BreakingModern — What do you think when you imagine the women of the past? Do you imagine repressed, pre-feminist wallflowers, smothered under the oppression of their gender? Women confined to lives as quiet housewives, never speaking out of turn?
Well, you shouldn’t. As long as females have possessed tongues and brains, there have been women unafraid of making clever quips and speaking their minds — even when confronting the most powerful men of their generations.
Need some examples? Here are a few of the most quotable burns from the badass ladies of your great-grandmother’s generation.
A theatrically minded woman with impeccable marksmanship, Annie Oakley toured the world with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, often performing for celebrities and royalty. But Oakley was never intimidated by the rich and powerful. After performing for Prince Albert Edward, a man who notoriously flirted with women in front of his wife, Oakley breezed by his outstretched hand to greet the princess, saying, “You’ll have to forgive me, I’m an American, and in America, women come first.”
While many performing marksmen of the day would shoot the ashes off a man’s cigarette as part of their act, it was often only a trick — the ashes flew away thanks to a timely twist of the assistant’s tongue. To prove her skill was genuine, Oakley insisted on shooting only whole cigarettes out of the mouths of her assistants and spectators — she even shot cigarettes out of the mouths world leaders, such as German Kaiser Wilhelm II.
However, as World War I erupted and America went to war with Germany, the ever-patriotic Oakley sent a follow-up letter to the Kaiser, requesting a second shot at the cigarette trick. According to legend, she told the Kaiser her “aim might have been a bit off.” Kaiser Wilhelm II never responded.
As the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, Alice Roosevelt became a national celebrity thanks to her cutting one-liners. The “Princess” of the White House never shied from her reputation — she had one of her most famous quotes, “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me,” embroidered on a pillow.
Newspapers delighted in printing her impressions of each president that came to power. When she met Herbert Hoover, she declared he “stood about like a bruised waxwork,” while Warren Harding was “just a slob.” After meeting the taciturn Calvin Coolidge, she told The Washington Post, “He looks as though he’s been weaned on a pickle.”
Not that her own family was safe from her jabs. She was endlessly unimpressed by her outgoing father, Theodore. She once famously remarked, “Father needed to be the baby at every christening, the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.” She also sniffed at the Cuban hills her father conquered with his famous Rough Riders, describing them as “mildly sloping.” She wasn’t particularly fond of her married cousins Frank and Eleanor Roosevelt, either. Possibly jealous of her father’s affection toward them, she mockingly called the pair “Cousin Darling and Cousin Dearest.” When Franklin ran for a third term, Alice quipped, “No man is good three times.”
Even if you haven’t read her poems and stories, you’ve probably heard at least one of Dorothy Parker’s cutting, oft-repeated one-liners. Even in her own time, she was famed as a witty “wisecracker,” coming up with zingers while cruising about in high literary society. One of the founding members of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, a group of famous writers that hung around the Algonquin Hotel in New York, Parker rose to fame as a theatre critic for Vanity Fair. (Later in her life, she derided the Algonquin group and their notorious witticisms, saying, “The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were.”) She would eventually would become a primary contributor to fledgling magazine The New Yorker.
The literary giant seemed to have a quick response for every situation: When she heard that the stoic and cross President Calvin Coolidge had died, Parker innocently quipped, “How could they tell?” When her editor requested more stories while she was on her honeymoon, she wrote back, “Tell him I’m too f*cking busy — or vice versa.” When a producer offered her an offensively small sum to write a script, she told him, “You can’t take it with you, and even if you did, it would probably melt.” And Parker provided one of the most famous and sweeping declarations about the wealthy: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”
Unlike most Hollywood starlets, Mae West wasn’t just famous for her curvaceous figure and beautiful face. The vaudeville veteran and sex symbol became a star thanks to her endless cache of raunchy double entendres — both on and off the screen. She is known for bawdy quotes like, “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better,” “When women go wrong, men go right after them,” and “I’ve been in more laps than a napkin.”
Of course, with a personae that focused primarily around sex and playful sexual innuendoes, the censorship boards gave West no end of trouble. However, as a result, the scandals pushed her further into the spotlight. When asked her opinion on the censors’ efforts to squelch her career, she quipped, “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.”
For BMod, I’m Alison Maney.
All Screenshots: Alison Maney