de Grummond Collection

McCain Library and Archives
University Libraries
University of Southern Mississippi



BETTY CAVANNA PAPERS

Collection Number
Collection Dates
Collection Volume
DG0167
1929-1993
10.50 cu.ft. (35 boxes)

Biographical Sketch | Scope & Content | Related Collections | Series & Subseries | Box Inventory

Provenance

Materials donated by Betty Cavanna between 1968 and 1993.

Restrictions

Noncirculating; available for research.

Copyright

The collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U. S. Code). Reproductions can be made only if they are to be used for "private study, scholarship, or research." It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials, other than that noted above.


Biographical Sketch

Elizabeth Allen Cavanna was born June 24, 1909 to Emily and Victor Cavanna in Camden, New Jersey, an industrial city across the river from Philadelphia. She was raised in Haddonfield, New Jersey, primarily by "Mamam," a woman of English ancestry who had also been Cavanna's mother's nurse. Cavanna suffered from a crippling disease, infantile paralysis, as a child, which she eventually overcame with treatment and exercise. During her convalescence, attentive adults read to her until she was old enough to read to herself, beginning a long love affair with books.

Cavanna majored in journalism at the New Jersey College for Women in New Brunswick from 1925 to 1929 and received the Bachelor of Letters degree. She also took art classes in New York and Philadelphia. Cavanna's first job was as a reporter for the Bayonne Times from 1929 to 1931. In 1931 she joined the staff of the Westminster Press in Philadelphia and over the next ten years served as advertising manager and art director, buying illustrations for the Presbyterian story papers, Sunday magazines for children, short fiction and serials. She also wrote and sold material to Methodist and Baptist publishing firms. In 1940 she married Edward Talman Headley with whom she had a son. They rented a house in the suburbs and both commuted to work in Philadelphia. They were married until her husband's death in 1952.

Cavanna had been writing short stories at night for some time before she became a full-time writer in 1941. Her manuscript for Secret Passage, expanded from a serial, was at first rejected by Winston because of its racial angle. Puppy Stakes became her first published book in 1943 by Westminister. Since then she has written more than seventy books under the name of Betty Cavanna as well as two pseudonyms: Betsy Allen, under which she wrote the "Connie Blair Mystery" series, and Elizabeth Headley, under which she wrote several books, including the Diane stories. She also wrote a nonfiction series under the name of Betty Cavanna called "Around the World Today" about young people living in various countries. The exotic settings of Cavanna's fiction and nonfiction books reflect her travels to the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, South America, Australia, Japan, the South Seas, Iran, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, eastern Africa and other locales. Much of the time she traveled with her second husband, George Russell Harrison, a university dean of science, whom she married in 1957. Also a writer, Harrison wrote several scientific books, co-wrote a nonfiction book with Cavanna, and took photographs for Cavanna's "Around the World Today" series before his death in 1979.

Cavanna's fiction is about growing up and youthful problems; its largest audience is young teenage girls. Her books have been characterized as pleasant, conventional, and stereotyped but have been extremely popular and recommended by critics for their attention to subjects which have reflected girls' interests. Beneath the surface romances lie characters who must confront problems of loneliness, shyness, social ineptitude, brother-sister rivalry, strained mother-daughter relationships and family upheavals due to divorce, alcoholism, racial prejudice or the death of a parent. In the 1970s Cavanna turned to writing mysteries, which she termed "escape fiction," because she said she felt out of sync with the problems of modern teenagers. Two of her books have been runners-up for the Edgar Allan Poe Award: Spice Island Mystery in 1970 and the Ghost of Ballyhooly in 1972. Going on Sixteen and Secret Passage were Spring Book Festival honor books in 1946 and 1947.

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