This surely must be Miss Gladys Mary Davis, 39, (1893-1965) former British women’s fencing champion and the first ever woman Olympic silver medallist for fencing, who trained at A.A. Stempel’s fashionable Physical Training and Institute Gymnasium in Regent’s Park. She would have made an obvious dinner companion for the two Annas – the perfect foil? We might note that Ling, the founder of Swedish Gymnastics, himself was a fencer. By 1933, in her 40th year, she was perhaps teaching physical education and a good star to have around. We even have a video of her fencing as well as photographs. Miss Davis has been one of my favourite finds in this project.
In 1923 she was British Champion and you could have collected a cigarette card in her honour (along with Suzanne Lenglen, tennis champion). She won the silver medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics, aged 30 at the Games (July 2nd to 4th). This was pioneering stuff: 1924 was the first time women had fenced at the Games. Britain won the silver medal in the next two Games and the gold in 1956, but otherwise no other Briton has returned with a medal. She also won the British titles in 1923, 1925 and 1926 (a family bereavement prevented her from defending her title in 1924).
Whilst almost any seating plan would have worked for this table, the obvious guest to be alongside would be either of the two Swedish gymnasts or Elizabeth Stevenson, the schools inspector. All were specialists in education. But hearing tales of the political world from Noel Brailsford or more about the circle of Margaret Rhondda from Clare Leighton may have been equally if not more welcome.
WHAT’S ON HER MIND?
Professionally perhaps Gladys is still looking for guidance in making a teaching career after sporting success. And of course this was early days for women to be accepted as sports people: we have amusing testimony from my aunt, the Rev. J.T. Rhys’s eldest daughter, as to the attitudes to women in sport when in 1927 she coxed the first women’s boat from Cambridge against a Dark Blue boat, all supposed to be rather hush hush but in reality followed by great crowds on the Isis river bank in Oxford.
GLADYS’S STORY SO FAR
Gladys was born on 29th July 1893 to Charles J. Davis, a Devon born land surveyor, and his wife Alice, a Londoner, living at 78 Castelnau, Barnes, London, with a live-in cook and housemaid. Charles’s father, born in York, was a surveyor’s assistant and first moved from Devon to Lambeth. Gladys’s elder brother also went into the surveying business. Her sister Winifred, born 11th October 1891, lived until 1971, and was unmarried. Gladys and Winifred were both living in the same flat – Flat E, 251/253 Cromwell Road, Kensington in 1930 and at least until 1938 (when she would have been 44/45).
Gladys possibly gained additional attention by being the younger of two expert female fencers. Her sister Winifred Maude Davis (two years her senior) also was a finalist in 1925 and 1926 and in the latter year they were together the chief attraction at the Y.W.C.A Gymnasium at Hamilton Hall, Hendon Lane, Finchley, part of the drive to improve fitness and health in the 1930s. (The Hall was opened in 1899 by the vicar as a Working Men’s Club). A Mrs Underwood, presiding over the whole event, remarked that gymnasium work was one that not only built up physical strength but also character, as they did not work individually but in teams. This was at the time when Suzanne Lenglen was creating a stir on the tennis courts, helping to further the cause of women in and through sport.
Fortunately we still have a video of Gladys Davis as a fencer, to see Britain first female Olympic fencing medallist at work/play.
WHAT GLADYS DID NEXT
Gladys’ claim to fame, as an Olympic silver medallist, was behind her by the time of the dinner but we may assume she continued to work in the field of physical education.
Do you have any insights on her later life?
Gladys died at the age of 71, on 23rd May 1965, resident then at 4a Sheen Gate Gardens, East Sheen, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, predeceasing her elder sister. Neither sister married.
 25.3.1922 p7 ©Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News/Mary Evans
 DatabaseOlympics.com accessed 19th January 2018
 As also recorded in Jean Williams, A Contemporary History of Women’s Sport, Part One: Sporting Women, 1850-1960, Routledge 24 April 2014, p214
 The Sphere, 16.12.1922 p11 ©Illustrated London News Group/Mary Evans
 Hendon and Finchley Times, 30.4.1926
 24.12.1921 p22 ©Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News/Mary Evans
 Poster by Jean de Paleologue (1855-1942) for the 1900 Olympics in Paris