Betty Smith: Biography

Betty Smith

15 dec 1896

Betty Smith was born Elisabeth Wehner in 1896 in New York to German parents. She grew up in relative poverty and attended Girls’ High School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. These early experiences were the inspiration for the first novel that she wrote, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn which was published in 1943.

Shortly after getting married, she and her husband, George Smith, moved to Michigan so that he could study law. She had two twin daughters shortly after they moved and she waited until they were old enough to go to school before she completed her own education. She enrolled in classes at the university, despite having failed to complete her high school education. She took classes in literature, journalism, writing and drama. She worked hard and was rewarded with an Avery Hopwood Award.

Betty Smith divorced her husband and moved to North Carolina. Five years later, she married her second husband, Joseph Jones, in the same year in which her first novel was published. She worked alongside George Abbot to write the book for the stage musical adaptation of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which was finished in 1951.

After A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, she wrote a further 3 novels. Tomorrow Will Be Better was published in 1947, Maggie-Now was published in 1958 and finally Joy in the Morning was published in 1963. This last novel was adapted into a film starring Yvette Mimieux and Richard Chamberlain.

Smith died in Connecticut in 1972 following a battle with pneumonia.