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Maud Hart Lovelace was born April 26, 1892, but until she was 50 years old she believed her birthday was the 25th (which coincided with the birthday of her namesake, Aunt Maud). The daughter of Tom and Stella Hart, Maud was christened simply "Maud Hart"; around age 10, she adopted her mother's maiden name, Palmer, as her middle name and thereafter was known as Maud Palmer Hart.
Devoted readers of the Betsy-Tacy books already know many of the important details of Maud's life: her father, whose inspired suggestions were called "snoggestions," owned a shoe store; he met her mother by borrowing a cup of salt (whether he actually needed it will remain forever a mystery); and the Hart family always put on the coffeepot in times of stress. Family members included Maud's older sister, Kathleen (Julia), who was dramatic, "put on airs" as a young girl, took singing lessons, and became an opera singer; her younger sister, Helen (Margaret), who wore hair ribbons and was nicknamed "The Persian Princess"; and the beloved family horse, Old Mag.And, of course, the answer to the most important question is yes—there was a Tacy and a Tib! "Tacy" is Frances "Bick" Kenney, Maud's dearest friend since her fifth birthday. (Bick really gave Maud the little glass pitcher, which is now on display in the Maud Hart Lovelace wing of the Minnesota Valley Regional Library in Mankato.) "Tib" is Marjorie "Midge" Gerlach, dainty, diminutive, and golden-haired, known for dancing the Baby Dance in a white accordion-pleated dress. The three girls cut their hair, made Everything Pudding, and, in short, did most of the things Maud described in the books she wrote about their childhood.
Like Betsy,Maud was a voracious reader whose parents sent her to the library by herself on Saturday afternoons. She started writing stories as soon as she could hold a pencil; as Mrs. Ray says in Heaven to Betsy, "She used to follow me around asking, 'How do you spell "going down the street"?'" Like Betsye, Maude added an "e" to her name during her sophomore year of high school and wrote new words to the popular song "Same Old Story." She and Kathleen left the Baptist church to become Episcopalians (though unlike Betsy, Maud did this before she started high school). She also entered the school's essay contest, but only during her junior and senior year, and both times she lost to another girl.
And this is one of the biggest differences in Maud's and Betsy's lives: Though "Joe Willard" is based on Maud's husband, Delos (de-LOSS) Lovelace, Maud did not meet him until she was 25 years old. The high school Joe Willard is entirely fictional, though Maud asked Delos for a description of his boyhood and then gave it to Joe. Another area where fact and fiction verge is Mr. Hart's career. Unlike Bob Ray, Tom Hart did not work in his shoe store for Maud's whole life. When she was 14 he was elected County Treasurer, which is one reason the family could afford the new house (purchased in Heaven To Betsy).
After high school, Maud started at the U (University of Minnesota) but dropped out for health reasons. Like Betsy, she went to California to rest and recover, and in the process sold her first story! Called "Number Eight," it sold to the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine for $10. Maud returned to the U a year behind her class, started work on the Minnesota Daily, and met a man named Russell McCord (Bob Barhydt! Boo! Hiss!), whom she became engaged to—several times! (Fortunately for all of us, Maud kept breaking the engagement.) She continued writing stories; "Her Story," which appeared Minnesota Magazine in 1912, the year Maud left college for good, received a letter of praise from the "famous professor Dr. Maria Sanford" (who is mentioned in both Betsy and the Great World and Emily of Deep Valley).
Like Betsy, Maud went to Europe by herself to gather material for her writing. She sailed from Boston on the "Canopic" in 1914. The quotes from Betsy's letters home are almost all quotes from Maud's actual letters. In Italy, Maud met a young architect, Paulo Conte (Marco Regali), who fell in love with her and proposed much the way Marco did to Betsy. Unlike Betsy, Maud was not seriously tempted by his offer, though she liked him very much.
In the spring of 1917, Maud was hired by the Wakefield Publicity Bureau to fill a position recently vacated by a young man who'd left to join the First Officers Training Camp at Fort Snelling. His name: Delos Lovelace. Maud ran across his name in the files and thought it sounded "like a valentine." That April, Mrs. Wakefield (Mrs. Hawthorne) invited them both to dinner, along with sister Helen to keep everything proper. Maud and Delos got along very well. As she later reported, they saw Helen home and then "walked and walked and talked and talked until practically dawn!!"
Maud Hart and Delos Lovelace were married on Thanksgiving Day, November 29, 1917. Kathleen was Maud's matron of honor, and Kathleen's first husband, Eugene Bibb, was best man. Like Betsy, Maud's bouquet was pale pink roses and forget-me-nots! And in another delightful parallel, her dear old friend Jab Lloyd (Cab Edwards) shared her wedding day. But unlike Betsy and Joe, Maud and Delos were separated by the war very soon after their marriage and didn't really set up housekeeping until 1919—which, as readers know, was in an apartment found for them by Helen's best friend, Alice (Louisa Hilton).
In 1921, Maud and Delos moved to New York; fans of Joe Willard will not blink an eye to hear that Delos got a job on the Daily News his first day in the city. Maud began research for her first book during the summer of 1924; called The Black Angels, it was a historical novel set in Minnesota. The book was published two years later. On February 12, 1925, Maud gave birth to their first child, a little boy; tragically, he lived only three hours. Still, she said, she was "glad to have him," even if just for a short time. In happier news, Maud and Delos bought their first house that year—like Betsy and Joe, insisting on buying it before they even went inside.
Though Maud always spoke as if she meant to return to Minnesota someday, the Lovelace’s never lived there again after 1928. They both continued to write; Early Candlelight, Maud's next book, was published in 1929, and it was the biggest success among her works of historical fiction. Like Joe, Delos wrote "Wheat," which sold to The Ladies Home Journal (quite a coup!). In Betsy's Wedding, Betsy says, "I think I'll write a story about a little girl going to live with the birds"; Maud wrote that story, The Tune is in the Tree, in 1930.
Merian Lovelace was born January 18, 1931; so sure were her parents that she would be a boy they hadn't even picked a girl's name, and Merian was quickly named for Merian Cooper, a (male!) family friend. Five years later Tom Hart passed away, and Stella came to live with Maud and Delos until her own death in 1947.
In 1938 Maud began writing Betsy-Tacy, inspired by the oft-repeated stories about her childhood that she told Merian at bedtime. The book was wildly successful, and the rest of the series followed at a steady pace. The only pause came after Betsy and Joe, when Maud wasn't sure what to do next. Having not completed college herself, she didn't feel comfortable sending Betsy—but she could send Carney! And then after writing Emily of Deep Valley, Maud came to believe that a trip to Europe was surely as educational as going to college, so the next two books followed without a hitch. For Betsy's Wedding, Maud was especially delighted to be writing about Delos over a period of time when she actually knew him.
In 1953, Maud and Delos moved to Claremont, California, a town they'd discovered on their way to visit Kathleen and instantly fell in love with. Claremont, a college town, provided a stimulating environment for the couple, who became deeply interested in the civil rights movement (giving Maud the impetus, perhaps, for her last book, The Valentine Box) and helped to found Claremont's first Episcopal Church, St. Ambrose. Delos Lovelace died in January 1967, the year he and Maud would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
Maud, Bick, and Midge were reunited in their home town when Mayor Rex Hill of Mankato proclaimed October 7, 1961, Betsy-Tacy Day! Seven years later, Maud and Bick saw "the great world," traveling to Europe together. The timing was fortuitous, as Bick died suddenly the following year. In 1970, Maud moved to a retirement community, where she passed away 10 years later. Her ashes are interred at the cemetery in Mankato.
As a writer, Maud Hart Lovelace was deeply committed to historical accuracy; one reviewer even described Betsy-Tacy as a historical novel! Though she was careful to remind readers that the books are, in fact, fiction, she tended to answer questions such as "Why did you make Tacy so shy?" with "Because that's the way she was!" Maud thought about writing another Betsy-Tacy book, Betsy's Bettina, but it never "came" to her, and besides, she was satisfied with the final book's closure. Maud said, "I have always felt that the last lines in Betsy's Wedding were a perfect ending for the series."
Though Maud died many years ago, her spirit lives on in the hundreds of children (and children at heart) who read and reread Betsy-Tacy, coming across those immortal words: "But the nicest present she received was not the usual kind of present. It was the present of a friend. It was Tacy."
Written by Jennifer Davis-Kay
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