Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"A woman is like a teabag ..."

"A woman is like a tea bag: You never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water."

Who said this? Was it a) Mae West b) Eleanor Roosevelt c) Nancy Reagan or d) Hillary Clinton? The answer? Well, depending on your source, all of the above!

The source of that quote has been concerning me for quite some time now. For one thing, you can't avoid it. It's printed on tea towels, pillows, and in books about tea. Visit any tea room with a nice gift shop and you are bound to see that quote on something. I first saw the quote attributed to Nancy Reagan, but then far more often I'd see it attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. A time or two, it was attributed to Mae West. Last week, Hillary Clinton is reported to have said it when quoting Eleanor Roosevelt. So who originally said it? Google the quote and you'll find thousands of references to it, but they don't all agree on the source of the quote.

The question came to mind again over the weekend as I was watching "Meet the Press." (And no, I don't always watch TV with a camera at my side. I just happened to have one handy this time.) Sally Bedell Smith (above right) has a new book out on the Clintons, "For Love of Politics." Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (above left) was also a guest, and she was comparing the Clinton marriage to the Roosevelt marriage. Someone then mentioned the famous teabag quote that Hillary recently attributed to Eleanor, and Goodwin said, "That's the worst image, that we're like teabags," saying that teabags flop around in the cup. (I guess she doesn't know about those Tea Forté teabags that stand tall in the cup and proudly salute the tea drinker, but I digress.)

After some extensive Googling, I finally traced the quote to Eleanor's 1960 book "You Learn by Living." And here is the quote as it (apparently) appears in the book: "A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water." (Note that it is not "until SHE is in hot water," as usually is quoted, but "until IT'S in hot water.") Now I just need to get my hands on that book and I can put this taxing question to rest!


  1. I am impressed with your tenacious research. Thank you for clarifying this matter!

  2. So, obviously this was forever ago that you were looking into this (and let me know if you have found an absolute answer), but this was a Jeopardy question yesterday and it was credited to Nancy Reagan.

    The question was something along the lines of, "Nancy Reagan compared women to this, you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water" (although it might have been "she" on the show, I don't recall).

    Anyway, just thought it was interesting because I vaguely thought it was Eleanor Roosevelt and started doing some research and found this post (albeit old).


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