Although Maud Hart Lovelace is said to have been a writer from the time she could hold a pencil, published her first short story at the age of 18, and wrote a number of historical novels, it wasn’t until the Mankato native began telling daughter Merian the stories of her own childhood that she found her true calling.
She gave herself and her childhood friends fictional names, and renamed Mankato “Deep Valley” in her beloved Betsy-Tacy children’s books. The stories, featuring an independent, talented, and fun-loving – but not beautiful – heroine, are amazingly true to life. The 10 books begin when Betsy is 5 and end with Betsy’s Wedding.
As Betsy-Tacy fans know, Betsy lived in Minneapolis as a young adult with her close friends Tacy and Tib. Lovelace briefly attended the University of Minnesota before leaving for a long European tour, shortened by the advent of World War I. Soon after arriving home, she met and married writer Delos Lovelace. After the war ended, they briefly made their home in Minneapolis before moving to New York, where their daughter Merian was born in 1931 when Maud Hart Lovelace was 39 years old.
Writer Anna Quindlen, a Lovelace fan, once referred to the fictional Betsy Ray as a “feminist icon,” and generations of children’s authors have been influenced by the books.
“I think the Betsy-Tacy books are based very closely on fact,” says Mankato historian Julie Schrader. Schrader is director of the Maud Hart Lovelace Society, which has 1,500 members and has spearheaded buying and beginning the restoration of “Tacy’s” and “Betsy’s” houses in Mankato. “Lovelace did so much research to make sure they were historically accurate.”
Children’s literature consultant and former librarian Kathleen Baxter is a Betsy-Tacy expert who corresponded with Lovelace beginning when she was 11 or 12. She is a founder of the Maud Hart Lovelace Society – and, though the newest generation of Betsy-Tacy fans don’t know it, this group was instrumental in getting the books back into print. “We worked for 10 years, at least,” Baxter says. “When they started reissuing them, we bought thousands and sold them at cost, just to keep them in print.
“They are so well written. They are timeless.”