WOMENS-symbolThroughout history women have made their mark in a wide variety of ways.  Each Saturday I plan to highlight one of these remarkable women.  There will be no limit to the areas of history that I may include; however as a guide I will look to the month of their birth, the month of their death or the month associated with their mark in history when I select them.  Is there an outstanding women in history you would like me to include?  I welcome your suggestions.  Would you like to guest blog one of the world’s outstanding women?  Let me hear from you.

Today an outstanding woman humorist, syndicated columnist and writer.  Meet Erma Bombeck.


Erma Bombeck

Erma Bombeck


People shop for a bathing suit with more care than they do a husband or wife. The rules are the same. Look for something you’ll feel comfortable wearing. Allow for room to grow.

— Erma Bombeck

Note:  There were not too many photographs that I could find online that the usage rights would allow me to use them in this post.  After reading my post, I reccommend visiting the online museum dedicated to Erma Bombeck at http://www.ermamuseum.org/netscape4.asp

Early life

  • Born Erma Fiste on February 21, 1927 in Bellbrook, Ohio.
  • Raised by her working-class family in Dayton, Ohio.
  • Her parents were Erma (née Haines) and Cassius Edwin Fiste, who was the city crane operator.
  • Young Erma lived with her elder paternal half-sister, Thelma.
  • In 1932 she began elementary school one year earlier than usual for her age and was an excellent student and an avid reader.
  • From an eary age, Erma particularly enjoyed the popular humor writers of the time.
  • In 1936, Erma’s father died.  Erma moved with her mother into her grandmother’s home.
  • In 1938 her mother remarried, to Albert Harris, a moving van owner.
  • In her childhood, Erma practiced tap dance and singing, and was hired by a local radio station for a children’s revue for eight years.

Education and onward

  • In 1940, Erma entered Emerson Junior High School, and began writing a humorous column for its newspaper, The Owl.
  • In 1942, Bombeck entered Parker (now Patterson) Vocational High School, where she wrote a serious column, mixing in bits of humor.
  • In 1942, she began to work at the Dayton Herald as a copygirl, sharing her full-time assignment with a girlfriend.
  • In 1943, for her first journalistic work, Erma interviewed Shirley Temple, who visited Dayton, and the interview became a newspaper feature.
  • In 1944, Erma completed high school.
  • To earn a college scholarship, she worked for a year as a typist and stenographer, for the Dayton Herald and several other companies, and did minor journalistic assignments (obituaries, etc.) for the Dayton Herald as well.
  • Using the money she earned, Erma enrolled in Ohio University at Athens, Ohio, in 1946.
  • Erma failed most of her literary assignments and was rejected for the university newspaper. She left after one semester, when her funds ran out.
  • Erma later enrolled in the University of Dayton, a Catholic college.
  • She lived in her family home and worked at Rike’s Store, a department store, where she wrote humorous material for the company newsletter.
  • In addition, she worked two part-time jobs – as a termite control accountant at an advertising agency and as a public relations person at the local YMCA.
  • While in college, her English professor, Bro. Tom Price, commented to Erma about her great prospects as a writer, and she began to write for the university student publication, The Exponent.
  • In 1949, Erma graduated with a degree in English
  • She became a lifelong active contact for the University — helping financially and participating personally — and became a lifetime trustee of the institution in 1987.
  • In 1949, she converted to Catholicism, from the United Brethren church, and married Bill Bombeck, a former fellow student of the University of Dayton, who was a veteran. His subsequent profession would be that of educator and school supervisor. Bombeck remained active in the church the rest of her life.

Housewife (1954–1964)

Erma Bombeck

Erma Bombeck

Erma and Bill were told by doctors that having a child was improbable, so they adopted a girl, Betsy, in 1953. At this time, Erma decided to become a full-time housewife.  Nonetheless, during 1954, Erma wrote a series of humorous columns in the Dayton Shopping News.  Apparently the doctors were incorrect because Erma gave birth to a son, Andrew, in 1955 and another, Matthew in 1958. The Bombeck family moved to Centerville, Ohio, into a tract housing development, and were neighbors to the young Phil Donahue.

Erma, Bill, Betsy, Matt and Andy Bombeck, 1958.

Erma, Bill, Betsy, Matt and Andy Bombeck, 1958.

“At Wit’s End” (1965)


In 1964 Erma Bombeck resumed her writing career for the local Kettering-Oakwood Times, earning $3 each for a weekly column. In 1965 the Dayton Journal Herald requested new humorous columns as well, and Bombeck agreed to write two weekly 450-word columns for $50. After three weeks, the articles went into national syndication through the Newsday Newspaper Syndicate, into 36 major U.S. newspapers, with three weekly columns under the title “At Wit’s End”.

Bombeck quickly became a popular humorist nationwide. Beginning in 1966, she began doing lectures in the various cities where her columns appeared. In 1967, her newspaper columns were compiled and published by Doubleday, under the title of At Wit’s End. And after a humorous appearance on Arthur Godfrey’s radio show, she became a regular radio guest on the show.

Aaron Priest, a Doubleday representative, became Bombeck’s loyal agent. By 1969, 500 U.S. newspapers featured her “At Wit’s End” columns, and she was also writing for Good Housekeeping Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Family Circle, Redbook, McCall’s, and even Teen magazine. Bombeck and her family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, to a lavish hacienda on a hilltop in Paradise Valley.

By 1978, 900 U.S. newspapers were publishing Bombeck’s column.

McGraw-Hill (1976)

In 1976 McGraw-Hill published Bombeck’s The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank, which became a best-seller. In 1978, Bombeck arranged both a million-dollar contract for her fifth book, If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? and a 700-thousand-copy advance for her subsequent book, Aunt Erma’s Cope Book (1979).


At the invitation of television producer Bob Shanks, Bombeck participated in ABC’s Good Morning America from 1975 until 1986. She began doing brief commentaries which were recorded at Phoenix, and eventually did both gag segments and important interviews.

For several years, Bombeck was occupied with multiple writing and TV projects. In 1978, she failed with the television pilot of The Grass is Always Greener on CBS. In 1980, then Bombeck wrote and produced her own show, the also unsuccessful Maggie, for ABC. It aired for just four months (eight episodes) to poor reviews; nevertheless the show meant that Bombeck was becoming quickly overworked, returning from Los Angeles to Phoenix only during weekends. Bombeck was offered a second sitcom attempt but she declined.

Equal Rights Amendment (1978)

In 1978 Bombeck was involved in the Presidential Advisory Committee for Women, particularly for the final implementation of the Equal Rights Amendment, with the ERA America organization’s support. Bombeck was strongly criticized for this by conservative figures, and some U.S. stores reacted by removing her books. (Things never change)

In 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed by the United States Congress to the states. Congress specified a seven-year period for ratification. Under Article V of the United States Constitution, ratification by at least three-fourths of the states is necessary, but at the end of the seven-year period, only 35 states had ratified, or three less than the required three-fourths. Bombeck expressed dismay over this development.

Great popularity (1980s)

By 1985 Erma Bombeck’s three weekly columns were being published by 900 newspapers in the United States and Canada, and were also being anthologized into a series of best-selling books. She was also making twice-weekly Good Morning America appearances. Bombeck belonged to the American Academy of Humor Columnists, along with other famous personalities. During the 1980s, Bombeck’s annual earnings ranged from $500,000 to $1 million a year. She was the grand marshal for the 97th Tournament of Roses Parade held on January 1, 1986. The parade theme was “A Celebration of Laughter.”


Erma Bombeck was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (an incurable, untreatable genetic disease) when she was 20 years old. She survived breast cancer and mastectomy, and kept secret the fact that she had kidney disease, enduring daily dialysis. She went public with her condition in 1993. On a waiting list for transplant for years, one kidney had to be removed, and the remaining one ceased to function. On April 3, 1996, she received a kidney transplant. Erma Bombeck died on April 22, 1996, aged 69, from complications of the operation. Her remains are interred in the Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio, under a large rock from the Phoenix desert.

Erma Bombeck was buried at the Woodland Cemetery under a 29,000 pound unmarked boulder from the Arizona desert.

Erma Bombeck was buried at the Woodland Cemetery under a 29,000 pound unmarked boulder from the Arizona desert.


  • At Wit’s End, Doubleday, 1967.
  • Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own, Doubleday, 1971. Written with Bil Keane.
  • I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression, Doubleday, 1974.
  • The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, McGraw-Hill, 1976.
  • If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?, McGraw-Hill, 1978.
  • Aunt Erma’s Cope Book, McGraw-Hill, 1979.
  • Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession, 1983.
  • Family — The Ties that Bind … and Gag!, 1987.
  • I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise: Children Surviving Cancer, 1989. American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor in 1990. (Profits from the publication of this book were donated to a group of health-related organizations.)
  • When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home, 1991.
  • A Marriage Made in Heaven … or Too Tired For an Affair, 1993
  • All I Know About Animal Behavior I learned in Loehmann’s Dressing Room, ISBN 0060177888 HarperCollins 1995
  • Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing From America’s Favorite Humorist, Andrew McMeel Publishing, 1996

4 responses

  1. Elle Knowles says:

    I read my first Erma Bombeck book in the 70’s and have loved her writing and sense of humor since that first reading! ~Elle


  2. Birgit says:

    She was an excellent writer and watcher of the daily world from a mom’s perspective plus so much more. My mom loved her and I found her quite funny