Listen: Minnesota Century Series - Maud Hart Lovelace

To close out the millennium, Minnesota Public Radio's All Things Considered presents a look back at Minnesota life in 1900 via a 12-part series, entitled “A Minnesota Century.” This segment is the the story of a woman who had mixed success as a novelist but eventually found her voice in the character of Betsy, whose antics and adventures mirrored Maud's real-life childhood in Mankato at the turn of the century.

In 1940, Maud Hart Lovelace brought her Mankato, Minnesota childhood to life in a book she called "Betsy-Tacy." It was her first book for children, and as it turned out, her first big success. Ten books and 15 years later, Maud had 20 years of her life documented in the Betsy-Tacy series and fans around the world were tuned into to the intricacies of small-town life at the turn of the century.

This is the ninth of twelve reports.

Click links below for other reports in series:

part 1:

part 2:

part 3:

part 4:

part 5:

part 6:

part 7:

part 8:

part 10:

part 11:

part 12:


2000 The Gracie Allen Award, Radio - Outstanding News Story/Series category


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[MUSIC PLAYING] LORNA BENSON: It's All Things Considered on Minnesota Public Radio. I'm Lorna Benson. When asked to name some of the state's best known authors of the early 1900s, most Minnesotans will name F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. After all, who hasn't heard of The Great Gatsby, and Lewis's Main Street, or the series of stories written by Ingalls Wilder that immortalized her frontier life in the popular television series Little House On The Prairie.

With all this home grown literary success, it is perhaps surprising that after selling nearly a million children's books based on two young heroines named Betsy and Tacy, writer Maud Hart Lovelace does not share in the same universal fame. This month in our Minnesota Century Series, the story of a woman who had mixed success as a novelist but eventually found her voice in the character of Betsy, whose antics and adventures mirrored Maud's real life childhood in Mankato at the turn of the century.


Maud Hart Lovelace did not have an extraordinary childhood. She lived with her parents and two sisters in a modest home at the foot of a big hill in Mankato. When she was five years old, she found a friend for life when a little girl named Bick moved in just across the street. That meeting became the first chapter of Maud's first children's book Betsy-Tacy. In the book, Mankato was called Deep Valley, Maud named herself Betsy, and Bick became Tacy.

"It was difficult later to think of a time when Betsy and Tacy had not been friends. Hill Street came to regard them almost as one person. Betsy's brown braids went with Tacy's red curls. Betsy'd plump legs went with Tacy's spindly ones to school and from school, uphill and down on errands and in play, so that when tacy had the mumps and Betsy was obliged to make her journey alone, sassy boys teased her, 'Where's the cheese, apple pie? Where's your mush, milk?' as though she didn't feel lonesome enough already."

KATHY BAXTER: Maud wanted to be a writer from the time she was a small child.

LORNA BENSON: Kathy Baxter is an Anoka County librarian and a member of the Betsy-Tacy Society.

KATHY BAXTER: Her mother remembered her asking, how do you spell going down the street, and she'd sit up in a maple tree with a cigar box full of pencils and notepads from her father's shoe store, which is what Betsy does in the book, and writes stories.

LORNA BENSON: At a time when most girls were being groomed to become wives and mothers, Maud's family encouraged her writing career.

KATHY BAXTER: Hart family, Tom Hart and his wife, were very supportive of their daughters. They had three daughters, and they wanted them to become things, to do things, and this is at the turn of the century.

LORNA BENSON: Maud's father knew the editor of Mankato Free Press and convinced the man to bind 12 of Maud's poems in a small booklet titled Selections From The Poems of Maud Palmer Hart. By the time she was 12, Maud was sending a constant stream of her stories and poems to national publications and collecting a pile of rejections. Maud finally sold her first story many years later in the spring of 1911 to The Los Angeles Times. The story was called Number Eight.


In 1917, Maud married a newspaper reporter, Delos Lovelace, and moved to New York City. They had a daughter, Merian, in 1931, but Maud still found time for her writing. She wrote short stories, selling them to national magazines like Today's Housewife and People's Home Journal. She also wrote novels, publishing six by 1937, but she hadn't found great success. Then came Betsy-Tacy. On November 22, 1938, Maud Hart Lovelace took out her diary and wrote "Began Betsy and Tacy. Let's see what comes of it."

The first Betsy-Tacy book was an instant hit when it was published in 1940 and hasn't been out of print since. Baxter says that's because kids can relate to Betsy's genuine struggle.

KATHY BAXTER: Her imperfections I think make her so wonderful. There's nothing perfect about Betsy. I think Maud Hart Lovelace just really defines young womanhood. She defines the emotions, she describes the friendships, the family relationships, she's just a wonderful, wonderful writer.

LORNA BENSON: 10-year-olds Pacu Vang and Stephany Flores Caamano, second language learners at North Star Community School, say they can't get enough of Betsy and Tacy.

SPEAKER 1: It's like you don't like to read other books but just that one.

SPEAKER 2: I thought that they were kind of cool because they were kind of humorous and they were kind of like your own life. Sometimes they do things they're not supposed to do, and then they're like, oops, and they do it on accident and sometimes I do the same things.

LORNA BENSON: Their classmate, [? Darcitu ?] Hassan, says her favorite story is when Betsy, Tacy and Tib decide they want to learn to fly. The girls think that if they keep jumping off higher and higher objects, flight will just come naturally.

SPEAKER 3: "Betsy got to the lowest branch and sat on it. She held on tight and swung her legs. She didn't fly though. 'When are you going to fly?' asked Tib. 'In a minute,' answered Betsy. She sat there and swung her legs. 'What kind of bird are you, Betsy?' Tacy asked. 'I'm a Betsin,' answered Betsy. I'm a Betsin bird.'

She looked down at the ground. The ground was a long way off. 'Don't Betsin bird like to fly?' Asked Tib. 'Oh, yes' said Betsy. 'They like to fly so well that it's a wonder they ever stopped doing it, but they did. Do you want to know why?' 'Why?' asked Tacy and Tib. 'Sit down and I'll tell you,' said Betsy. 'It's very interesting.'"

LORNA BENSON: Betsy-Tacy readers clearly would have liked the series to go on forever, but they will have to settle for just 10 books. Maud decided to stop the series with Betsy's wedding. She explained, "In Betsy's Wedding, Betsy's husband went off to the First World War and many letters have begged me to bring him safely home. The letters even offer me titles for another book, obviously in the friendly assumption that when a writer has found a title, he is over the hump. Some have even hit upon the title I have selected myself, "Betsy's Bettina," but that won't be written until I feel it and I want to write it. It isn't stubbornness. I can't write a book any other way."


Seven years after publication of Betsy's Wedding, Maud wrote, "I have tried again and again to write "Betsy's Bettina," but it didn't come. Which means with me that it isn't meant to be." She did, however, publish two more books, What Cabrillo Found, a biography of Explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, and The Valentine Box, the story of a fifth grade girl who moves from the city to the suburbs. Maud wrote and lived in Claremont, California, until her death in 1980.

To see pictures of Maud and her Mankato home, visit our website at Our story on Maud was produced by Annie Feidt with help from John Rabe, researched by Dan Gorenstein, and edited by Dan Olson. Thanks to Pacu Vang, Stephany Flores Caamano, and Darcitu Hassan for reading Maud's stories for us. Also thanks to their teacher, Penny Jones. Steve Seel helped with music. I'm Lorna Benson. The Minnesota Century project on MPR is supported by Sarah Kinney Professional Real Estate Services, matching people with property for 21 years, Coldwell Banker Burnet, Crocus Hill office.



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