Heavens to Betsy; and thanx

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Sun Sep 30 23:23:42 UTC 2001

   My thanx go to George Cole for his reply to my query on Minna
Irving, which I now share with ads-l (below my signoff)  And yes, the
1878 "Heavens to Betsy" comes from Making of America. Fred Shapiro
had written:
>       "OED2's first use for "Heavens to Betsy/Betsey" is dated
>1892.  Making of America yields the following earlier example:
>'1878  Harper's New Monthly Mag. Sept. 582  "Heavens-to-Betsy!  You
>       don't think I ever see a copper o' her cash, do ye?'"

     Although Minna Irving's poem "Betsy's Battle Flag" is now removed
as a possible influence on the start of "Heavens to Betsy," I still
think it's possible that Betsy Ross might have inspired the
exclamation. Like "Goodness gracious me" (probably elliptical for
"May Goodness (i.e., God) be gracious to me)," "Heavens to Betsy"
might have been elliptical for "May the heavens be gracious to
Betsy." Betsy Ross has long been a cherished figure in the history of
the Revolution, and she suffered sufficient hardship in her life to
deserve special consideration from heaven.The Betsy Ross homepage
(http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/index.html) says:
  "The story of Betsy Ross's Life is one of triumph through adversity.
She was disowned by the Quakers [for marrying outside the faith]. She
lost one husband to an explosion at a munitions depot that he was
guarding. Her second husband died in a British prison. She survived
her third husband, who was sick for many years. She had seven
daughters, two of whom died in infancy. She maintained a business
through it all. By the way, her pew was next to George Washington's
at Christ Church."

---Gerald Cohen

>Date: Sun, 30 Sep 2001 18:35:34 -0400
>From: GSCole <gscole at ark.ship.edu
>To: Gerald Cohen <gcohen at umr.edu>
>Subject: ..Irving b. date?..
>I found the following site, which lists Minna Irving as being born in
>1872 (b. 1872).  Hope that it is of use.
>As for the 1878 attestation of "Heavens to Betsy", my presumption is
>that it is the September 1878 item, available at MOA-Cornell.  If not,
>please let me know.
>George Cole

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