The first book written by Betty MacDonald,
The Egg and I
, rocketed to the top of the national bestseller list in 1945. Translations followed in more than 30 languages, along with a series of popular movies. In the wake of World War II, the hilarious accounts of MacDonald's adventures as a backwoods farmer's wife in Chimacum Valley were a breath of fresh air for readers around the world. On the negative side, her book spawned a perception of Washington as a land of eccentric country bumpkins like Ma and Pa Kettle.
Anne Elizabeth Campbell Bard, called Betsy in childhood and later known world-wide as Betty MacDonald, was born in Boulder, Colorado, to Darsie and Elsie/Sydney Bard on March 26, 1908. Her father, a mining engineer, moved the family frequently before settling in Seattle. Betty attended the St. Nicholas School on Capitol Hill, then Lincoln High School. In 1924 she graduated from Roosevelt High School.
On July 9, 1927, Betty Bard married Robert E. Heskett and moved with him to the farm in the tiny community of Center in the Chimacum Valley near Port Townsend that lacked both plumbing and electricity. Betty later regaled family and friends with stories of her struggles during this time, eventually transforming them into the book that would make her famous.
After four years, Betty left Robert Hesket, taking their two daughters, Anne and Joan, with her. She returned to the family home in Seattle and worked at various jobs, keeping her sense of humor and her journal even when tuberculosis forced her to spend a year at Firland Sanatorium in what is now the city of Shoreline.
On April 29, 1942, she married Donald C. MacDonald (1910-1975) and moved with him and her daughters to a beach home on Vashon Island. Built as a summer home, it was cold and damp and in need of improvements. Anne and Joan enrolled in school while Don and Betty commuted to Seattle for work every day. Betty later described her daily scramble from home to the ferry dock in [book:Onions In The Stew|:
"It was always seven o'clock and my ferry left at seven-twenty and I should have left at six-fifty and now I would have to run the last quarter of a mile. I wore loafers and woolen socks over my silk stockings, carried my office shoes along with my lunch, purse, current book and grocery list in a large green felt bag. The county trail connecting our beach with the rest of the world begins at a cluster of mailboxes down by the dock, meanders along the steep southwest face of the island about fifty feet above the shore, and ends at our house ... if it was dark when I left the house (and it usually was) I ... ran the rest of the way to the ferry ... This boisterous early morning activity also started my blood circulating, churning, really, and by the time I got to the office I was not only bileless, I was boiling hot" (p. 57).
Their fortune changed with a call from MacDonald's sister, Mary Bard Jensen (1904-1970). At a cocktail party, Mary ran into a friend who was a publishing company scout and told him that Betty was writing a book (which she was not). Betty whipped up the proposal for The Egg and I to save her sister embarrassment. The scout requested a full manuscript, which was rejected by one publishing house. With the assistance of the New York literary agency Brandt & Brandt, the book was serialized in the Atlantic Monthly and then published by J.B. Lippincott. She dedicated the book "To my sister Mary, who has always believed that I can do anything she puts her mind to."
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