Betty Smith

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Elisabeth Lillian Wehner
Betty Smith.jpg
Born (1896-12-15)December 15, 1896
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died January 17, 1972(1972-01-17) (aged 75)
Shelton, Connecticut, United States
Pen name Betty Smith
Occupation Writer
Education University of Michigan
Notable works A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Betty Smith, née Elisabeth Wehner (December 15, 1896 – January 17, 1972), was an American author.

Biography[edit]

Smith was born Elisabeth Wehner on December 15, 1896, in Brooklyn, New York, to first-generation German-Americans John, a waiter,[1] and Catherine Wehner.[2] She had a younger brother, William, and a younger sister, Regina.[3] At the time of her birth the family was living at 207 Ewen Street (now Manhattan Avenue). At age four they were living at 227 Stagg Street, and would move several times to various tenements on Montrose Avenue and Hopkins Street[4] before settling in a tenement at the top floor of 702 Grand Street that served as the basis for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.[5] As a child she made great use of the then-new public library on nearby Leonard Street.[6] Smith attended PS 49 through fourth grade before transferring to PS 18 and then finally PS 23 in Greenpoint. While some sources report she attended Girls' High School,[7] her biographer reports that she was obliged to quit school by her mother to help support the family, as her alcoholic father worked only sporadically.[8] Smith became an active member of a social service center on Jackson street called the School Settlement Association, and it was likely there rather than her apartment that the tree grew which gave name to her book.[9] It was there that she met her husband, the coach of her debate team, George H. E. Smith, a fellow German-American whose family name had been changed during WWI from Schmidt.[10] These experiences served as the framework to her first novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943).

After moving briefly to Richmond Hill, Queens, with her mother and stepfather, Smith she moved with her husband to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he pursued a law degree at the University of Michigan. At this time, she gave birth to two girls and waited until they were in school so she could complete her higher education. Although Smith had not finished high school, the university allowed her to enroll in classes. There she honed her skills in journalism, literature, writing, and drama, winning a prestigious Avery Hopwood Award. She was a student in the classes of Professor Kenneth Thorpe Rowe.

In 1938 she divorced her first husband and moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There she married Joseph Jones in 1943, the same year in which A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was published. She teamed with George Abbott to write the book for the 1951 musical adaptation of the same name. Throughout her life, Smith worked as a dramatist, receiving many awards and fellowships including the Rockefeller Fellowship and the Dramatists Guild Fellowship for her work in drama. Her other novels include Tomorrow Will Be Better (1947), Maggie-Now (1958) and Joy in the Morning (1963).

On January 17, 1972, she died in Shelton, Connecticut, at the age of 75. She is buried in Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Bibliography[edit]

Film credits[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 1900 United States Federal Census
  2. ^ New York, State Census, 1915
  3. ^ New York, State Census, 1905
  4. ^ "The Borough of Writers: Betty Smith: ‘Francie or Sophina?’" by Brad Lockwood. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 21, 2008.
  5. ^ Betty Smith: Life of the Author of a Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Valerie Raleigh Yow. Wolf's Pond Press, 2008. ISBN 9780970224934 pgs 7-12
  6. ^ Betty Smith: Life of the Author of a Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Valerie Raleigh Yow. Wolf's Pond Press, 2008. ISBN 9780970224934 pgs 18
  7. ^ "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn".
  8. ^ Betty Smith: Life of the Author of a Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Valerie Raleigh Yow. Wolf's Pond Press, 2008. ISBN 9780970224934 pgs 34
  9. ^ "School Settlement Is a Haven for All: Myriad Activities Enjoyed by Those Attending House Mentioned in 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn'" by Ruth G. Davis. The Brooklyn Eagle, April 1st, 1945 pg 12
  10. ^ Betty Smith: Life of the Author of a Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Valerie Raleigh Yow. Wolf's Pond Press, 2008. ISBN 9780970224934 pgs 40

External links[edit]