Alabama Attorneys General

Harwell Goodwin Davis

impage of Al. Atty. Gen. Harwell G. Davis


Attorney General: 1923-1927


Harwell Goodwin Davis, of Gadsden, was born near Nicholsville, Marengo County, November 23, 1882; son of Thomas Wiley and Mary Kate (Goodwin) Davis, the former of Choctaw County, the latter of Claiborne; grandson of Parsons and Elizabeth (Hendrix) Davis and of Harwell Haywood and Maria Catherine (McCall) Goodwin. Thomas W. Davis attended the Law Department of the University and practiced at Thomasville. He was a school trustee, city attorney, and judge of the Clarke County Criminal Court. Samuel McCall, father of Maria, came to Charleston, S.C., from Scotland at the age of 12 and lived near the Marlborough district. He later came to Claiborne in this State and married Mary Ann Portis. Her Grandfather, George Portis, came from the Isle of Wight, Wales, settling in Virginia, and thence moving to Norh Carolina. Her father, Ira Portis, settled near Sluggsville, Clarke County, in 1818.


Mr. Davis was educated at the South Alabama Institute at Thomasville, and graduated LL.B., from the University of Alabama, 1903. He began the practice at Tallassee in 1904. Shortly afterwards he moved to Monroeville, becoming a member of the firm of Moore and Davis; thence to Thomasville, where he was a member of the firm of Davis and Davis, which subsequently became Poole and Davis. In 1909 he moved to Gadsden and associated himself with the firm of Hood and Murphree. He afterwards became a member of the firm of McCord and Davis, and later, Foreman and Davis.


He became the First Assistant Attorney General of Alabama, serving 1916-17 until the declaration of the war with Germany. He was appointed Special Assistant Attorney General, 1919-21 and was appointed Attorney General on February 8 of that year, serving out the term of Hon. J.Q. Smith ending January 14, 1923. At the November election, 1922, he was elected for a full term, 1923-27. He enlisted, first Officers Training Camp, Fort McPherson, GA., May 14, 1917; commissioned Captain of Infantry, August 15, assigned to command Co. B, 327th Infantry, 82nd Division, September 1; commissioned Major October 11, 1918, commanding three battalions of that organization. He was wounded in action on October 11 and cited for gallantry. He was discharged from the Army May 19, 1919. Commissioned Judge Advocate, Alabama National Guard, with the rank of Major, May 20, 1919.


He was a Democrat and Chairman of the Etowah County Democratic Executive Committee. He was a Missionary Baptist, a Mason, an Odd Fellow, a K. of P., a D.O.K.K., and a W.O.W.


He married Lena Chambliss Vail at Birmingham on December 15, 1917. She was the daughter of John Hull and Margaret Elizabeth (Burton) Vail of Newton, Miss. Her grandparents, Robert Wade Burton, a Methodist Minister and a Chaplain in the C.S.A. and Susanna Mercer, a native of Belfast, Ireland, who came to America at four years of age, were residents of Mississippi. Dr. Benjamin Vail, a native of England, was the father of John Hull Vail.


Harwell G. Davis served as president of Howard College, later Samford University from 1939 until 1958. Harwell G. Davis died on August 5, 1977.


Alabama Department of Archives and History, Official and Statistical Register, 1923, 24.
ADAH Surname Clippings File.
Website of Samford University (http://www.samford.edu/history/presidents.html)