Maud and Elizabeth Riley0001

Maud Hart Lovelace (left) and Elizabeth Riley (right). The handwritten caption on the bottom of the photo: “Betsy’s Wedding” Party – Waldorf 9-15-55.

Elizabeth Riley was Maud’s editor for the Betsy-Tacy books. She was born on the West Side of Manhattan, graduated from New York University in 1928 and received a master’s degree from Columbia University two years later. Her first job was selling books at department stores, including Macy’s.

Riley’s friend and children’s book author, Munro Leaf, recommended her to the Thomas Y. Crowell Company (now HarperCollins), where she started working as a general editor in 1938. At the time, the publisher offered college textbooks but had nothing in print for young readers. By 1939 she had had risen to senior vice-president. Elizabeth was entrusted with creating the publishing house’s children’s book department, and she built it into one of the best. Many of the books she published won prizes, among them several Newbery medals as well as a Caldecott.

Maud and Elizabeth began working together along with illustrator Lois Lenski on Betsy-Tacy, which was published in 1940. Maud and Elizabeth worked together on the entire Betsy-Tacy series that spanned through 1955. They became close friends and remained so throughout their lives.

Elizabeth retired from the publishing business in the early 1970s. In 1997, at the age of 90, she was invited as the special guest keynote speaker for the Betsy-Tacy convention in Mankato, MN. “Elizabeth shared her recollections of serving as editor of the Betsy-Tacy series, and of her experiences not only with Maud but also with illustrators Lois Lenski and Vera Neville,” wrote Michele Franck Blake, past corresponding secretary of the BTS. “Elizabeth was also Lenora Mattingly Weber’s editor (author of the Beany Malone books), and she met with Beany fans at the convention and shared some of her memories. In addition to her talking about her work with Weber, I remember how fondly she talked about the planning for the Betsy’s Wedding launch, complete with the Betsy bride doll that is now on display at the Blue Earth County Historical Society in Mankato. Her assistant Esther Hautzig did a lot of the legwork, and also helped Elizabeth prepare for her talk for the convention. I recall when she arrived Elizabeth was wearing white gloves!”

40 BECHS

The Betsy bride doll on display at the Blue Earth County Historical Society.

The following year Elizabeth sent the top photo to Ms. Blake with this note, “In going over a bunch of old photographs last week, I came on this wonderful picture of Maud at a party for Betsy’s Wedding. The smiling person next to her is me, wearing a new hat which I bought in Boston at 0 (zero) Newbury Street to wear at that wonderful party.”

Elizabeth Mildred Riley died at the age of 94 at her home in Manhattan on January 27, 2002.

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