Bombeck, Erma Louise

Born: February 21, 1927
Died: April 22, 1996

Ohio connection: Birth

Bellbrook (Dayton)

Erma Louise Bombeck (nee Fiste), a columnist and best-selling author once named by the world almanac as one of the most influential people in America, was born in Bellbrook, Ohio, on February 21, 1927. Bombeck grew up in one of the working-class neighborhoods on Hedges Street in Dayton, Ohio. Her father, a crane operator who died when Bombeck was nine, and her mother, a factory worker, encouraged her love of reading and, realizing she was ready, enrolled her in school at age five, a year earlier than usual at the time. By age ten, the “future poet laureate of the suburbs” knew she wanted to write and thus did so for her middle and high school newspapers. While in high school, Bombeck was also working as a “copy girl” for the Dayton Journal Herald, where she was allowed to write just once–a one-on-one interview with fellow sixteen-year-old, Shirley Temple, who was in Dayton to promote her new movie. During this time, the quiet “book worm” was also voraciously reading humor authors, including Ohio native James Thurber. After graduating from high school in 1944, working full-time for a year as reporter with the Journal Herald, and briefly attending Ohio University, Bombeck enrolled at the University of Dayton where she was told by one of the Catholic brothers, “You can write.” Upon graduation, she wrote for the Women’s Section of the Journal Herald before deciding to become a full-time mom and homemaker. For the next twelve years Bombeck’s experiences at home lead to hilarious insights and observations that, she knew, homemakers in her town could relate to. In 1964, then, she offered to write a humor column for the local paper, theKettering-Oakwood Times, where she earned three dollars a week and, unwittingly, launched an incredible career that would span three decades. Glenn Thompson, an editor at her former paper, the Journal Herald, quickly noticed her column, recruited her, and signed her on for more money and a byline. Realizing he could not keep Bombeck to himself, Thompson forwarded her columns to Newsday Newspaper Syndicate. “At Wit’s End” was thus born and was appearing regularly in 500 newspapers across the country within five years. The column’s success opened many new doors for Bombeck. The “average housewife” gave speeches, wrote several best-selling books, wrote columns for Family Circle, Redbook, and McCall’s magazines, was a contributing editor for Good Housekeeping magazine and regularly appeared on Good Morning America from 1975-1986 giving three-minute commentary and conducting celebrity interviews. The wise-cracking, funny voice of the stay-at-home wife and mother, who also had feminists and men as some of her biggest fans, wrote the following best-selling books: The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank, made into a TV-movie starring Carol Burnett, (1976), If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pitts?(1978), Aunt Erma’s Cope Book: How to Get from Monday to Friday…In 12 Days (1979), Motherhood: the Second Oldest Profession (1983), and others. Bombeck died on Monday, April 22, 1996, after battling cancer and a hereditary kidney disease.

National Headliner Prize from Theta Sigma Phi, 1969; Mark Twain Award for Humor, 1973; Grand Marshal at Tournament of Roses Parade, 1986; American Cancer Society Medal of Honor, 1990; fifteen honorary doctorates.

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