Smith, Betty, 1896-1972

Alternative names
Birth 1896-12-15
Death 1972-01-17

Biographical notes:

American author.

From the description of Letter to Walter Prichard Eaton, Sheffield, Massachusetts [manuscript], 1943 June 6. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 647817380

Betty Smith (1896-1972), novelist and playwright of Brooklyn, N.Y., Ann Arbor, Mich., and Chapel Hill, N.C.; author of "A tree grows in Brooklyn" (1943); "Tomorrow will be better" (1948), "Maggie-now" (1958), and "Joy in the morning" (1963). She was married successively to George H. E. Smith, Joseph P. Jones, and Robert V. Finch.

From the description of Betty Smith papers, 1909-1971 [manuscript]. (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 26380343

Elisabeth Wehner, professionally known as Betty Smith, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on 15 December 1896, to the children of German immigrants. She never completed high school and moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., when she married George H. E. Smith of Brooklyn, a senior law student at the University of Michigan. While in Ann Arbor, she was permitted to attend the University as a special student without being a candidate for a degree; she took classes in journalism, drama, writing, and literature. Smith won the Avery Hopw00d Award for work in drama and continued her studies at the Yale Drama School with Professor Baker as one of Baker's Dozen, thirteen students chosen to study play writing. Smith completed the three-year course, but was not awarded an M.F.A. since she held no other degrees.

Smith moved to New York with her two daughters, Nancy and Mary, in 1934 and worked for the Federal Theater, set up during the Depression by the W.P.A., which relocated her to Chapel Hill in 1936.

Smith and her first husband divorced in 1938. She was married to Joe Jones, a writer, journalist, and associate editor of the Chapel Hill Weekly, from 1943 to 1951. Smith was active in the theatrical community of Chapel Hill for many years, writing and helping with stage productions. She received both the Rockefeller Fellowship and the Dramatist Guild Fellowship for writing and wrote numerous plays before publishing her first novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in 1943. Smith's other novels include Tomorrow Will be Better (1947), Maggie-Now (1958), and Joy in the Morning (1963).

From the guide to the Betty Smith Papers, 1909-1971, (Southern Historical Collection)


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Ark ID:


  • Women--Social life and customs--20th century
  • Women authors--Relations with men
  • Poor families--Drama
  • Teenage girls--Drama
  • Prompt-book
  • Novelists, American
  • Coming of age--Drama
  • Authors, American--Correspondence
  • Soldiers--Correspondence
  • Women authors, American--History--20th century
  • Authors and publishers--History--20th century


  • Librettists


  • Fort Monroe (Va.) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • North Carolina (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--Brooklyn (New York) (as recorded)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) (as recorded)