Betty Hester

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Betty Hester (Rose Library photograph).jpg

Hazel Elizabeth "Betty" Hester (June 1, 1923 – December 26, 1998)[1] was an American correspondent of influential twentieth-century writers, including Flannery O'Connor and Iris Murdoch.[2] Hester wrote several short stories, poems, diaries, and philosophical essays, none of which were published.[3]


Hester was born in Rome, Georgia, and attended Young Harris College.[2] She served in the U.S. Air Force in Wiesbaden, Germany, shortly after World War II (c. 1948–53).[4] She was dishonorably discharged for having an illicit sexual affair with a woman.[4][5] After her discharge from the Air Force,[6] she moved to Atlanta.[4] Hester spent most of her life in a small Midtown Atlanta apartment.[3] She worked for Atlanta-based Retail Credit Company, commuting every day by bus.[2][4] She struggled with alcoholism and bouts of depression.[citation needed] She was also a lesbian, which she only admitted to her closest friends.[4]

Hester is best known for her nine-year correspondence and friendship with Southern fiction writer Flannery O'Connor.[6] From 1955 to 1964, Hester and O'Connor exchanged nearly 300 letters, some of which are published in Sally Fitzgerald's 1979 compilation of O'Connor's correspondence, The Habit of Being.[3] Hester, a very private and reclusive woman, asked that her identity be kept secret in the published letters; thus, she appears as "A".[3][7]

Hester first wrote to O'Connor in July 1955,[8] when O'Connor was working on her second novel, The Violent Bear it Away.[9][3] Eager to exchange thoughts and ideas with someone of equal intellectual caliber, O'Connor wrote back, "I would like to know who this is who understands my stories."[8] O'Connor felt that she and Hester shared a spiritual kinship,[8] and O'Connor would later become Hester's confirmation sponsor in the Catholic Church.[10] Hester left the Church in 1961[11] and turned to agnosticism.[citation needed] This news was a grave disappointment for O'Connor,[12] who had engaged Hester in theological dialogues and tried to sustain her friend's faith.[citation needed]

Hester gave her letters to Emory University in 1987 on the condition that they be sealed for twenty years.[3] They were released to the public on May 12, 2007.[2]

Hester died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on December 26, 1998, at the age of 75.[4]


  1. ^ U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007
  2. ^ a b c d Tagami, Kirsten (May 10, 2007). "Flannery O'Connor Letters Going Public". Arts. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Archived from the original on May 15, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Young, Alec T. (Autumn 2007). "Flannery's Friend: Emory Unseals Letters from O'Connor to Longtime Correspondent Betty Hester". Emory Magazine. Archived from the original on September 26, 2015. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Köhler, Nicholas (May 10, 2016). "The Mysterious Letter Writer Who Beguiled Flannery O'Connor and Iris Murdoch". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on May 12, 2016.
  5. ^ Williams, Joy (February 26, 2009). "Stranger Than Paradise". Sunday Book Review. The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 4, 2015. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Enniss, Steve (May 12, 2007). "Flannery O'Connor's Private Life Revealed in Letters". National Public Radio (Interview). Interviewed by Jacki Lyden. Archived from the original on May 9, 2016. Retrieved May 13, 2016.
  7. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 89.
  8. ^ a b c O'Connor 1979, p. 90.
  9. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 315: "Soon after New Year's Day, 1959, Flannery completed the first draft of her second novel, The Violent Bear It Away, on which she had been working for seven years."
  10. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 154: "I'll be real pleased to be your sponsor for Confirmation—that is, if I read that right and am not just inviting myself."
  11. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 451.
  12. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 451: "I don't know anything that could grieve us here like this news. I know that what you do you do because you think it is right, and I don't think any the less of you outside the Church than in it, but what is painful is the realization that this means a narrowing of life for you and a lessening of the desire for life."

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