Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Indiana, Indiana County
Betts has worked as a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of several books, including Lincoln and the Poets.
Professor and essayist William W. Betts, Jr. was born in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, in 1926. After military service and collegiate work, Betts began a 40-year teaching career at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He edited a scholarly volume, Lincoln and the Poets, and wrote numerous essays on life in rural western Pennsylvania.
William Wilson Betts, Jr. was born in Clearfield, Pennsylvania on July 25, 1926. He was the son of Bernyce and William Wilson Betts, Sr. Following his high school education in Clearfield, Betts served in the United States Navy from 1944 to 1946. Later Betts matriculated at Dickinson College, earning his B.A. in 1949. He then began graduate study at the University of Minnesota, but transferred to The Pennsylvania State University, where he completed his Master’s degree in 1950 and his Ph.D. in 1954. In the period between his two degrees at Penn State, Betts taught high school English in Greenwood, Delaware. It was at this time (June 29, 1951) that he married Jane Jackson, whom he had met at Dickinson College. The couple has two children: Michael and Thomas.
Betts began his professional collegiate career at Ohio University as an instructor of English during the 1954-1955 academic year. He then moved to Indiana State College (now Indiana University of Pennsylvania, IUP) in 1954. In addition to serving as a professor in the English Department, Betts was an assistant basketball coach for many years, as well as associate dean of the Graduate School from 1968 to 1971.
During his time at IUP, Betts’ major scholarly work was published in 1965. It was entitled Lincoln and the Poets and was an edited volume, collecting poems about Abraham Lincoln by 23 different American poets. In this volume, Betts felt that “these poems taken together provide the most fitting, as well as the most enduring, memorial to the President.” He treats each of the selected poems with equanimity, realizing that “not all readers today will agree on which best express the proper feeling for Lincoln” but holding that all “belong to the first rank of poetry.”
Following his retirement from IUP, Betts published Slips That Pass in the Night: The King’s English Adrift on the Campus. This is a collection of painfully funny excerpts from student essays, much in the vein of Anders Henriksson’s classic Non Campus Mentis. Professor Betts is quoted on the Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Website as saying: “If you like Yogi Berra, you’ll love these college student bloopers—564 outrageous miscues that out-Berra Berra. All genuine, just exactly as the students composed them.” The volume followed a similarly constructed book, A Docketful of Wry, published in 1970.
Throughout his time at IUP, Betts wrote numerous articles on the environment and on Pennsylvania in general. In 2003 he collected a number of them and published them in The Evergreen Farm: Essays and Tales of Rural Western Pennsylvania. Many of them had appeared in Defenders, in Pennsylvania Game News, and in Good Old Days. Betts told an interviewer for Contemporary Authors Online that
My writing inclines to nostalgia. For the most part it is inspired by memories of a time which was more agrarian than the present, of a time when an identity with the land was possible. I write largely of western Pennsylvania, out of affection for the wild creatures to be found in that region, particularly for the raptors and the game birds, which I know best. I write always for the natural environment and against those forces which threaten it. In these times I never want for inspiration.
Most of the essays collected reflect this nostalgia and shed light on less technologically influenced times in rural Pennsylvania’s past.
William Betts currently is an English Professor Emeritus from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and lives in Indiana, Pennsylvania.
The Fortunes of Faust in American Literature. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1955. (Dissertation)
Anglo-German and American-German Crosscurrents, Volume I. (edited with Philip A. Shelley and Arthur O. Lewis) Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1957.
Lincoln and the Poets. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1965.
A Docketful of Wry: Or, The Freshman Expresses Himself. N.p.:Park Press, 1970.
Slips that Pass in the Night: The King’s English Adrift on the Campus. Latrobe, PA: Laurel Valley Graphics, 2001.
Thomas Betts of Guilford and His Descendants (1615-2001). (with Robert M. Kurtz) Latrobe, PA: Laurel Valley Graphics, 2001.
The Evergreen Farm: Essays and Tales of Rural Western Pennsylvania. Latrobe, PA: Laurel Valley Graphics, 2003.
Bombardier John Harris and the Rivers of the Revolution. Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2006.