Erma Bombeck’s creative voice returns to UD

By: Julia Hall – Staff Writer

Combining the life of a housewife with humor, Erma Bombeck, a 1949 UD alum, changed the image of women during the ‘50s and ‘60s through her newspaper column, “At Wit’s End.” Lynn Colwell, Bombeck’s only authorized biographer, recently donated the tapes she used during her interviews with Bombeck while writing “Erma Bombeck: Writer and Humorist” to the University of Dayton.

Lynn Colwell, Bombeck's only authorized biographer.
Lynn Colwell, Bombeck’s only authorized biographer.

The tapes, however, are still in the being received and processed. “They are on cassettes so we will have to digitize them,” said Jennifer Brancato, the University of Dayton archivist and coordinator of Special Collections. “The time frame of that… I don’t know. It’s really early.”

The tapes are expected to be available to students both online and on cassette in Albert Emanuel Hall as soon as they are accepted and organized.

“Everything we have on archives is available for students to research with,” Brancato said. Students just have to call and make appointment.

“We have this donation of these never-before-heard-publically tapes. It is certainly a special gift,” said Teri Rizvi, executive director of Strategic Communication and founder of the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop.

Bombeck juggled her workload, which included appearing on “Good Morning America” for 11 years, writing her syndicated column that was carried by 700 newspapers, developing a sitcom called “Maggie” and turning out 12 books, along with raising three children.

“She really was an early feminist,” Rizvi said. “She fought for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and she was a mother and a housewife who wrote.”

The ERA would have ascertained that no one would be denied equality of rights based on their sex. Although both the U.S. House and Senate approved the amendment in the early 1970s, not enough states ratified the amendment for it to be incorporated into the Constitution.

Bombeck, through her writings and her lifestyle, transformed the perception of the housewife and the notion of family life by satirizing both.

“Humor is always a good avenue because it is so approachable,” said Anna Adami, a senior English major. “It can be used to make fun of something that is so stigmatized.”

The humor used in the majority of Bombeck’s writing shattered the frame of the picture-perfect lipstick, extravagant three-course dinner image branding the housewives of that era.

“Cleanliness is not next to godliness. It isn’t even in the same neighborhood,” Bombeck once wrote. “No one has ever gotten a religious experience out of removing burned-on cheese from the grill of the toaster oven.”

“She made it okay to not be that perfect housewife,” Brancato said. “You’re not going to be wearing your pearls when you’re vacuuming. She made that okay by using humor.”

Before changing the image of the housewife on a national scale, Bombeck graduated from the University of Dayton.

Rizvi discloses a story that Bombeck told repeatedly. “Brother Tom Price asked her to write something for the “Exponent,” which was a literary magazine at that time. She said, ‘I slid it under the door and waited for the great critic to speak.’ He said to her three words that sustained her for the rest of her life: You can write.”

“Even getting a paper back with ‘excellent’ written on it is like ‘yeah, I can do this.’ That is something I love about UD,” Adami said. “It is a smaller school where you get that personal relationship with professors.”

The University of Dayton emphasizes Bombeck, her life’s work and her association with UD as an alumna.

“Her legacy is one that we are trying to sustain and grow, particularly on campus. We are proud of her as one of our most famous graduates,” Rizvi said.

In pursuit of this mission, Rizvi and the University of Dayton offer the writing workshop dedicated to Bombeck every other year, drawing writers from across the nation, including Pulitzer Prize-winning authors. There is space for 25 UD students to attend, and the Alumni Association sponsors them, making the workshop free for those students.

“It is a workshop that’s focused on humor and human interest writing,” Rizvi said. “We laugh for three days.”

Once the audio of the Bombeck interviews is available from University Libraries Special Collections, visit to hear clips. The workshop will be held this academic year, March 31-April 2. Applications for students wishing to attend the workshop for free with the scholarship will be available in January.

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