Quote, Unquote — Kickstarting Women’s History

quotable_woman_coverThe seeds for my book (and now web series) The Quotable Woman began back in 1973, when I had a vision.

It came to me in the middle of a restless night, not long after my mother died. I was sleeping in her bed when suddenly a light appeared. In the light was a book. I could see the title: The Quotable Woman. I could see the layout of the pages: It was a collection of women’s quotations, women from all over the world. The next day, I hopped on my bicycle and pedaled over to the UCLA Research Library to see if such a book existed: It did not. I began to look into the standard books of quotations, such as the Oxford Book of Quotations and, of course, Bartlett’s. I discovered that in the latter, only 2 percent of the contributors were women and only one-half  of the quotations! Colette wasn’t there. Virginia Woolf—one quote: “A Room of One’s Own.” And Gertrude Stein was misquoted with “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” If you read her story, “Sacred Emily,” you’ll find out that Rose is a person, and the quotation is “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

I kept thinking that someone ought to do something about it. It finally dawned on me: That someone was me. Two years later I had 500 manuscript pages. I looked in the Yellow Pages under publishers and found one called Wollstonecraft. By now, I had learned that Mary Wollstonecraft had, in 1792, written A Vindication of the Rights of Women (“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison”). I figured this was either an incredible coincidence or they were going to love my book.

They loved it. Within two weeks I had a contract. Thirty-five years later, The Quotable Woman, The First 5,000 Years  is still in print, now in its 6th edition.

From the get-go, I began to dream up ways I could utilize my training as an actor to dramatize some of these women, bring them to life so that others could get to know them in a more intimate way. In a few years, I began doing living history portraits of some of my favorite women, about 35 of them to date. I’ve presented these at hundreds of venues to thousands of people across the nation—even in Mexico, England and China.

Last year, during Women’s History Month, I began to think: Why not bring these living history portraits to the Internet, make them available to a wider audience, take them into classrooms all over the English-speaking world from mid-grade through university? They could spice up presentations for women’s studies programs, book groups and most any civic organization concerned with women’s rights and women’s history.


Sarah Winnemucca

The plan has finally come together. In celebration of this year’s Women’s History Month, I’m launching The Quotable Woman, the web series. Starting with two series (I envision at least seven), “American Sheroes” and “Sheroes of Diversity,” I’ll be bringing to life such notables as:

  • Eleanor Roosevelt (“It is very difficult to have a free, fair and honest press anywhere in the world…”)
  • Bella Abzug (“We don’t so much want to see a female Einstein become an assistant professor. We want a woman schlemiel to get promoted as quickly as a male schlemiel.”)
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton (“I am at a boiling point! If I do not find someday the use of my tongue on this question I shall die of an intellectual repression, a woman’s rights convulsion.”)
  • Flo Kennedy (“Don’t agonize; organize!”)

There will also be lesser-known, but no less amazing women, such as Murasaki Shikibu, Juana Inez de la Cruz and Sarah Winnemucca.

To make this series happen, I’m running a Kickstarter campaign. You can learn all the details, watch my video (with a sample clip from the Rachel Carson webisode), dig in and back me up. It’s such a daunting task; I feel much the same way I did when I started work on The Quotable Woman. But as one of my favorite quotable women, Robin Morgan, once said: “Only she who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible.”

MS Blog pix


Elaine Bernstein Partnow is the author of 17 books, most notably The Quotable Woman, The First 5,000 Years. She’s also an actor actively engaged in film and television, as  well as a freelance book editor. You can find out more about her at ElainePartnow-Actor.com and TheQuotableWoman.com.


  1. Linda Roberson says:

    I’ve loved “The Quotable Woman” since the 70’s. Thank you.

    • Elaine Bernstein Partnow says:

      You are not alone, Linda. I was just on a radio interview hosted by Robin Morgan and she too has a dog-eared copy. Hope you can become one of our backers. We love ’em all–from five bucks to five hundred!

    • Sally Gabb says:

      Great project! How ! out a book – quoting our mothers! We all have amazing bits of wisdom shared by our mothers, perhaps only famous to us, but the foundation of our strength! The voices of everyday women, and the quotes that kept us alive! Sally Gabb

  2. This sounds brilliant, and I must get myself a copy of the book.

    I have just set up a new project called Sheroes of History; a blog & podcast shining a spotlight on historic heroines. I hope in the future to develop it into resources for girls, including perhaps storytelling; in a similar way to what you have done. (www.sheroesofhistory.wordpress.com)

    The online series sounds great! I will look out for it!

    • Elaine Bernstein Partnow says:

      When you get ready, feel free to contact me. If I can be helpful, I will. In the meantime, Hope you can become one of our backers. We love ‘em all–from five bucks to five hundred!

  3. Elizabeth Liberty says:

    i have read and reread your amazing book. are you available as an editor, i have written a book of quotes and comments on women’s history. much inspired by your work.

    • Elaine Bernstein Partnow says:

      I am, Elizabeth. At least, I will be once this campaign is over (April 2); all my spare time (what little there is of it) is taken up with running this baby. I’d love to talk to you at that time. Take a look at my editing web site: EditingByElaine.info. And good luck! We can’t have too much of women’s voices out there!

  4. More power to you. I will visit your kick start site and buy your book.

    I’m quotable but just not quoted:

    Why censor yourself when others are so willing to do it for you?

    Shaving is only masochistic if you cut yourself.

    Game shows are welfare for the hyperactive. (I was on 7, so I know.)

    I have a theory that female mammals are the underpinning of written language because humans pictorialized what they sought: entities who could produce milk and offspring. We are still enraptured by breasts because large ones suggest food. And the evidence of this love is all over ancient scripts, including our alphabet. I have studied ancient written languages for almost 5 years now, and I just returned from 10 months in China. The Chinese get this idea instantly because the female radical is all over Chinese. Writing was created to control and dominate female mammals because we create life and sustenance. That’s why so many are fearful when women choose to exert their brainpower. Applying more estrogen and less testosterone to a situation would solve many of the world’s problems.

    • Elaine Bernstein Partnow says:

      Love your comments, Jennifer. Get ’em in print. Write a book! You’re hot! And thanks for backing up the project.

      By the way, when I was in China in 1986 (a year before Tiennemen Square), the locals called me a Woman Warrior! I loved it!

  5. I’ve had the book for years. Is this a new edition or a completely new book and how to support it?

  6. Thanks for recognizing “Someone ought to do something about this” was you! I will be supporting your kickstarter & buying your book.

  7. What a great way to bring these women’s words to life.

  8. I just needed to say thank you for being part of my awakening as a young woman. I’m so looking forward to your next chapter!

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