Maud Hart Lovelace
Maud Hart Lovelace
Author of the Betsy-Tacy books
Do you think someone can be "born" into something? Maud Hart Lovelace believed she was born to write. When Maud was only five years old, she asked her mother how to spell "going down the street" for a story she was writing. By the time she was 10 she had written an entire book of poetry, and she published her first short story when she was only 18. “I cannot remember back to a year in which I did not consider myself to be a writer,” she once recalled, “and the younger I was the bigger that capital ‘W’!”
Maud Hart was born in Mankato, Minnesota in 1892 and enjoyed a happy childhood. As she was growing up, Maud kept diaries and compiled scrapbooks to document her adventures with her family and friends. As an adult, she used these records to create the popular Besty-Tacy series of children’s books, in which she turned Mankato into “Deep Valley” and transformed her best friend Bick Kenney into “Tacy.” “Betsy,” of course, bore a remarkable resemblance to Maud herself!
The first Betsy-Tacy book was published in 1940. By that time Maud had written many other books, including several historical novels set in Minnesota. The most famous of these was Early Candlelight, which was published in 1929. In it, she explored the lives of fur traders, Minnesota Indians and soldiers at Fort Snelling. The book was highly regarded for its historical accuracy and reflected Maud’s life-long interest in Minnesota history.
Maud married another writer, Delos Lovelace, in Minneapolis in 1917. When Delos returned from military service in Europe during World War I, he and Maud moved to New York City. There he worked as a reporter, and she continued to publish short stories and novels. Together, Maud and Delos wrote Gentleman From England, another historical novel set in Minnesota.
Delos and Maud Hart Lovelace had one child – their daughter Merian was born in 1931. The family lived for many years in New York, although Maud always considered Minnesota to be her “home.” Later, Maud and Delos retired to California, where she kept busy with many activities, including reading and answering large numbers of letters from her fans. She died in California in 1980 and is buried in her hometown of Mankato. To this day, her Betsy-Tacy novels are highly regarded for their rich historical detail and for their depiction of strong, creative, independent girls.
Time Period Overview
One of Maud’s favorite books was Mankato-Its First Fifty Years. Maud herself was part of that history – Mankato was only 40 years old at the time of her birth in 1892. When she was in grade school, early settlers from the area still spoke of the Dakota Conflict or “Sioux Uprising” of 1862 and of the Civil War. Many immigrants from Germany, Scandinavia, Ireland and even Syria were making Mankato their new home. By 1900, Mankato had a population of over 10,000. There were twenty-two churches, five elementary schools, a high school, two colleges, a library and an opera house. Maud was fascinated not only by Mankato’s pioneer past but by its “present” in which she grew up, and she wrote about both in her books.
The Betsy-Tacy series, written primarily in the 1940’s, tell the story of Betsy Ray, a girl growing up in Deep Valley, Minnesota from the turn of the century until the American entry into World War I. With their commentary on fashion, music, theater, foods, social etiquette, and architecture, Lovelace’s books provide a detailed account of the late Victorian culture and daily life that characterized her childhood. Maud’s, or “Betsy’s,” childhood home, for example, had no indoor plumbing. Instead, there was a “well-scrubbed privy in the back of the house,” and the family took their baths in the kitchen on Saturday nights, “one at a time.” For entertainment, Maud and her family sang together in the parlor as her sister Kathleen played the family’s piano, or they read aloud from their favorite books and poems. Maud and her friends played with paper dolls, left “calling cards” at neighbors’ homes, made up plays, and visited Heinze’s Ice Cream Parlor as popular pastimes, and they dreamed of the day when they, too, might be allowed to wear the “long” dresses sported by their older sisters.
Although Maud’s childhood may seem “idyllic” (and she often described it as such), it occurred during a time of tremendous change and growth in the United States. American demographics, for example, changed rapidly as immigration to the United States reached record highs during the turn of the century. Immigrants from southern and eastern Europe brought unfamiliar languages, food, and customs to American cities, and African Americans migrated in high numbers from the rural south to the urban north.
In 1898 America joined the world’s imperial powers by entering into the Spanish-American War, from which it annexed the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. American soil further expanded during Maud’s childhood with the establishment of Hawaii as a U. S. territory in 1900 and the admission of Utah as a state in 1896, Oklahoma in 1907, and New Mexico and Arizona in 1912. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, it permanently reversed its long-standing tradition of isolationism and established itself as a key player in world affairs.
When Maud was 9 years old President William McKinley was assassinated, and the “rough and ready” Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in as the 26th President of the United States. Roosevelt’s presidency ushered in a new era of reform in the Untied States – he argued that every American deserved a “square deal.” He supported striking coal miners, fought to break up the large monopolies that gouged consumers and squelched competition, helped pass the Pure Food and Drug Act, and worked to conserve the nation’s natural resources. Meanwhile, women throughout the United States fought for the right to vote. They succeeded in getting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution ratified in 1920, and for the first time Maud and other women in this country could fully execute their rights as American citizens.
The rapid change in technology during Maud’s childhood kept pace with the cultural and political changes of the era. Henry Ford built his first car in 1893, and the first automobile appeared in Mankato in 1903 – the same year that the Wright Brothers made their historic airplane flight at Kitty Hawk. Typewriters, hand-cranked victrolas, “moving pictures,” radio broadcasts, and a host of other new inventions were altering the way Americans worked, lived, and played during Maud’s childhood. In spite of all these changes, however, the theme that resonates throughout her books is the importance of friends and family in shaping her worldview. Although politics, technology, and fashion have changed constantly throughout time, the relationships built between individuals have always been key to understanding human history.