NEW YORK -- Corporate gadfly Evelyn Y. Davis smells a rat.

The woman whose mission is to confront American corporate board members on behalf of smaller shareholders is particularly incensed these days over what she sees as an unhealthy trend among various companies to discourage shareholder attendance at annual meetings.

The annual meeting is where Davis, an investor in 125 companies, does her thing, often seizing the floor to challenge -- and often rattle -- America's corporate elite.

This season, she's taking Federated Department Stores and J.C. Penney to task for scheduling their annual meetings on the same day, May 20. May Co. is also considering the same day for its meeting. And to make matters worse, General Motors, a key Davis target -- "I get a lot of publicity in Detroit" -- is also set for May 20.

The schedule crunch comes on the heels of Davis's claim that Neiman Marcus Group chairman Richard Smith personally discouraged her from attending the company's annual meeting last month.

"He told me I'd be wasting my time," she said. "I've been going since the Sixties and I never had a chairman tell me not to come. These people just don't want shareholders to attend their meetings. That's one reason they have them on the same dates in these out-of-the-way places."

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