In 1974, the St. Louis Public Library did something it had never done before: it named a new branch after a living person. A graduate of St. Louis public schools and Stowe Teachers College, Julia Davis began teaching at Simmons Elementary in St. Louis in 1913. At a time when many school curricula ignored the cultural and historical contributions of African Americans, Davis made those contributions a central part of her lessons in American and world history.
Through her energetic and personable teaching style, Davis encouraged her students to discover information for themselves and pushed them to use the resources available in local libraries. When she retired from teaching in 1961, she donated $2,500 (almost $20,000 in today’s dollars) to establish the Julia Davis Fund at the St. Louis Public Library, giving the library the money to purchase books about African American achievements. Eventually, this grew into the Julia Davis Collection, which today houses more than 3,000 works. Before her death in 1993 at the age of 101, Davis won many prestigious awards, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Missouri–St. Louis.