Woman Davis, Beatrice

Editor and Literary mentor

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Beatrice Davis was born in Bendigo, Victoria, in 1909 Her family later moved to Sydney where she went to North Sydney Girls High School and later studied at the Conservatorium of Music and the University of Sydney, graduating with a BA in French and English in 1929. Her career as an editor began when she took up a secretarial and editorial assistant position on the weekly Australian Medical Journal, a role that served as an apprenticeship in the field. Finding herself skilled in editorial tasks, and enjoying the role, she also worked for others on a freelance basis. Her reputation grew and in 1937 the publishing house Angus and Robertson appointed her as a full-time book editor - the first such position in Australia - responsible for preparing both fiction and non-fiction titles for publication. She became legendary in this field and was a major influence on the flourishing of Australian literature in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. She married Dr Frederick Bridges, superintendent of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, in 1937 and was widowed in 1945 when her husband died of tuberculosis.

Davis worked for Angus and Robertson for nearly forty years, during which time she was instrumental in the considerable expansion of the company's Australian literature list. She helped initiate the publication of the company's annual anthologies of poetry (Australian Poetry) and short stories (Coast to Coast), and worked closely with, and encouraged the talents of, most of the well-known Australian writers of this period. These included Thea Astley, Miles Franklin, Xavier Herbert, Ruth Park, Hal Porter and Patricia Wrightson, all of whom benefited from her experience and encouragement. Her pivotal role in Australian literary culture of the twentieth century was reinforced by her position as a judge of several major literary prizes, most prominently the Miles Franklin Award, of which she was a judge from its inception in 1977 until the early 1990s. Although she took on the role of the editor as 'invisible mender', her powerful position within the publishing industry, and her patrician demeanour, meant she was highly respected. Her favour was sought, but she was also feared, resented and criticised for gatekeeping.

In the early 1970s, as a new guard of Australian writers and critics emerged, and commercial interests began to have an impact on Angus and Robertson's previously culture-driven acquisition policies, Davis moved to the NSW publishing house Thomas Nelson, taking some of her authors with her. She was employed there as an editor between 1973 and her retirement in 1986, and continued on as a consultant editor into the 1990s.

Davis died in 1992, having had her role in developing Australian literary culture and publishing recognised by a number of awards and honours, including an MBE in 1967, an AM in 1981, the National Book Council Bookman's Award in 1976 and an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Sydney in 1992. A prestigious fellowship for professional editors has been named for her. The Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship, is offered annually by the Australian Publishers Association.

Published Resources


  • Barker, Anthony, One of the First and One of the Finest: Beatrice Davis, book editor, Society of Editors, Melbourne, Victoria, 1991. Details
  • Kent, Jacqueline, A Certain Style: Beatrice Davis - A Literary Life, Viking, Penguin Books, Melbourne, Victoria, 2001. Details

Newspaper Articles

  • 'Writers' influence for fifty years: obituary Beatrice Davis 1909 - 1992', The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 May 1992. Details
  • Souter, Gavin, 'The Invisible Book Editor', The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February 1974, p. 12. Details

Online Resources

See also