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Who She Was

adelle AP VideoAdelle Davis, February 25 1904-May 31 1974

Adelle Davis was a popular writer and lecturer on food and health, was born Daisie Adelle Davis in Lizton, Indiana, the youngest of five daughters or Charles Eugene Davis, a farmer, and Harriet (McBroom) Davis. She later dropped the name Daisie because she associated with cows and pigs. Ten days after the baby’s birth Harriet Davis became paralyzed; she died 17 months later.  This blow and the strict upbringing by her father, Davis later asserted created a sense of loneliness and self-esteem which only seven years of psychoanalysis beginning in 1953, eventually dispelled. As a girl, Davis worked on the farm, learned to cook before learning to read, and 4-H Club ribbons for baking and canning.

After graduating Lizton High School, Davis studied economics at Purdue University (1923-1925) then transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, receiving a B.A. in household science in 1927. She obtained further training in dietetics at New York’s Bellevue and Fordham Hospitals, then supervised nutrition in the Yonker’s New York public schools and served as nutritionist for New York obstetricians. Davis returned to California 1931, launching a private consulting practice in nutrition which continued until 1958, for two years in Oakland thereafter, in the Los Angeles area. In 1939 she received an M.S. in biochemistry from the University of Southern California (USC). From 1948 on she made her home in Palos Verdes Estates near Los Angeles. Davis married George Edward Leisey, a surveyor ten years her junior in 1946, they adopted two children George and Barbara. The marriage ended in 1953. In 1960 Davis married Frank V. Sieglinger, a retired accountant and lawyer.

Davis’s first publication was a 1932 promotional pamphlet for a milk company. There followed two privately printed tracts, Optimum Health (1935) and You Can Stay Well (1939), and a nutrition handbook, Vitality through Planned Nutrition (1942). Davis’s public acclaim, however, rested on four books: Let’s Cook It Right (1947), Let’s Have Healthy Children (1951), Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit (1954), and Let’s Get Well (1965). The four Let’s books and their revisions sold ten million copies, mostly in paperback, during Davis’s lifetime, and made her, as Time put it in 1972, “the high priestess of a new nutrition religion.” Davis began to travel widely on the lecture circuit, especially to college campuses, speaking also in Latin America and Europe. She became a sought-after guest on television talk shows.

In her heyday as a food guru, the matronly Davis conveyed a feisty, down-to-earth forthrightness. Bright blue eyes dominated lined face and she would her gray hair into a chignon. The pitch of her voice was unusually low-she sang tenor in her church choir-and her use of it commanding. Writing and speaking with an ex cathedra air, she offered simple, easy-to-follow advice about diet. She radiated assurance that abiding by her precepts-as she herself did- would ward off or cure most personal illnesses. Moreover, in proper diet lay societal well-being. To Davis, “Alcoholism, crime, insanity, suicide, divorce, drug addiction and even impotency are often merely the results of bad eating” (Deutsch, p. 4).

Davis benefited from and contributed to the phenomenal growth, from the 1950s onward, of the health food movement, which thrived on publicity about pesticide residues and food additives.

“DAVIS,  Adelle, Feb. 25, 1904-May 31, 1974. Food Writer.” Notable American Women: The Modern Period. 1980. Print.