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From scrapbook Erma kept through high school and college, ca. 1943
college Erma on her honeymoon at Sunny Lake Ranch in Glennie, Michigan, 1949
Erma and Bill with puppies, ca. 1950
Promo for "At Wit's End," ca. 1965
Galley proofs for Erma's first book, At Wit's End, 1967
collegeErma giving speech in Dayton, Ohio, ca. 1986
Buttons created by Dayton attorney and Bombeck aficionado Tom Cecil, who encouraged Bombeck to run for president; he wrote, “If I live as long as I hope to, I expect to see a woman elected President.” Bombeck did not run for president.
Erma Fiste Bombeck met her husband, Bill, in high school when he was working as a copy boy for the Dayton Journal and she was working as a copy girl for the Dayton Herald. They went on a few dates before he left to serve in Korea following World War II, and they wrote to each other while he was away. Upon his return in 1949, they began dating seriously. Bombeck graduated from the University of Dayton; by August, they were married.
Part of page from scrapbook page that Erma kept through high school and college, ca. 1948
Erma and Bill on their wedding day, 1949
A few years into their marriage, a doctor told the Bombecks they would not be able to have children, so they decided to adopt. In 1953, they brought home daughter Betsy, and Bombeck left her job writing for the women’s section of the Journal Herald.
In 1954, she jumped at the opportunity to become the editor of the Dayton Shopping News and write her own column, Thinking Out Loud. In 1955, despite the doctor’s diagnosis, she gave birth to son Andrew. Three years after that, son Matthew was born.
Erma with her children on Christmas morning, 1960
In 1964, Bombeck began writing for the Kettering-Oakwood Times. In January 1965, the Journal Herald lured her away to write two columns a week; the column, "At Wit’s End," achieved instant fame with its syndication the next month. In order to churn out three columns a week, write books, lecture and appear on television, Bombeck locked herself away in a room with her typewriter for eight hours a day and kept herself on a strict schedule; her children recall slipping notes under her door while she was working. Even amidst her busy career, she never stopped being a mother and a wife. She said, “I spend 90 percent of my time living scripts and 10 percent writing them.”
Promotional material for "At Wit's End," ca. 1965
As her children grew up, Bombeck found new material to draw from — learning to drive, college apartments and, eventually, an empty nest. She also wrote about her husband and often joked that they had “never had a meaningful conversation in their entire lives.” In reality, they were devoted to one another and supported one another through their 46-year marriage.
Erma and Bill in Spain, 1985
Her success brought her many fans, among them Art Buchwald, Bil Keane, Phyllis Diller, Phil Donahue, Tom Cecil and Liz Carpenter. In his eulogy at Bombeck’s funeral, Donahue said, “We shall never see the likes of her again. She was real and brought us down to earth — gently, generously and with brilliant humor. When the scholars gather hundreds of years from now to learn about us, they can't know it all if they don't read Erma.”
Erma with Bil and Thelma Keane, ca. 1970 Erma with Phyllis Diller, ca. 1986
Erma with Art Buchwald, 1985