MacDonald, Betty (1908–1958)

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MacDonald, Betty (1908–1958)

American writer whose life provided material for several humorous, bestselling autobiographical books . Name variations: Anne Elizabeth Campbell Bard MacDonald; Anne Bard; Betty Bard MacDonald; Betty Heskett MacDonald. Born Anne Elizabeth Campbell Bard on March 26, 1908, in Boulder, Colorado; died on February 7, 1958, in Seattle, Washington; daughter of Darsie Campbell Bard (a mining engineer) and Elsie Tholimar (Sanderson) Bard; sister of Mary Bard (1904–1970); attended University of Washington in Seattle; married Robert Eugene Heskett, in 1927 (divorced); married Donald Chauncey MacDonald, on April 24, 1942; children: (first marriage) Anne Elizabeth Heskett; Joan Sydney Heskett .

Operated small chicken farm with first husband (1927–31); pursued business career (1931–43); began writing career (1943); published bestseller The Egg and I (1945); published three other autobiographical works (1948–55); published several children's books (1947–57).

Writings for adults:

The Egg and I (Lippincott, 1945); The Plague and I (Lippincott, 1948); Anybody Can Do Anything (Lippincott, 1950); Onions in the Stew (Lippincott, 1955); Who Me? The Autobiography of Betty MacDonald (contains parts of The Egg and I, The Plague and I, Anybody Can Do Anything , and Onions in the Stew , Lippincott, 1959).

Writings for children:

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (Lippincott, 1947); Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic (Lippincott, 1949); Nancy and Plum (Lippincott, 1952); Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm (Lippincott, 1954); Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (Lippincott, 1957).

A popular writer in the 1940s and 1950s, Betty MacDonald turned the raw material from difficulties she faced into four humorous autobiographical books. She was born Anne Elizabeth Campbell Bard on March 26, 1908, in Boulder, Colorado, the daughter of Darsie Campbell Bard and Elsie Sanderson Bard . The family, which included five children, moved frequently to accommodate her father's job as a mining engineer. By the time Betty was nine, they had lived in mining camps in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Mexico. Around 1917, three years before her father's death, the family finally settled in Seattle, where Betty would live until she was a young adult. The Bards believed their children should be well-rounded, versatile individuals able to meet life's challenges. Toward that end, Betty and her siblings' educations included lessons in piano, ballet and folk dancing, singing, and acting. They also learned French, cooking, and shooting, and, as part of a health program instituted by their father, rose at dawn to take cold baths and perform rigorous exercise routines.

Graduating from Roosevelt High School in Seattle at age 17, MacDonald entered the University of Washington to study art. She soon met and fell in love with Robert Eugene Heskett, an insurance salesman 13 years her senior. Dropping out of college, she married Heskett in 1927. On their honeymoon, Heskett confided that his life's dream was to operate a chicken ranch. Although MacDonald did not share this dream, she had been taught that it was a wife's duty to help ensure her husband's occupational happiness, and therefore agreed to invest their savings in a chicken farm. Located in Washington's Olympic Mountain region, the 40-acre homestead they bought was isolated and run-down, without electricity or running water. Wrote MacDonald:

It was the little old deserted farm that people point at from car windows, saying "Look at that picturesque old place!" Then quickly drive by toward something not quite so picturesque but warmer and nearer to civilization. That first spring and summer I alternated between delirious happiness and black despair…. And then winter settled downand I realized that defeat, like morale, is a lot of little things.

There, she braved the next four years, giving birth to the couple's two daughters, attempting to cook on an explosive wood-burning stove, and struggling to keep chicks alive. Their nearest neighbors were the Kettles. Noted MacDonald:

[Mrs. Kettle] began most of her sentences with Jeeeesus Keyrist and had a stock disposal of everything of which she did not approve, or any nicety of life which she did not possess. "Ah she's so high and mighty with her 'lectricity," Mrs. Kettle sneered, "She don't bother me none—I just told her to take her hold vacuum cleaner and stuff it." Only Mrs. Kettle described in exact detail how this feat was to be accomplished.

These years on the chicken ranch would later form the basis for MacDonald's first book, The Egg and I.

The Heskett marriage having foundered, the couple separated in 1931 (they later divorced), and MacDonald moved with her daughters into her mother's house in Seattle. Finding work during the Depression was difficult, and she had several jobs that lasted only a week or so. "[E]ven tips about jobs from friends were embarrassingly unreliable," she wrote. "I applied for a supposedly excellent secretarial job and was coldly informed, to my horror, that they weren't quite ready to interview new applicants as the former secretary had only just jumped out the window." The struggles of this period she would later detail in another autobiographical book, Anyone Can Do Anything. "I went to work in a credit bureau," wrote MacDonald. "One day when my boss was out of his office I sneaked over and looked up our family's credit…. From what Iread it sounded as if the credit bureau not only wouldn't recommend us for credit, they wouldn't even let us pay cash."

Finally finding regular employment with the National Recovery Administration (NRA), MacDonald became the organization's first female labor adjuster in July 1931. Two and a half years later, she was hired by the procurement division of the U.S. Treasury Department. There she contracted tuberculosis, a contagious lung disease, from a co-worker and from September 1938 until June 1939 she was confined to Firland Sanitorium. She kept a journal during her stay, and the experience provided the raw material for what would be her second book, The Plague and I. MacDonald tried to adjust herself to the fact that she might be at Firland for the rest of her life. "At least I will go through menopause under medical supervision," she told herself. During her stay, she learned a stiff test of friendship from her ward-mates: "Would she be pleasant to have tb with?"

Following her recovery from tuberculosis, MacDonald found work with another government agency, serving as supervisor of publicity for the National Youth Administration from 1939 to 1942. She subsequently worked for the U.S. Office of Emergency Management as a purchasing agent and then for the Western Construction Company. On April 24, 1942, she married second husband Donald Chauncey MacDonald. Their life together on rural Vashon Island ("a medium sized island … being approximately fifteen miles from shoulder to calf and five miles around the hips") in Puget Sound was detailed in Onions in the Stew, her fourth autobiography. She also lived in Carmel Valley, California.

Although she had previously written a few short stories, Betty MacDonald's writing career began in earnest in 1943, when her older sister Mary Bard —who would soon become a humorous autobiographical author herself—recognized her talent and made an appointment with a publisher looking for material about the Northwest. Then she persuaded MacDonald to keep the appointment. As Kathy D. Hadley wrote in The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States, "MacDonald hastily composed an outline about her life on a chicken farm, was fired … when her boss learned that she had called in sick to finish the outline, and thus began writing full-time." The result was The Egg and I, which was partially serialized in The Atlantic Monthly before appearing in book form in 1945. According to MacDonald, the book was "a sort of rebuttal to … I-love-life books by female good sports whose husbands had forced them to live in the country without lights or running water." The Egg and I was an instant bestseller. Published in late 1945, it had sold a million copies by August 1946. The story was adapted for the screen by Universal under the same title in 1947, starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. The Kettles, MacDonald's egg ranch neighbors, inspired the popular "Ma and Pa Kettle" film series starring Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride, which first appeared in 1949 and continued until 1957.

Bard, Mary (1904–1970)

American writer . Name variations: Mary Ten Eyck Bard; Mary TenEyck Bard; Mary TenEyck Bard Jensen. Born on November 21, 1904, in Butte, Montana; died in 1970; daughter of Darsie Campbell Bard (a mining engineer) and Elsie Tholimar (Sanderson) Bard; sister of Betty MacDonald (1908–1958); University of Washington, 1924–26; married Clyde Reynolds Jensen (a pathologist), in 1934; children: Mary, Sally, Heidi.

After a peripatetic childhood spent following her mining engineer father's career from state to state, Mary Bard married a doctor and wrote several books that detailed events in her personal life with a humorous slant. These included The Doctor Wears Three Faces (Lippincott, 1949), about the trials of a doctor's wife, Forty Odd (Lippincott, 1952), concerning life after 40, and Just Be Yourself (Lippincott, 1956). She also wrote several books directed at young girls, all published by Lippincott, including Best Friends (1955), Best Friends in Summer (1960), and Best Friends at School (1961). Her younger sister, the writer Betty MacDonald , dedicated The Egg and I "to my sister Mary who has always believed that I can do anything she puts her mind to."


Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1956.

The Plague and I, which describes MacDonald's bout with tuberculosis and subsequent confinement,

appeared in 1948, and was partially serialized in Good Housekeeping prior to publication by Lippincott in book form. In 1950, MacDonald published Anybody Can Do Anything, a testimonial to her sister Mary Bard's encouraging influence on her family as well as a wry depiction of her own Depression-era quest for employment. "As time went on I became more and more convinced that Mary was right and that anybody could do anything," wrote MacDonald, "but I had sense enough to realize that it was a hell of a lot harder for some people than for others." Her fourth autobiography, Onions in the Stew, was published in 1955. "Even if MacDonald never writes another book," claimed Helen Beal Woodward in Saturday Review, "she has earned the right to appear in any anthology of American humor." Who Me?, an abridgment of all four autobiographies, was published posthumously in 1959.

Betty MacDonald's first children's book appeared in 1947. Illustrated by Richard Bennett, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle launched the series which featured the eponymous mother who proffers wise and witty advice for dealing with recalcitrant children. It was followed by Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic, illustrated by Kurt Wiese (1949), Nancy and Plum, illustrated by Hildegarde Hopkins (1952), Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm, illustrated by Maurice Sendak (1954), and Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, illustrated by Hilary Knight (1957). HarperCollins published three other "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle" titles in the 1990s: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Treasury (1994), Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Won't-Pick-Up-Toys Cure (1997) and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Won't-Take-A-Bath Cure (1997).

Betty MacDonald died of cancer in Seattle, Washington, on February 7, 1958, at the age of 49.


Blain, Virginia, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

Commire, Anne, ed. Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1977.

Contemporary Authors. Vol. 136. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1998.

Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1946.

MacDonald, Betty. Anybody Can Do Anything. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1950.

——. The Egg and I. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1945.

——. Onions in the Stew. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1955.

——. The Plague and I. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1948.

The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States. Edited by Cathy N. Davidson and Linda Wagner-Martin. NY: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Saturday Review. May 14, 1955.

related media:

The Egg and I, starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray, was adapted for film by Universal, 1947.

Onions in the Stew was adapted for the stage by William Dalzell and Anne Coulter Martins for Dramatic Publishing, 1956.

Ellen Dennis French , freelance writer in biography, Murrieta, California