Skip to main content

Betty Cavanna Papers

Identifier: DG0167

Scope and Contents

he collection has been divided into three series: personal papers, published works, and academic papers, with each of the first two series further divided into subseries. Cavanna's personal papers include autobiographical material, biographical material, correspondence, photographs and portraits, awards and honors, public appearances, reviews, a scrapbook, financial records, promotional items and miscellaneous material. This material is arranged chronologically, when possible, within each subseries. The academic papers consist of unpublished short stories and articles dating from Cavanna's college days in the late 1920s.

The published works consist primarily of original materials related to fifty-five books published between 1943 and 1987. Some items, dating from 1938 to 1969, relate to periodicals for which Cavanna either contributed articles or short stories or served in a staff capacity; many of these were published by the Presbyterian Church Board of Christian Education. Book titles are ordered alphabetically with the material for each title arranged in the probable order in which it was created. The periodicals also are arranged alphabetically by title and chronologically by date of publication within each title.

The collection is fortunate to hold original materials for several of Cavanna's award-winning titles, including Spice Island Mystery, The Ghost of Ballyhooly, and Going on Sixteen. Spice Island Mystery is set on the Caribbean island of Grenada and is the story of a West Indian girl investigating a mystery involving real estate development and drug smuggling. For this title the collection contains research material, an outline, an early typescript and an edited typescript, and a blueprint. The Ghost of Ballyhooly is the story of a girl who travels with her family to spend the Christmas holidays at a haunted seventeenth century Irish castle. For this title the collection holds two typescripts, six sets of galleys, a blueprint, and five edited page proofs. Going on Sixteen, probably Cavanna's most popular title, is the story of a girl with artistic leanings who overcomes her shyness through her relationship with her dog. For this title the collection contains galleys and four different printings of the dust jacket. While the collection does not contain any original materials from Secret Passage, it does include promotional material and a typescript from a student play adaptation.

Grossett and Dunlap published "The Connie Blair Mystery" series under Cavanna's pseudonym, Betsy Allen, between 1948 and 1956. The following nine of the eleven titles are represented only by dust jackets: The Brown Satchel Mystery, The Clue in Blue, The Ghost Wore White, The Gray Menace, The Green Island Mystery, The Puzzle in Purple, The Riddle in Red, The Secret of Black Cat Gulch, and The Yellow Warning.

Under the name of Elizabeth Headley, Cavanna wrote six or seven novels published by Macrae Smith between 1946 and 1957, five of which are represented in the collection. Among these are Take a Call, Topsy!, which was revised and published in 1978 by Westminster Press as Ballet Fever. It is the story of the sacrifices, disappointments, hard work, and joy of Teddi Baldwin's life as she trains to be a ballet dancer. For this title the collection contains typescripts, proofs and a dust jacket. For the remaining titles, Catchpenny Street, A Date for Diane, Diane's New Love, and She's My Girl! (republished as You Can't Take Twenty Dogs on a Date), the collection holds only dust jackets. Materials for Take a Call, Topsy! and She's My Girl! have been arranged under their republished titles in the collection.

Cavanna collaberated with her second husband, George Harrison, on the "Around the World Today" nonfiction series of twelve books about how children in foreign countries live, published by Franklin Watts in the early 1960s. She and Harrison visited each country to find a suitable child, usually a boy, and followed him through his daily routine, Harrison taking photographs. The collection holds original materials for half these titles. For Carlos of Mexico, Demetrios of Greece, Doug of Australia, Lo Chao of Hong Kong, Noko of Japan, and Tavi of the South Seas the Cavanna Papers include many of Harrison's photographs as well as several typescripts.

The bulk of the books material relates to Cavanna's romantic fiction. Two early titles, She's My Girl! and Take a Call, Topsy!, are represented by significant holdings, although works from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s comprise the greater part of the collection. The collection holds original materials for two 1960s titles which dealt with racial issues, Jenny Kimura about a Japanese-American girl, and A Time for Tenderness, set in Brazil where racial lines are less clearly drawn than in the United States. The collection also provides an indication of Cavanna's shift away from teen problem stories toward mysteries and historical fiction during the late 1960s and 1970s with original materials for Mystery in Marrakech, Mystery in the Museum, Mystery of the Emerald Buddha, and Mystery on Safari as well as for two historical novels, Ruffles and Drums, set during Colonial times, and Runaway Voyage, about Asa Mercer's shipload of female immigrants to the Washington Territory in the 1860s.

Other titles represented by substantial holdings include: Joyride, Petey, Wanted: A Girl for the Horses, Banner Year, Romance on Trial, Stamp Twice for Murder, Storm in Her Heart and The Surfer and the City Girl. Further information may be obtained from the box inventory.


  • 1929-1993

Conditions Governing Access

Noncirculating; Available for research

Conditions Governing Use

The collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Reproductions can be made only if they are to be used for "private study, scholarship, or research." It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.

Biographical / Historical

Elizabeth Allen Cavanna was born June 24, 1909 to Emily and Victor Cavanna in Camden, New Jersey, an industrial city across the river from Philadelphia. She was raised in Haddonfield, New Jersey, primarily by "Mamam," a woman of English ancestry who had also been Cavanna's mother's nurse. Cavanna suffered from a crippling disease, infantile paralysis, as a child, which she eventually overcame with treatment and exercise. During her convalescence, attentive adults read to her until she was old enough to read to herself, beginning a long love affair with books.

Cavanna majored in journalism at the New Jersey College for Women in New Brunswick from 1925 to 1929 and received the Bachelor of Letters degree. She also took art classes in New York and Philadelphia. Cavanna's first job was as a reporter for the Bayonne Times from 1929 to 1931. In 1931 she joined the staff of the Westminster Press in Philadelphia and over the next ten years served as advertising manager and art director, buying illustrations for the Presbyterian story papers, Sunday magazines for children, short fiction and serials. She also wrote and sold material to Methodist and Baptist publishing firms. In 1940 she married Edward Talman Headley with whom she had a son. They rented a house in the suburbs and both commuted to work in Philadelphia. They were married until her husband's death in 1952.

Cavanna had been writing short stories at night for some time before she became a full-time writer in 1941. Her manuscript for Secret Passage, expanded from a serial, was at first rejected by Winston because of its racial angle. Puppy Stakes became her first published book in 1943 by Westminister. Since then she has written more than seventy books under the name of Betty Cavanna as well as two pseudonyms: Betsy Allen, under which she wrote the "Connie Blair Mystery" series, and Elizabeth Headley, under which she wrote several books, including the Diane stories. She also wrote a nonfiction series under the name of Betty Cavanna called "Around the World Today" about young people living in various countries. The exotic settings of Cavanna's fiction and nonfiction books reflect her travels to the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, South America, Australia, Japan, the South Seas, Iran, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, eastern Africa and other locales. Much of the time she traveled with her second husband, George Russell Harrison, a university dean of science, whom she married in 1957. Also a writer, Harrison wrote several scientific books, co-wrote a nonfiction book with Cavanna, and took photographs for Cavanna's "Around the World Today" series before his death in 1979.

Cavanna's fiction is about growing up and youthful problems; its largest audience is young teenage girls. Her books have been characterized as pleasant, conventional, and stereotyped but have been extremely popular and recommended by critics for their attention to subjects which have reflected girls' interests. Beneath the surface romances lie characters who must confront problems of loneliness, shyness, social ineptitude, brother-sister rivalry, strained mother-daughter relationships and family upheavals due to divorce, alcoholism, racial prejudice or the death of a parent. In the 1970s Cavanna turned to writing mysteries, which she termed "escape fiction," because she said she felt out of sync with the problems of modern teenagers. Two of her books have been runners-up for the Edgar Allan Poe Award: Spice Island Mystery in 1970 and the Ghost of Ballyhooly in 1972. Going on Sixteen and Secret Passage were Spring Book Festival honor books in 1946 and 1947.

Betty Cavanna passed away in 2001 at the age of 92.


Contemporary Authors, vol. 27, pp. 216-218.

News from William Morrow and Company, Inc. in Betty Cavanna vertical file, de Grummond Children's Literature Research Collection, McCain Library and Archives.

Something About the Author, vol. 4, pp. 111-128.

Twentieth Century Children's Writers, 3rd ed., pp. 182-184.


10.50 Cubic Feet (35 boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials donated by Betty Cavanna between 1968 and 1993.

Related Materials

The Joseph Cellini Papers (DG0170)

Betty Cavanna Papers
In Progress
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the de Grummond Childrens Literature Collection Repository

118 College Drive - 5148
Hattiesburg MS 39406-0001