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Women's Voices

Quotations by Women

An article by Jone Johnson Lewis, Women's History Guide

If you have any doubts that we live in a society controlled by men, try reading down the index of contributors to a volume of quotations, looking for women's names. — Elaine Gill

(Proceed directly to the index by names)

Just try checking out a typical book of quotations and you'll see it, too: mostly men, very few women. There are a few good books of quotations by women. But I've been collecting women's quotes for years, and I've put some of that collection on this site for your free perusal.

What makes a woman's quotation worth remembering? What quotes inspired me to put them in a list called "Women's Voices"?

My first assumption is that it's worthwhile to hear women's voices, and my second assumption is that those voices have been too often ignored — in general quotation collections and in common use. And because those voices have been ignored, it might be possible to imagine that women were less vocal, less wise, less inspirational than the many men who are widely quoted.

The quotes I've included — the women's voices — were chosen for a number of reasons.

Some are by women whose names are familiar — or should be familiar. I've chosen many of the quotes because they help illustrate who the woman is, what she thought, and what contributions she made to history. For instance, under Susan B. Anthony, famous for her leadership of the American woman suffrage movement, I've included her well-known "Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less."

Sometimes, too, I've included a quote from a famous woman that illustrates another side than the one history knows well. Famous women may seem distant and intimidating — nothing like you or me — until we hear their voices expressing emotions and ideas more typical of everyday life. You'll find Louisa May Alcott's words, "I am angry nearly every day of my life, but I have learned not to show it; and I still try to hope not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do it." She's human, too!

Some of the quotes illustrate women's history, both as it happened, and, sometimes, as it might have happened. Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John Adams, while he was off with the men writing the Constitution, "Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors." What if he'd listened to her, and women had been made citizens at that time?

Some quotes illustrate women's experience and women's lives. Billie Holiday tells us, "Sometimes it's worse to win a fight than to lose." Pearl Buck says, "I love people. I love my family, my children . . . but inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that's where you renew your springs that never dry up."

Some, by talking about their reaction to men, also shed light on women's experience. Listen to actress Lee Grant: "I've been married to one Marxist and one Fascist, and neither one would take the garbage out."

Some are from those "uppity women" and express their views. Charlotte Whitten, mayor of Ottawa, is the source of this oft-quoted sentiment: "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult."

Some illustrate their work. When a writer reads, from Virginia Woolf, about her experience, we may understand our own work better: "It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything."

Some I've included because they express the human condition and women's experience with good humor. There's Joan Rivers, telling us "I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes — and six months later you have to start all over again." And Mae West, in her familiar "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."

And there are a lot of quotations I've included just because they speak to me. I hope they speak to you!

Author: Jone Johnson Lewis.
This URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa040599.htm

Text copyright 1999-2009 © Jone Johnson Lewis

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