Betty MacDonald (March 26, 1908 – February 7, 1958) was an American author of humorous semi-autobiographical stories and children’s books. Born Anne Elizabeth Campbell Bard in Boulder, Colorado, her father Darsie Bard was an itinerant mining engineer and the family moved constantly until finally settling in Laurelhurst, Seattle, Washington, in 1916. When Darsie died suddenly in 1920, the family was left to cope with severe financial problems that were only alleviated when Betty hit the publishing jackpot with her first book, The Egg and I in 1945.
This was based on her experiences as a young bride on a chicken farm in the Olympic Peninsula’s Chimacum Valley. She had married Robert Eugene Heskett (1895-1951) in 1927, but left him in 1931 to return to Seattle where she worked at several jobs to support herself and her two daughters, Anne and Joan.
Move to Vashon Island
Betty later married Donald C. MacDonald (1910-1975) and moved to Vashon Island in Puget Sound. Between 1937 and 1938 she suffered from tuberculosis and spent nine months in the Firland Sanatorium near Seattle. Her memories of that experience resulted in The Plague and I (1948). This was followed in 1950 by Anybody Can Do Anything based on her struggles to find work during the Depression years. Onions in the Stew (1955) was about farm life on Vashon during World War II.
Betty’s children’s books written 1947-1957 featured Mrs Piggle-Wiggle who lived in an upside-down house in a noisy neighborhood inhabited by children with bad habits. After Betty’s death, further titles in the series have been co-authored by her descendants. Another children’s title, Nancy & Plum (1952), is also still in print.
In 1947, The Egg and I was made into a film starring Claudette Colbert and Fred McMurray and the spin-off characters of Ma and Pa Kettle featured in nine subsequent movies starring Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride. Mrs Piggle-Wiggle was made into a TV series in the 1990s and The Magical Mrs Piggle-Wiggle is still a popular musical production in American regional theaters.
You might also like this review of The Egg and I
The ups and downs of fame
Publishing success had its downside as Betty was hit with lawsuits brought by members of a family who claimed she had based the Kettles on them and also by a man who said he was the model for the Indian character, Crowbar. One case was settled out of court and the second dismissed, although the judge admitted the claims had some merit.
The worldwide success of The Egg and I turned Betty into a celebrity author, instantly recognizable for her toothy smile and trademark hairdo featuring bangs. During the 1940s and 1950s she was as well-known as any movie star.
Betty MacDonald died of ovarian cancer on February 7, 1958 in Seattle, Washington.
Biographies, Autobiographies, Literary Criticism
- The Plague and I by Betty MacDonald (1948)
- Onions in the Stew by Betty MacDonald (1955)
- Anybody Can Do Anything by Betty MacDonald (1950)
- Looking for Betty MacDonald by Paula Becker (2016)
- Betty: The Story of Betty MacDonald by Anne Wellman (2016)
- MacDonald information and links on PaulaBecker.org
- MacDonald’s Books on Amazon
- Reader discussion of MacDonald’s books on Goodreads
Articles, News, Etc.
- Looking for Betty MacDonald Finds Comedy and Tragedy
- Remembering Betty MacDonald and Considering Her Place in History
- The Plucky Author Behind the Classic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Books
- Travel: In author Betty MacDonald’s footsteps
- The Betty MacDonald Farm, Vashon, WA
This biography of Betty MacDonald was contributed by Regina Arbeia, who blogs at The History Bucket.
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