Rose M. Davis completed her undergraduate degree at Duke University in 1916. She then attended law school at the University of Virginia. She was the fifth woman to pass the bar examination in Virginia, receiving a grade of 100 percent.
She practiced law for a short time and then returned to Duke to study chemistry. Duke began awarding Ph.D. degrees in 1928. A year later, Davis made history.
“At a time when women were not supposed to be interested in science or engineering, it's notable that the first woman to be awarded a Duke Ph.D. — Rose M. Davis, in 1929 — took her degree in chemistry, and two women graduated from the School of Engineering in 1946,” according to a brief history of women at Duke in the University Archives.
Davis was a professor of chemistry at Randolph-Macon College for Women in Lynchburg, Va., and was later associated with the E.I. duPont de Nemours Company.