Happy Ten Years, Oliver Bennett
Elders, Sex and HIV/AIDS

When I'm an Old Lady

Many of you are probably familiar with that poem by Jenny Joseph adopted by the certain elder women as their anthem. It is titled Warning and is entirely responsible for hordes of women wandering the streets of cities in the U.S. (maybe the world) dressed identically in red hats and purple dresses.

Of course, I can't read Ms. Joseph's mind but I'm pretty sure she was using purple dresses with red hats as a metaphor for claiming independence in old age from societal pressure to behave in a prescribed manner and did not mean it literally.

Unfortunately, it is comformity that the poem has spawned instead. Although I once vowed to never print Warning on this blog, you need to know the first few lines to understand the rest of today's post:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter...

(Full text of the poem is here.)

A poem that covers similar ground has recently come to my attention. It more irreverent, funnier and I'm pretty sure no one will turn this one into an annoying society.

According to what I can find around the web, When I'm an Old Lady was written by Joanne Bailey Baxter of Lorain, Ohio, published in 1991. At least, that is the best information I can find.

It's from Dave Baxter, who says in a comment on this website in 2005, that he is Joanne's son:

”My mother wrote this poem many years ago and has had it published in several local papers and senior group newsletters,” he wrote. “She would just like to see her name listed as the author.”

And so it shall be. Here is When I'm an Old Lady by Joanne Bailey Baxter. Have fun.

When I'm an old lady, I'll live with my kids,
and make them so happy, just as they did.
I want to pay back all the joy they've provided,
returning each deed. Oh, they'll be so excited.
(When I'm an old lady and live with my kids.)

I'll write on the wall with reds, whites and blues,
and bounce on the furniture wearing my shoes.
I'll drink from the carton and then leave it out.
I'll stuff all the toilets, and oh, how they'll shout.
(When I'm an old lady and live with my kids.)

When they're on the phone and just out of reach,
I'll get into things like sugar and bleach.
Oh, they'll snap their fingers and then shake their head,
and when that is done I'll hide under the bed.
(When I'm an old lady and live with my kids.)

When they cook dinner and call me to meals,
I'll not eat my green beans or salads congealed.
I'll gag on my okra, spill milk on the table,
and when they get angry, run fast as I'm able.
(When I'm an old lady and live with my kids.)

I'll sit close to the TV, through the channels I'll click,
I'll cross both my eyes to see if they stick.
I'll take off my socks and throw one away,
And play in the mud until the end of the day.
(When I'm an old lady and live with my kids.)

And later in bed, I'll lay back and sigh,
and thank God in prayer and then close my eyes,
and my kids will look down with a smile slowly creeping,
and say with a groan. "She's so sweet when she's sleeping!"
(When I'm an old lady and live with my kids.)

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ross Middleton: The CIA (An Australian Perspective)


I'm a member of a Red Hat Society chapter and I take acceptation to your comment that they "spawn conformity" with their one and only rule that members must wearing red and purple on public outings. Aside from the fact that the rule actually brings out your creative side to come up with different outfits with a two color palette---one women I know has 55 red hats---what the outfits do is force people to look at elderly women when we’re out in public. People usually look right through a group of elderly women in a restaurant or county fair---you know that’s true---but they don’t ignore a gaggle of elderly women dressed in red and purple. When we go out as a chapter people engage us in conversation. People see us as women having a great time and just about every time we’re on an outing someone wants to take our picture. Young women often tell us they want to be like us when they get old and young men have asked us how they can get their mothers involve. The last time we were out a young man in an 18 wheeler stopped his truck in the middle of the street to yell, “You ladies rock!”
I see the Red Hat Society as doing much the same things you are trying do in this blog to change the perceptions of the way people view older people. The only difference is their approach is on the fun side and yours is on the serious side. Conformity would be if we all walked the same path to remaining relevant in this world.

Although the Red Hat Society is not MY style, I appreciate your viewpoint, Jean. Interesting how society views older women. My son-in-law's grandmother, in her late 90's, always dresses flamboyantly with colorful scarves, big jewelry. Whenever we're out with her, waitresses, salespeople, strangers smile at her and comment on how much they like her outfits. Yes, maybe some of it is condescending (look at the cute old lady) but how bad can it be to evoke smiles and friendly attention from people?

I had never seen this before, so thanks for sharing it. I enjoy well-done variations (or parodies) of well-known poems or songs, and this one was very enjoyable.

Sorry Jean I disagree. Your organization encourages older women to be worse than invisible. I want to be an individual, wear decent nice clothes like say an older woman in Paris would, stay slim, enjoy the company of men, not look like I am out with a gaggle of cackling hens on a Vegas trip. I would rather have no friends and hang out with my cats than pal around with a bunch of loud, absurdly dressed women.

Your organization portrays an even worse stereotype than being invisible, it shows older women as being ridiculous.

I'm with you Ronnie. I guess it depends on how needy you are for attention, and what kind of attention you want. I saw a red hat group on an outing in downtown Dallas a few years ago. A man stopped them and asked if they were old hookers.

A retired friend said to someone yesterday while we were out delivering school supplies that I would have them wearing red hats next. I whirled around and said, "no red hats." I don't want to be part of an organization for old people. I'm not an AARP member either. I really like groups of mixed ages, and I've never cared much for uniforms of any kind.

My mom lives with her adult children and I am sending her this poem!

You gave me a good laugh this morning with the poem. I think I will send it to my children. My son sent me a card for my birthday and it had a picture on the front of a woman with eyes wide open and her hands on her face with the caption "MY SON DID WHAT?". Inside it said, "From the kid who kept your life interesting." I think I will live with him and keep his life interesting. ;-)

Unfortunately, a uniform, whether it be just a red hat or a coat with epilates, defines what you are rather than who you are. A police uniform says "I'm a cop, I'm different from you" or "I'm a mailman, I can only deliver the mail". While it's OK to want to be recognized as belonging to a particular group just be aware of how you might be treated. It's OK to be an older person, but do you really want to be defined as one.

That''s a delightful poem, thanks for sharing it, Ronni.

Red hat ladies. I'm not that kind of joiner, but they sure do have fun.

Vera.... Ouch! LOL To each his own but I don't see how being an older woman alone, living with a bunch of cats would be a better stereotype than being with "a gaggle of cackling hens on a Vegas trip." I agree with you about rather looking like a Paris fashion plate on the arm of an attractive man, but men in our age bracket are hard to find. Why sit home if a Red Hat group can get you out and about and make you feel connected and happy when you've got your 'play clothes' on? And by the way, they do make quality, tasteful clothing in red and purple. My chapter only wears flamboyant garb when we entertain at nursing homes which we do four times a year. We also do charity work for homeless veterans. It's not all fun and games. There are 40,000 chapters in over 30 countries and no two chapters are the same because there is truly only that one rule I mentioned in my first post. The Society is far from a stereotype when you learn more about it.

Does it matter what you do as long as you're enjoying yourself and not hurting anyone else? The Red Hat Society may be the first time some of these women have felt able to cut loose and have fun for fun's sake.

Right on Jean.

I googled and listened to Jenny Joseph (now 82 but then about 78) read her poem.I wonder if she knows how positive the red hats can be.
She is not wearing red and purple and ends "When I am old" with a somewhat defiant stare as if daring you to call her old yet.
Her feelings about age may be
quite different than when she
wrote the poem around 60 years ago.

I liked "Warning" when I first read it years ago and felt distressed to see it play out as a society club complete with uniform. I love outings with my female friends and I look good in purple, but now I am reluctant to combine the two. Of course, I know that's my problem entirely.

I say "whatever floats your boat."
Wouldn't the world be boring if we all thought the same?

I confess I enjoy watching my 4 daughters cope with the misbehavior of my 7 grandkids, as strong willed as they were. However, I am entirely supportive of their frustration.

I have to comment on this one. I had a wonderful book by that name; nice poems and essays by older woman. I am not a joiner, so Red Hats are not for me. I went to one meeting when the chapters were just forming. Everyone was barely over 50 and I was in my 60's. I am a big believer in the "to each his own" rule.

That said, my very favorite saying in the world is:
If I had my life to live over, I'd pick more daisies.

btw, I go by MissDazey instead of Linda

One of my favourite poems.

I used it in my grade 8 and 9 classroom and could not wait to read the responses from teens.

We had great discussions about grandparents.

Good memories.

I'm definitely not a joiner especially of what's talked about here ....but that's just me.

Like some other responders I'm a big fan of "to each her own". I'm not a joiner but, if I were, I could probably do worse than the Red Hat Society. I could join the tea party, and what's worse than that (my view only, of course)?

As Jean states, the RHS does good works, and most of their everyday outfits are likely not wildly flamboyant, if that's an issue. From what I've heard and read, any attention they attract is most often positive--the "old hookers" comment notwithstanding (how tasteless is that anyway).

Since I love cats, living with two of them and hanging out with more every week as a volunteer for a no-kill cat shelter is definitely not a problem for me!

I'm not in the Red Hat Society myself, but I know two people who are. The group doesn't wear identical hats or dresses. It's a group for older women to get together for a social occasion. It's a positive group. And, Dean Ornish, M.D., has written a book about how it's important for older people to get out of their homes and have places to go regularly. It improves their health. You might want to try going to one of these meetings. You might get a different idea about the group.

Isn't the point of the poem that when you're old you can do what you want: other people's opinion just doesn't matter. You can wear Paris or purple, eat pickles or sausages, hang out with crazy women or handsome men. At a certain age, society's conventions and other people's opinions just arent as important.

If you're giving a "bad" impression, it's no longer as much your problem as the viewer's. Attempts to control you through peer pressure no longer work as well.

(What kind of pathetic loser would make that hooker comment, anyway? Someone pretty threatened by happy and powerful older women, sounds like.)

I just googled this name Joanne Bailey Baxter after reading "when I grow old and live with my kids" because my real name is Anne Baxter Bailey. And I love the poem, I did send it as a warning to my daughter and grandsons.

Just to set the record straight, the second poem was actually penned by May Baker Winkel in 2002.
I was there. Sorry Dave.
I have found it published on several sites with several names given credit.
She'd be so happy to know it's brought delight to so many people.
Gaye Lee Winkel Page


I've always found Jenny Joseph's poems about "old women" highly depressing - and people's raving about them annoying in its mindlessness.
How can anyone fail to see that the woman in this poem is planning on a lifetime of self-repression, self-imposed conventionality, only lashing out (never a healthy, organically evolved attitude) when she is "old" and has apparently given up?

Joseph's poems, far from being encouraging, often imply resignation - which, to some, may be liberating, but to others is death.

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