, he would say, “You’re from Missouri.” But it was a joke about her stubbornness.

Rosie was known for several things.
Her niece said, “She loved her children,” and I know, from talking to Thiddo Smith, that he adored her.

She was a very good cook and every Sunday she prepared a big dinner for her family and, when her children were older, for their boyfriends and girlfriends. The menu consisted of what they raised on the farm, and raised and canned from their garden, so it almost always included fried chicken, green beans, potatoes, and other vegetables, fruits such as peaches or blackberries, and a cake made from scratch, often pecan or coconut.

Flonnie Bell, Jim and Rosie’s oldest child, made coconut cakes from scratch that her niece said were similar to those Rosie prepared. As I remember them, they had three or four round layers, each smaller than the one below. They were white cakes, with homemade white coconut icing. And on the ledges, Flonnie put Maraschino cherry halves. They were very pretty cakes, and even to my 10-year-old tastebuds, very sweet.

Her niece said Rosie was also a great quilter, and that too she passed down to Flonnie, as part of her legacy. She also sewed clothes for her family and during the Great Depression when the family could not afford to replace their worn-out shoes, she took up cobbling.

Rosie was a member of the Church of God and incredibly devout. “She loved to go to church,” her niece said.

On several days the family would hear a commotion in the back yard of their house and go to the back door screen. In the yard in front of the outhouse was a hedge that formed a screen and a room of a sort. Rosa Alice was standing in that space praying loudly. She was holding a Bible in one hand and, with one hand upraised toward heaven, "in her praying ground having a meetin'," her daughter called it.

She was not without a sense of humor, however.  Once, one of her sons was dating a girl who had had a baby. Rosie saw a discarded wet diaper in the back floorboard of his car and secretly took it into the kitchen. She cooked a sweet potato, peeled it, and put it in the diaper, then poured coffee on it and put it back where she found it. Needless to say, her son was very surprised when he found the diaper.

Rosa Alice never lived in a house with electricity. The family got hooked into the grid a week after she died.

She was a fairly short (5' 3"), slight woman when she got married, but gained a lot of weight, which is probably what shortened her life. She weighed 350 pounds at the time of her death, and her sons had to lift her up to get her into bed. Her last words were “I can’t stay here.”

In the photo above, taken about 1914, she looks small. She is looking out of the frame and slightly from under her eyebrows. She resembles several of the younger women in the family. In a later photo on the previous page, taken when her son Joseph Dallas was young (he was born in 1922), she has already gained a lot of weight and looks like a different woman. 

This page was last updated 17 October 2011.

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