The Betsy-Tacy Series
by Maud Hart Lovelace

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The Betsy-Tacy books are a series of semi-autobiographical novels by American novelist and short-story writer Maud Hart Lovelace (1892-1980), which were originally published between 1940 and 1955 by the Thomas Y. Crowell Co. The books are now published by HarperCollins. The first four books were illustrated by Lois Lenski and the remainder by Vera Neville.

The series follows the adventures of heroine Betsy Ray, who is based closely on the author, and her friends and family. The first book, Betsy-Tacy, begins in 1897 on the eve of Betsy's fifth birthday, and the last book, Betsy's Wedding, ends in 1917 as the United States prepares to enter the First World War.

The series was inspired by the bedtime stories which Lovelace told to her daughter Merian about her own childhood. The popularity of Betsy-Tacy, published in 1940, led her to write three more books, Betsy-Tacy and Tib (1941), Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill (1942), and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown (1943). Although Lovelace intended to end the series after four books, her husband and daughter, who had found her high-school diaries, insisted that she use them to extend it through Betsy's high school career. This led to Heaven to Betsy (1945), Betsy in Spite of Herself (1946), Betsy was a Junior (1947), and Betsy and Joe (1948), each of which covers one high school year. Lovelace described these books, for which she drew heavily on her diaries and high-school scrapbooks, as particularly true to life. She wrote in 1964 that "the family life, customs, jokes, traditions are all true and the general pattern of the years is also accurate."

The first eight books are set in the fictional town of Deep Valley, Minnesota, based on Lovelace's childhood home of Mankato. After completing Betsy and Joe Lovelace wrote the first two of her three "Deep Valley Books," Carney's House Party (1949) and Emily of Deep Valley (1950), in which Betsy Ray and other characters from the Betsy-Tacy series appear, before returning to Betsy's story. The final books in the series, Betsy and the Great World (1952) and Betsy's Wedding (1955), follow Betsy through a European sojourn and her first years of married life in Minneapolis. They are also based closely on Lovelace's personal experiences.

Although the books are fiction, their characters are based closely on Lovelace's own family and friends. Many characters can be matched with individuals, while others are composites drawn from incidents in the lives of several people.

Betsy Warrington Ray the protagonist of the series, is based on Maud Palmer Hart (Lovelace). Betsy is sociable, fun-loving and highly imaginative; the early books feature the stories she makes up and tells to her friends. Her ultimately successful quest to become a published author and the challenges she faces in learning to balance her commitment to her writing against other, usually social concerns are themes throughout the series.

The members of the Ray family are based on the Hart family. Bob Ray, Betsy's father, is based on Thomas Hart, Maud's father; like Thomas Hart, Bob Ray owned a shoe store and made onion sandwiches for family and friends on Sunday evenings. Jule Ray, Betsy's mother, is based on Stella Hart, Maud's mother, who was also red-haired, vivacious, and able to play two songs on the piano, one waltz and one two-step. Betsy's musical, coquettish older sister Julia Ray was based on Maud's older sister Kathleen Hart who, like Julia, studied music in Europe and became an opera singer. Her younger sister Margaret Ray was based on Maud's younger sister, Helen Hart.

Anastacia "Tacy" Kelly, Betsy's closest friend, is based on Lovelace's lifelong friend Frances "Bick" Kenney. Tacy is shy, sensitive, and fun-loving, from a large Irish family who live across the street from the Rays.

Thelma "Tib" Muller, the third member of the trio of Betsy, Tacy and Tib, is based on Marjorie "Midge" Gerlach. Tib is fearless and competent; she is also petite, blonde, and learns to be very flirtatious. Tib and her family move back and forth between the Anglo-American atmosphere of Deep Valley and the German-American community of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is bilingual and able to navigate the varied social expectations of the contexts through which she moves.

Joe Willard, Betsy's husband, is based on Maud Hart Lovelace's husband, journalist and novelist Delos Wheeler Lovelace. Maud Hart and Delos Lovelace met in 1917, when she was twenty-five. However, she chose to include a character based on her husband in the books beginning with Heaven to Betsy. She used his descriptions of his boyhood to provide Joe's high school experiences and back story. Joe is an orphan, ambitious, self-sufficient and hard-working. Over the course of the four high school books his relationship with Betsy develops from a friendly rivalry to romance.

The Crowd, Betsy's large group of friends, are based on Maud Hart Lovelace's own friends. Some characters were one-to-one matches with individuals while others were composites. In some cases, such as Crowd members Carney (Marion Willard) and Cab (Jabez Lloyd), their portrayals were based on lifelong friendships.

The Betsy-Tacy books are written at progressively more difficult reading levels as the characters age and encounter more complex situations. The first books are written for children, while those at the end of the series are written for ages 14 and up.

The Betsy-Tacy Series

1: Betsy-Tacy (1940) - For Sale

There are lots of children on Hill Street, but no little girls Betsy's age. So when a new family moves into the house across the street, Betsy hopes they will have a little girl she can play with. Sure enough, they do-a little girl named Tacy. And from the moment they meet at Betsy's fifth birthday party, Betsy and Tacy becoms such good friends that everyone starts to think of them as one person-Betsy-Tacy.

Betsy and Tacy have lots of fun together. They make a playhouse from a piano box, have a sand store, and dress up and go calling. And one day, they come home to a wonderful surprise-a new friend named Tib.
2: Betsy-Tacy and Tib (1941) - For Sale

Betsy and Tacy are best friends. Then Tib moves into the neighborhood and the three of them start to play together. The grown-ups think they will quarrel, but they don't. Sometimes they quarrel with Betsy's and Tacy's bossy big sisters, but they never quarrel among themselves.

They are not as good as they might be. They cook up awful messes in the kitchen, throw mud on each other and pretend to be beggars, and cut off each other's hair. But Betsy, Tacy, and Tib always manage to have a good time.
3: Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill (1942) - For Sale

Betsy, Tacy, and Tib can't wait to be ten. After all, getting two numbers in your age is the beginning of growing up-exciting things are bound to happen. And they do! The girls fall in love with the King of Spain, perform in the School Entertainment, and for the first time, go all the way over the Big Hill to Little Syria by themselves. There Betsy, Tacy, and Tib make new friends and learn a thing or two. They learn that new Americans are sometimes the best Americans. And they learn that they themselves wouldn't want to be anything else.
4: Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown (1943) - For Sale

Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are twelve-old enough to do lots of things...even go downtown on their own. There they see their first horseless carriage, discover the joys of the public library, and see a real play at the Opera House. They even find themselves acting in one! Best of all, they help a lonely new friend feel at home in Deep Valley-the most wonderful place in the world to grow up.
5: Heaven to Betsy (1945) - For Sale

The events of the novel span Betsy and Tacy's freshman, or ninth-grade, year of school. A major character is added to the series' cast when Betsy meets Joe Willard, an orphan working for his aunt and uncle in their store at Butternut Center. The story differs from the first four books, by expanding the Betsy-Tacy-Tib circle to "The Crowd," a group of boys and girls that frequently meet at Betsy's house. Although Joe Willard was based on Maud Hart Lovelace's husband, Delos Lovelace, the book concentrates more on Betsy's adventures with the Crowd, including her self-described first love, Tony Markham, and the effect of the Crowd on Betsy's burgeoning talent for writing.
6: Betsy in Spite of Herself (1946) - For Sale

The story covers Betsy and Tacy's sophomore, or tenth grade, year in high school and re-introduces the character of Tib Muller, now living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

During a visit to Tib's family in Milwaukee, Betsy decides to re-invent her image, changing the spelling of her name to Betsye and attempting to adopt characteristics that will make her seem mysterious and alluring. On her return to her hometown of Deep Valley, her new image helps her to attract a boyfriend whose good looks and automobile draw considerable attention in town. However, over time Betsy becomes dissatisfied with having to pretend continually to be a very different kind of person. She also finds that this behavior is not endearing her to friends or family nor helping her achieve her goals as a writer, so she ends the relationship. Despite the disappointment, she decides that the experience has been good for her by helping her to develop different aspects of herself.

A visit to a chum who is a day student at the "seminary" (high school) of Milwaukee-Downer College (rather lightly disguised as "Browner College" in Milwaukee) plays a prominent role in the novel.
7: Betsy Was a Junior (1947) - For Sale

The novel begins with the return of Betsy's childhood friend Thelma (Tib) Muller, who had been living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin since her parents were independent and they wanted to return to their old life, and the departure of Betsy's older sister, Julia, for college at the University of Minnesota. Julia's desire to bypass college and begin a musical career cause her to be relatively uninterested in classes and to focus instead on her desire to join a sorority. Excited by her sister's stories of college life, Betsy and her friends Tacy and Tib join with five other girls in establishing a local sorority at the high school level.

Over time, Betsy finds that the social whirl of the sorority distracts her from her studies and also eventually causes a backlash of resentment among the rest of the student body, which leads to her group's being excluded from their usual leading role in school activities. Moreover, the exclusiveness of the sorority concept pushes away others she would like to welcome into her social circle. Julia likewise becomes less interested in sororities after she is temporarily blackballed for having attracted the romantic attentions of a man who had dated other sorority members. By April, both girls have decided against sorority membership - Betsy in order to have a wider circle of friends and Julia to have the long-awaited chance to travel abroad and begin her musical training in earnest.

The novel also revisits a theme from the previous novel in the series, Betsy in Spite of Herself. Having been reunited with her old friends Betsy and Tacy, and re-entering a co-educational setting after years in a girls-only school, Tib is initially very interested in her friends' advice on attracting young men by seeming less practical and knowledgeable than she really is. However, at various points in the novel the narrator portrays this dumbing-down as a silly and unnecessary self-denial that is not very satisfying.
8: Betsy and Joe (1948) - For Sale

Betsy and Joe details the events of Betsy Ray's senior year (1909-1910) at Deep Valley High School in Deep Valley, Minnesota. Betsy had first met Joe Willard in the fifth book of the series, Heaven to Betsy, at Willard's Emporium, a store in the country owned by Joe's uncle. The two of them did not become close friends initially, as they competed in school for top marks in English class and in the annual high school essay competition. Joe's parents had died earlier, causing him to have to spend his time working to support himself and making him, in Betsy's opinion, proud.

At the end of the previous book, Betsy Was a Junior, Betsy's classmate, Joe Willard, sent her a postcard requesting to correspond over the summer while he was away working in the harvest fields. Joe soon moved to North Dakota to help run a newspaper, and over the summer while Betsy is away on vacation at Murmuring Lake, Betsy and Joe corresponded, Betsy on her "scented, greensealed" stationery replying to Joe's "typewritten letters." While at Murmuring Lake, Betsy is often visited by her good friend, Tony Markham. Tony tends to run with a wild crowd, so Betsy encourages his visits to keep him with the Crowd. In September, school begins, and Joe makes his first visit to Betsy's home and soon he comes every Sunday night for "Sunday Night Lunch." The first dance of the school year is announced, and to Betsy's dismay Tony asks her first. After Betsy explains the situation to Joe, he makes a blanket invitation for her to go to all the rest of the dances with him. Betsy declines because she feels it would be unfair to Tony to shut him out of her life like that, even though she only likes him as a friend.

The fall progresses with Tony and Joe both taking Betsy to various events, and soon it is time for the New Year's Eve dance. Again, Tony asks Betsy first - despite Betsy's having tried to give Joe a chance to invite her first - and Betsy feels she can't say no, so she accepts even though she would rather go with Joe. When Joe finds out, he is angry and says they should stop seeing one another. When school resumes after break, the two of them are no longer friends and scarcely talk to each other. Tony becomes more serious about Betsy. Just before Easter break, Tony tries to kiss Betsy and she tells him she only likes him as a friend. She then goes away for a week to visit friends of her father in the country, the Beidwinkles. At the end of the week, Betsy and the Beidwinkles visit Willard's Emporium, where Betsy and Joe meet again and rekindle their friendship in the place where it began. They spend the day together, and when they both return to Deep Valley they begin "going together." Tony leaves school to go work on Broadway in New York, and Joe and Betsy end the year happily "almost engaged."
9: Betsy and the Great World (1952) - For Sale

The novel is set in 1914 and focuses on the newly adult Betsy Ray's adventures while spending a year traveling through Europe in place of attending college. The novel is based on the journals of the author's own trip to Europe during 1914. The novel discusses the buildup of troops in Germany prior to World War I, and also includes an account of England's declaration of war.
10: Betsy's Wedding (1955) - For Sale

Betsy returns to New York from her European trip, where Joe Willard is waiting for her. He wants to take her to Tiffany's and buy an engagement ring, but the more practical Betsy suggests he buys a wedding band instead. They spend the day in New York City enjoying many of Joe's favorite places, but more importantly renewing their love.

Betsy takes a train to Minneapolis, where her parents and younger sister are now living. She breaks the news of her engagement to her family, who are surprised that Joe wants to marry Betsy without first asking her father and without having a job in Minnesota. Her father is very upset. He thinks that Joe should have a job. When Joe arrives at the train station, Betsy tells him that her father is uncomfortable about him not having a job. He immediately drives from newspaper office to newspaper office before finding a job on a publicity campaign to help the people of Belgium (who were the victims of atrocities during World War I). Betsy's father respects Joe's go-getter attitude and allows the wedding to proceed. Joe and Betsy live with her parents while looking for an apartment to rent. With younger sister Margaret's help they find the perfect newlywed's home. Betsy struggles with her first forays into cooking, but eventually becomes a very good cook - and even has fun making some of Joe's favorite foods! Several happy months later, Joe's widowed aunt asks to live with them & Joe tiells her yes, although Betsy resents her coming. Joe is aware of her feelings (she had been hoping to bring a baby into their happy home; not Joe's aunt) & this is the first serious difference of opinion in their marriage. Betsy wants to agree with Joe but cannot help feeling bitter until she has an epiphany & realizes that Joe's generosity is one of the things she loves about him. In the end she enjoys Joe's aunt's company and her wonderful stories, especially when Joe begins working the night shift writing headlines for the newspaper. Meanwhile, Betsy and Tacy unite to try to find a husband for Tib. They introduce her to Mr. Bagshaw (a colleague of Harry's), who quickly falls in love with Tib. He proposes & Tib turns him down. Betsy and Tacy are relieved, having realized that if she had married him, Tib would have moved to NYC. Betsy then introduces Tib to Rocky, a "Tramp" journalist they meet at "The Violent Study Club" (a group of friends & fellow writers with whom Betsy & Joe hone their writing skills). But Rocky is terrible to Tib, even ridiculing her in front of friends! Finally Tib ends the relationship with Rocky & he leaves (thank goodness)! Eventually Tib meets a kind & handsome soldier while ice skating and they fall in love.

As the book ends, America enters World War I and Joe goes to a nearby officer's training camp. They rent out their house & Betsy returns to her parents' home to live with them for the duration of the war. Before Joe leaves, they are able to attend Tib's wedding in Deep Valley with family members and old friends!