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UD's Erma Bombeck Collection to debut in March

erma bombeck at her desk in an undated photo
Used with permission
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University of Dayton
Erma Bombeck at her desk in an undated photo.

Dayton native Erma Bombeck was well known for her humorous newspaper column that ran in hundreds of papers across the country. The University of Dayton is now the official repository of Bombeck's works, including original manuscripts, columns, handwritten notes, speeches, articles and memorabilia of a woman known as one of the greatest American humorists of the 20th century.

A preview of the archives goes on display March 11.

"The collection is pretty large," says Katie Jarrell, project archivist. "It's about 78 boxes, and in those boxes there are manuscripts, speeches, interviews, articles about Erma, all of her columns, digitized photos and print photos. As well as all of her Good Morning America scripts, and scripts for her TV show, Maggie."

Bombeck was born in Bellbrook, graduated from UD, and became well known for her nationally syndicated humor columns about suburban life. She authored 12 books, nine of which earned spots on The New York Times bestseller list. She penned more than 4,500 columns before her death in 1996.

Though her first column ran in 1952, her most popular syndicated works ran from 1965-1996.

Jarrell says Bombeck's works are still relevant.

"I also think that Erma Bombeck, she really needs to make a comeback in my generation because she's so relatable. She's really funny," she says. "Even if there are things that don't fully relate to kids these days, at the end of the day, she's making jokes about just everyday life, which is something I think we can all relate to. Her work was groundbreaking in many ways, whether her work was the ERA, or just having a career and a family."

A portion of the collection will be on display March 11 through Oct. 23.

Jarrell's favorite items are letters from Bombeck to her son, Andy, while he was serving in the Peace Corps.

"She would write him letters, and it kind of shows you that she was just as funny in her personal life as she was in her columns and her books. She was a warm and caring mother — she never lost her connection with her family just because she became famous. She was still very much a relatable and real mother."

A more extensive exhibit is planned for sometime in the future. In the meantime, the archive is open to the public by appointment.

"It's been a long journey, but she's absolutely home," son Matt Bombeck told the university. "It's bittersweet, but we know the collection is going to the right place. We know it will be well taken care of and how special it will be to the university and to us."

UD notes the repository has been in the works for 20 years.

The modest 1959 ranch-style house in Centerville, Ohio, where she began her writing was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.