About John W. Davis, Governor
John William Davis (March 7, 1826 – January 25, 1907) was a United States Democratic politician, who served as the 38th and 41st Governor of Rhode Island (1887–1888 and 1890–1891).
Born in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, Davis attended public schools in Rehoboth and a private school in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Before entering politics, he was engaged in various occupations, including mechanical masonry, teaching, and grain dealing. Davis started a grain business with his brother in 1850, and remained a partner in the business until his retirement in 1890. During the American Civil War, he served in the Rhode Island National Guard.
Davis moved to Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1877, and in 1882 was elected President of the Town Council. He was reelected to the position in 1885. Davis was also elected to the Rhode Island Senate in 1885. For a number of years he was a Rhode Island State Senator, before he was appointed by fellow Democratic President Grover Cleveland as an Appraiser of Foreign Merchandise for the Providence U.S. Customs District.
Davis became Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 1887 and defeated incumbent Republican George P. Wetmore. In his bid Davis was supported by many Republicans, who were dissatisfied.
During his first term as governor, the Women’s Suffrage Amendment to the state constitution was approved, the boundary line between Rhode Island and Connecticut were established, and election laws were reformed to eliminate fraud. Davis was defeated for re-election in 1888 by Republican candidate Royal C. Taft, and was defeated in 1889 by Herbert W. Ladd.
Davis was elected governor again in 1890 and served until 1891. During his second administration the governor was given authorization to appoint a commission to revise and codify general statutes, and funds were appropriated for completion of a Soldiers’ Home. He undertok the construction of College Hall at the University of Rhode Island, then the largest building on campus. When it burned down in 1895 and was rebuilt, it was renamed Davis Hall in his honor.
Davis was defeated for re-election once again in 1891, but did not retire from active politics; he was elected to the State Senate in 1892, and Mayor of Pawtucket in 1897.
Davis was married three times: to Lydia W. Kenyon (died 1859); Emily P. Goffe, two children; and Marietta P. Pearse. Davis was raised Methodist and later became Episcopalian.
Davis died on January 25, 1907, and is interred at Riverside Cemetery in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.