Read Part 2 of this series: A Special Homecoming: Mankato Residents Share Memories of Author Maud Hart Lovelace’s Visit to Mankato in 1961
In June 1961, the Mankato Free Press reported, “‘Betsy Tacy Day’ is planned for October.”
The Mankato Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) was responsible for the plans to bring Maud Hart Lovelace to Mankato, her childhood home. The idea for the event was suggested at an AAUW board meeting that was held at the home of the board president, Kathryn Hanson, in May 1961. Ellen Skibness, a professor at Mankato State University, proposed that the group sponsor a Betsy-Tacy weekend because Lovelace had grown up in Mankato and was writing about Mankato. In addition, most of the major characters were still living.
The proposal was quickly accepted, and it was decided that Dr. Anna Wiecking, who lived in the house across the street from the Gerlach house (Tib’s house) and knew many of the people involved, would chair the event.
When I wrote my first Betsy-Tacy book, I never planned to write another. But the children wanted more of them.Maud Hart Lovelace
The AAUW group was active all summer making plans and preparations. On Aug. 19, 1961, the Mankato Free Press reported: “Mankato and the surrounding area will have a literary ‘treat’ this fall due to the efforts of the American Association of University Women, Mankato Branch. Maud Hart Lovelace, who lives at Claremont, California, and is famous for her Betsy-Tacy stories throughout the United States, will come to Mankato October 6 and 7 to speak to her admirers and friends.”
Betsy-Tacy Days was made official by a proclamation by Mankato Mayor Rex Hill, who said Mrs. Lovelace’s visit to Mankato “would be of great interest to Mankatoans since the author was born and reared in our community.”
The following is an excerpt from an Oct. 6, 1961 article in the Mankato Free Press:
“When I wrote my first Betsy-Tacy book I never planned to write another. But the children wanted more of them,” related Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy series of books for girls.
“The Betsy-Tacy books have been rewarding to me because of the correspondence from children in every state in the Union,” said Mrs. Lovelace, a native of Mankato. “The children ask me about characters in the books and they tell me what books they want next.”
Mrs. Lovelace wrote her first Betsy-Tacy book in 1940 and 11 others in the series have followed. Other children’s stories have also been written by her since the advent of the Betsy-Tacy tales.
“I’ve always written. I sold my first story when I was 18 years old to the Los Angeles Times while visiting my grandmother in California. ‘No. 8’ was the title of the article. It was the number of a streetcar somebody was murdered on. That’s all I can remember about it. It sold for $10.”
“I married Delos Lovelace in 1917. He wrote short stories for The Saturday Evening Post and other magazines but I wasn’t good at short stories. He suggested I write novels,” remarked Mrs. Lovelace.
Mrs. Lovelace did write novels, six of them. Two were written with her husband. The first was “The Black Angels,” a book which was staged in Blue Earth county.
Ft. Snelling is in the background for “Early Candlelight.” “One Stayed at Welcome” relates to Minneapolis and the Fairmont area is the setting for “Gentlemen from England.” “Petticoat Court” and “The Charming Sally” were the novels written with her husband.
Mrs. Lovelace said she developed her interest in children’s stories when she started telling stories to her daughter, Merian, who is now the wife of a magazine editor in New York City, N.Y., and also a short story writer.
Mrs. Lovelace’s husband has continued his writing since retiring from the staff of the New York Telegram and Sun. He has written a biography of former President Eisenhower for children and two other juvenile books in recent years.
I can’t imagine a more wonderful place than Mankato for children to grow up. There is something about it that is friendly. I’ve always loved it.Maud Hart Lovelace
Mrs. Lovelace has not visited Mankato since 1953. She moved to Minneapolis from Mankato in 1910, the year she graduated from Mankato high school, but still recalls what the city was like then.
“I lived at 333 Center Street. At that time the hills at the end of Center were completely wild. We called it the Big Hill. Now it is called Sumner Hill. There were only one or two houses on the hill then.
There is another great change. The slough is gone. The high school is on it.
“We drove up Front Street last night. The only change I notice is the traffic. My father had a shoe store on Front street. He sold it to Wood and Sterling. The rest of the town looks quite natural to me,” she commented.
“The college was the Normal school then with only two or three buildings. The second house I lived in during high school in Mankato is now the journalism house at Mankato State college.
“I can’t imagine a more wonderful place than Mankato for children to grow up. There is something about it that is friendly. I’ve always loved it. Being large won’t change it,” said Mrs. Lovelace.
With Mrs. Lovelace, who is Betsy in her series of books, are other persons who are the basis for characters in the stories.
They include: Mrs. Frances Kenney Kirch (Tacy), of Buffalo, N.Y.; Mrs. Marjorie Gerlach Harris (Tib) of Chicago, Ill.; Mrs. Beulah Hunt Ingenfritz (Winona) of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Mrs. Ruth Williams (Alice) of Port Orchard, Wash.; and Mrs. Mildred Oleson Cahill (Irma) of Waseca. Other characters in the books are Mankatoans, Mr. and Mrs. Jabez Lloyd (Cab and Irene) and Mrs. Eleanor Wood Lippert (Dorothy).
Celebrating a city icon
The weekend began with a program held in the auditorium of the Lincoln School. The Free Press reported on October 7, 1961:
Large Crowd Welcomes Mrs. Lovelace
A large crowd of men and women welcomed Mrs. Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy books, at the Lincoln school auditorium, Friday evening, the first of Betsy-Tacy Days in Mankato.
The event brought together many of Lovelace’s childhood friends – friends that Lovelace used as characters in her books. Thomas Crowell Co., publisher of the Betsy-Tacy books, sent Marjorie Barr, promotion director of children’s books, from New York.
Former AAUW president Kathryn Hanson recalled, “While the Free Press photographer was taking the picture of Betsy, Tacy and Tib outside Lincoln School on that beautiful October day, Beulah Hunt Ilgen-Fritz (Winona) stood and visited with me. I visited more one-on-one with her than with the others. Beulah had a sense of style in her dress and manners and made you feel that she really knew her way around. Marjorie was a short little thing, and one could see her as a dressmaker. Bick had a pleasant smile, but both of them let Maud be the center of attention. Maud was very gracious and friendly. She welcomed questions after her speech and when the children swarmed around her after her Saturday morning speech. She offered that I could send her books I would wish to give my youngest daughter for her to autograph, and I did that several times.”
Maud was very gracious and friendly. She welcomed questions after her speech and when the children swarmed around her after her Saturday morning speech.Kathryn Hanson
The Saturday festivities featured a program for children at the Lincoln School auditorium. Lovelace spoke to the children about her books, took their questions and autographed books. On Saturday afternoon, the Mankato Public Library hosted an open house, where Lovelace again spoke to the children and autographed books.
Well known illustrator Paul Galdone made the posters for the event, which were displayed at the Mankato Public Library, Brett’s Department Store and the Free Press stationary store. Brett’s Department Store windows featured Betsy-Tacy-themed displays made by John Turner. They consisted of period dresses and furniture.
Connecting with young fans
The Free Press had more to write about the event, including the article “Betsy-Tacy Days’ Draw Huge Crowds of Children,” published on Oct. 9, 1961:
Enthusiasm for the Betsy-Tacy books and their author rose to a high pitch Saturday afternoon when a veritable flood of children rushed from their guided tours of the books’ locale to the Mankato public library.
It was here that the popular writer of the Betsy-Tacy books, Maud Hart Lovelace, held court, autographing the many copies purchased by local school children. She also took time to chat with some of the parents present, at least 450 in all.
The Blue Earth county librarian, Gilford Johnson, also assisted in receiving the youngsters who assembled in the children’s room. Attracting attention was the bride mannekin [sic] at the door, “Betsy,” in her wedding finery complete with veil.
Circulating in the crowd were six little girls in costume—Lydia Sorenson, Kathy Frahm, Margaret Hanson, Cindy Cooper, Janet Burns and Marla Sugden.
A highlight of the afternoon’s festivities was a coffee party given by Mrs. Fred Marlow at her home, 332 Center street, the original “Tacy” house, where over 50 guests stopped.
Six girls had been chosen to dress as Betsy, Tacy and Tib for the weekend.
“Nadine Sugden had much to do with finding the six girls to be Betsys and Tacys,” Hanson said. “We had two redheads for Tacy, Cindy Cooper and Janet Burns, but we needed another one age 5 or 6. One day driving home on Willard Street, Nadine saw a cute little redhead, so she went to the house and asked her surprised mother if she could be included. I remember …the girls sat in the front seats at Lincoln School auditorium for the Saturday morning program and Saturday afternoon at the library.”
Margaret Hanson, who was 10 years old at the time, recalled that she was fascinated with Lovelace’s discussion of creating characters at the Lincoln School program.
“I remember Maud said Tony wasn’t based on one person like so many of them were,” she said.
The Blue Earth County Museum, which was located at the Hubbard House on South Broad Street at that time, featured a turn-of-the-century exhibit to display items from the time period of the Betsy-Tacy series—from about 1897 to 1917. The curator, G.S. Petterson, and a special committee selected articles from the museum and got others on loan that were in use during the period of the stories. Maud loaned some personal items for the exhibit, such as pictures of herself, and her family and friends, and a Japanese version of a Betsy-Tacy book. Even the steam whistle from the “Big Mill” (Hubbard Mill) was on display.