For Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting thirty-one remarkable women—one for each day in March. Today, we’re proud to feature Erma Bombeck.
(Pictured: Bombeck reading about her selection as Grand Marshal of the 1986 Tournament of Roses Parade.)
“When humor goes, there goes civilization.” —Erma Bombeck
Erma Bombeck (1927–1996) was one of the best-loved humorists of her day, known for her witty bestselling books and syndicated columns.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Bombeck showed an interest in writing from a young age. She began her career as a journalist with an auspicious assignment: interviewing a teenage Shirley Temple for the Dayton Herald.
Bombeck went on to attend Ohio University and graduated from the University of Dayton in 1949. She worked various part-time jobs and wrote for the University of Dayton’s literary magazine, the Exponent. Upon graduation, Bombeck secured a job as a reporter for the women’s pages at the Dayton Journal-Herald. She married Bill Bombeck, a fellow student at the University of Dayton, in 1949.
In 1952, Bombeck began writing “Operation Dustrag,” a humorous column for the Dayton Journal-Herald based on the frustrations and joys of life as a housewife. After taking time off to raise her first two children, she returned to the world of newspapers in 1964, writing a column called “Zone 59” for the Kettering-Oakwood Times for the meager sum of three dollars per week. In 1965 she returned to the Dayton Journal-Herald with a twice-a-week column, “At Wit’s End,” which quickly found an audience and was syndicated nationally within weeks.
Through the tumult of the 1960s and ’70s, Bombeck’s quick-witted take on domestic matters was a welcome relief. She became famous for quips such as: “Insanity is hereditary. You can catch it from your kids” and “If a man watches three televised football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead.”
In 1967, Doubleday published At Wit’s End, a collection of Bombeck’s favorite entries from her column. She would go on to write eleven more books, including The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank (1976), If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1978), and Aunt Erma’s Cope Book (1979). Her works were perennial bestsellers and helped bolster her reputation as one of the nation’s sharpest observers of domestic life.
In addition to writing, Bombeck was a regular contributor on ABC’s Good Morning America for eleven years. She made guest appearances on television talk shows and entertainment specials, and gave speeches around the country. She also served on President Carter’s National Advisory Committee for Women, where she joined forces with the nation’s feminists in the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Bombeck continued to write her column until her death in 1996. She was buried in Dayton.
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