Betty Smith

Early Life

Betty Smith is one of the influential American figures in the literary world. She was born Elisabeth Lillian Wehner on the 15th of December in 1896, in Brooklyn, New York, the United States. She was an intelligent daughter of an accomplished writer, John C. Wehner, while her mother, Katherine Hummel, was a housewife. She grew up in the lower section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was the Grand Street Brooklyn that served as the setting of her popular piece, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.


Betty Smith was passionate about reading and writing from a very young age. She loved spending time reading at her local library near her home, where she trained her brain and inspired her soul by reading a range of literary pieces. Her early passion for the written word allowed her later to transfer her thoughts on paper when she was just eight. Betty started her formal education at P.S. 23 in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, but she left the school to work at fourteen. Later, from 1915 to 1917, she attended Girl’s High School. There she became the editor of the school newspaper. Between 1927 and 1930, Betty studied law at the University of Michigan. Besides studying the law, she also attended drama classes and started writing plays, including A Day’s Work and Wives-in-Law. 

Personal Life

She married thrice. First, she tied the know with George Smith, a person of German-American descent, on the 18th of October in 1919, and had two pretty daughters. Due to her husband’s infidelity, the couple parted ways in 1938. Later, she married Joseph Piper Jones in 1943, but the two failed to develop love, and they separated through a divorce in 1951. After six years, Betty married Robert Voris Finch for the third time, and they stayed together until Finch’s death in 1959.


Betty shared her literary work and illuminated the world with brilliant, witty, and philosophical ideas. However, she died of pneumonia in Shelton, Connecticut, at seventy-five. She is buried alongside her third husband, Robert Voris Finch, in Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Some Important Facts about Betty Smith

  1. She received the Avery Hopwood Award for her play Jonica Starrs In 1930.
  2. She is widely known for her remarkable work, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
  3. She won a Berkeley Playmakers award for her work, So Gracious in the Time. She won the same award again for her work, Three Comments on a Martyr in 1938.
  4. Her novels, Joy in the Morning and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, were adapted for cinema screens in 1945 and 1963, respectively.

Her Career

Betty Smith started writing at a very young age and experienced great success as a writer during her lifetime. She started her writing career by contributing many articles to Detroit Free Press, New York Herald Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, and The Chatelaine. Later, she started writing plays. At Yale, she presented a three-act drama, You Promised Me, recollecting her childhood memories. Later, she wrote a novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in 1943, reflecting her life experiences. After four years, she wrote another splendid work, Tomorrow Will Be Better. The novel presents a realistic picture of young people who wants a bright and fanciful future. Her next two remarkable novels, Maggie-Now and Joy in the Morning, were published in the years 1958 and 1965, respectively.

Her Style

Betty Smith’s works demonstrate the clarity of thoughts and realistic representation of human emotions and experiences. Her honest, detailed, and unadorned writing approach has made her texts easy to understand for readers. Betty often uses a third-person point of view and other literary devices to establish the connection between the readers and the characters. Also, the shift of formal and informal tone and unique characterization add richness to her text. Her story-telling abilities, symbolic language, and interest in human nature have established her reputation as a remarkable literary figure.

Some Important Works of Betty Smith

  • Best Novels: Some of her best novels include Maggie-Now, Joy in the Morning, and Tomorrow Will Be Better
  • Best PlaysBesides writing novels, she tried her hands at writing plays as well. Some of her notable plays include Mannequin’s Maid, Blind Alley, Jonica Starrs, Wives-in-Law, and A Day’s Work.

Betty Smith’s Impact on Future Literature

Betty Smith is also categorized as a cultural historian, along with her dynamic playwright and novelist titles. Her plays and novels provide rich details of life in the early 20th century. Her writings reflect an insider’s view of the blue-collar world of psychological dynamics and the complexity of human nature. Most of her fiction revolves around her vision of the strange combination of hope and no-holds-barred realism. Betty successfully documented her ideas and feelings in her writings that writers try to imitate her unique style, considering her a role model for them.

Famous Quotes

  1. “I know that’s what people say– you’ll get over it. I’d say it, too. But I know it’s not true. Oh, you’ll be happy again, never fear. But you won’t forget. Every time you fall in love it will be because something in the man reminds you of him.”
  2. (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)
  3. “Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.” (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)
  4. “Let me be something every minute of every hour of my life…And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.” (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)
  5. “But she needs me more than she needs him and I guess being needed is almost as good as being loved. Maybe better.” (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)