TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Betty McDonald

Betty McDonald

Betty MacDonald was born in Boulder, Colorado, to Darsie and Sydney Bard. Her father, a mining engineer, moved the family frequently before settling in Seattle.

At the age of 18, she married Robert E. Heskett and moved with him to the farm in Chimacum Valley near Port Townsend that lacked both plumbing and electricity. Seeing the humor in her situation, Betty kept a diary and regaled family and friends with stories that would later make her famous.

Whatever money the Hesketts made had gone to the chickens that Betty so eloquently hated in The Egg and I.:

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.

In 1942, she married Donald C. MacDonald and moved with him and their daughters to a beach home on Vashon Island. Built as a summer home, it was cold and damp and in need of improvements. The new family went into the chicken business as well.

Their fortune changed with a call from MacDonald's sister Mary Bard, who told her to prepare an outline for publishers who were coming the next day. Mary had a friend who was a scout for Lippincott, ran into him at a cocktail party, and told him Betty was writing a book (which she was not). Betty whipped up the proposal for The Egg and I to save her sister embarrassment. She dedicated the book "To my sister Mary, who has always believed that I can do anything she puts her mind to." Later Mary Bard became a published author as well.

Before long, MacDonald's writing became her family's major source of income. With proceeds from her bestseller, they improved their property and purchased 10 adjoining acres. They remained in the chicken business, and Donald marketed eggs on the island and at Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Continuing to amuse her fans with tongue-in-cheek accounts of her own experience, MacDonald wrote The Plague and I, followed by Anybody Can Do Anything. Her next bestseller Onions in the Stew, focused on the family's life on Vashon Island. With her own and neighbors' children as her constant companions, the writer made up stories to give them hours of entertainment. These inspired her still-popular children's books, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Magic, Hello, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Farm, and Nancy and Plum.

In 1956, after 15 productive and happy years on the island, Betty and Donald moved to Carmel Valley, California, where they bought a cattle ranch.

Two years later, in Seattle, Betty MacDonald died of cancer at age 49.