Anonymous was a woman

The Misattributed

  • "He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men, and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory is a benediction."

This passage is often said to be by Ralph Waldo Emerson or Robert Louis Stevenson. In fact, it was written by Bessie A. Stanley of Lincoln, Kansas, in 1905. She earned $250 as the first-prize winner in a contest sponsored by the magazineModern Women.

  • "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

The French philosopher Voltaire is widely credited for what may be the most celebrated quotation about freedom of speech. Bartlett's lists it under his name, calling it a paraphrase from his letter to a M. le Riche, February 6, 1770—but that attribution was based on a misreading. The quote does not appear in Voltaire's letter to François-Louis-Henri Leriche of that date, nor anywhere else in Voltaire's works. The real writer was Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868–1919), English author of The Friends of Voltaire, a book she published in 1906 under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre. The illustrious line is Hall's own characterization of Voltaire's attitude. Discussing a book by one of his friends, she explains that even though he had thought the work rather light, he rose to its defense when it was censored.

  • "Iron curtain"

This term became basic to world politics after Winston Churchill used it in a 1946 speech, referring to the political divide between the Soviet Union and the nations it dominated, on the one hand, and the rest of the world, on the other. But Ethel Snowden (1881–1951), an English suffragette, used it in this sense much earlier, in her 1920 book Through Bolshevik Russia: "We were behind the ‘iron curtain’ at last!"

  • "The only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money."

Ernest Hemingway famously wrote in his short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (1936), "He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of [the rich] and how he had started a story once that began, 'The very rich are different from you and me.' And how someone had said to Scott, Yes, they have more money." Hemingway's celebrated putdown of Fitzgerald, however, was derived from a witticism another writer had directed at Hemingway himself. According to Matthew J. Bruccoli's Scott and Ernest, Hemingway commented at a lunch in 1936, "I am getting to know the rich." Mary Colum (1884–1957), an Irish literary critic, replied, "The only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money."

  • "Now I know why nobody ever comes here; it’s too crowded."

Yogi Berra had a gift for pronouncements that are nonsensical in literal terms yet make perfect sense. This one is included in several Internet compilations of his aphorisms—but its first use was in 1941, when Yogi was only 16. It appeared in the Helena Independent, a Montana newspaper; the writer attributed it to a "flutterbrained cutie named Suzanne Ridgeway."

  • "We will overcome."

Pete Seeger is the artist indelibly associated with the use of this gospel song as the anthem of protest movements, most particularly the civil rights movement. It was a woman named Lucille Simmons, however, who first made it a protest song. During a 1946 strike against the American Tobacco Company in Charleston, she sang her own version of the song many days on the picket line. When Seeger adopted it a few years later, his major change was altering "will" to "shall."

  • "Just say the lines and don’t trip over the furniture."

The classic advice to actors is usually ascribed to Noël Coward, who is said to have uttered it during the run of his play Nude with Violin (1956–8). But the famed stage star Lynn Fontanne (1887–1983) has a prior claim. In Best Quotes of '54, '55, '56(published in 1957), James B. Simpson gives the date 1954 for Fontanne's definition of acting: "We move about the stage without bumping into the furniture or each other."

  • "If you make it here, you make it anywhere."

The celebrated lyrics by Fred Ebb are from 1977: "If I can make it there / I'll make it anywhere / It's up to you, New York, New York." But in 1959, the New York Times quoted actress Julie Newmar (born 1933) saying the words above—prefaced by "That's why I came to New York." (Newmar introduced another well-known expression in 1964, when her robot character Rhoda, in the television show My Living Doll, used the catchphrase "That does not compute." Her most famous role was as Catwoman in the Batman TV series.)

  • "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us."

These words appear in the book A Return to Love (1992), by Marianne Williamson (born 1952), a spiritual activist and author. Their frequent attribution to a 1994 Nelson Mandela inaugural address is completely erroneous.