Commonplace Book

Commonplace book: A writer’s personal collection of quotes, literary excerpts, and poems. Called florilegia (“flowers of reading”) in the Middle Ages, commonplace books were especially popular during the Renaissance and into the 18th century.

Ever since I can remember I’ve jotted down quotes and sentences pulled from various reading materials and interactions on notebooks, pieces of stray mail, and even on my walls and mirrors. This page is the online manifestation of this delightful little obsession.

Most of of the words I record are written or spoken by women; I find solace and guidance in the words of sisters who have waged different battles, tried different tactics, lived different lives. I use  wise women’s words in my speeches and my writing, post them here, and run the @FeministQuotes handle on Twitter because I believe only by knowing the truths and possibilities of our collective feminine history may we understand who we ourselves might be.

“The only way for women to get their rights is to take them.  If necessary let there be a domestic insurrection,” – Belva Lockwood, presidential candidate of the Equal Rights Party in 1884

“Women have always struggled with their men-folk for the abolition of slavery, the liberation of countries from colonialism, the dismantling of apartheid and the attainment of peace. It is now the turn of men to join women in their struggle for equality.” – Gertrude Mongella of Tanzania

“I think it’s about time we voted for senators with breasts.  After all, we’ve been voting for boobs long enough.”  ~Claire Sargent

I am prepared to sacrifice every so-called privilege I possess in order to have a few rights. – Inez Milholland

Women more than men can strip war of its glamour and its out-of-date heroisms and patriotisms, and see it as a demon of destruction and hideous wrong. – Lillian Wald

Maybe we weren’t at the Last Supper, but we’re certainly going to be at the next one. – Bella Abzug

Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation. – Susan B. Anthony

One is not born a woman, one becomes one. -  Simone de Beauvoir

No written law has ever been more binding than unwritten custom supported by popular opinion. – Carrie Chapman Catt

Feminism’s agenda is basic: It asks that women not be forced to ‘choose’ between public justice and private happiness. – Susan Faludi

I decided it is better to scream. . . . Silence is the real crime against humanity. – Nadezhda Mandelstam

One’s prime is elusive. You little girls, when you grow up, must be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur. – Muriel Spark

Women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions which men think it manly to pay to the sex, when, in fact, men are insultingly supporting their own superiority. – Mary Wollstonecraft

God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there’s no turning back. – Gloria Steinem

We need to remember across generations that there is as much to learn as there is to teach. – Gloria Steinem

Happy or unhappy, families are all mysterious. We have only to imagine how differently we would be described – and will be, after our deaths – by each of the family members who believe they know us. – Gloria Steinem

Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood. – Gloria Steinem

If you have any doubts that we live in a society controlled by men, try reading down the index of contributors to a volume of quotations, looking for women’s names. – Elaine Gill

That’s what being young is all about. You have the courage and the daring to think that you can make a difference. You’re not prone to measure your energies in time. You’re not likely to live by equations. – Ruby Dee

Power should not be concentrated in the hands of so few, and powerlessness in the hands of so many. – Maggie Kuhn

Apparent failure may hold in its rough shell the germs of a success that will blossom in time, and bear fruit throughout eternity. – Francis Ellen Watkins Parker

Those who love a cause are those who love the life which has to be led in order to serve it. – Simone Weil

Women’s rights in essence is really a movement for freedom, a movement for equality, for the dignity of all women, for those who work outside the home and those who dedicate themselves with more altruism than any profession I know to being wives and mothers, cooks and chauffeurs, and child psychologists and loving human beings. -  Jill Ruckelshaus

One must chose in life between boredom and suffering. – Madame de Stael  (Germaine Necker)

The more I see of men the more I like dogs. – Madame de Stael  (Germaine Necker)

When a noble life has prepared old age, it is not decline that it reveals, but the first days of immortality. – Madame de Stael (Germaine Necker)

I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads. – Zora Neale Hurston

You can stand tall without standing on someone. You can be a victor without having victims. – Harriet Woods

Of course there’s no such thing as a totally objective person, except Almighty God, if she exists. – Antonia Fraser

The more articulate one is, the more dangerous words become. – May Sarton

Women’s work is always toward wholeness. – May Sarton

Patriotism does not oblige us to acquiesce in the destruction of liberty. Patriotism obliges us to question it, at least. – Wendy Kaminer

I would rather die a meaningful death than to live a meaningless life. – Corazon Aquino

The revolutionists did not succeed in establishing human freedom; they poured the new wine of belief in equal rights for all men into the old bottle of privilege for some; and it soured. – Suzanna La Follette

There isn’t much that tastes better than praise from those who are wise and capable. – Selma Lagerlof

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children. – Madeleine L’Engle

Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it. – Madeleine L’Engle

When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…. To be alive is to be vulnerable. – Madeleine L’Engle

You only learn to be a better writer by actually writing. – Doris Lessing

I believe that what a woman resents is not so much giving herself in pieces as giving herself purposelessly. – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The most exhausting thing in life is being insincere. – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The sex act itself is neither male nor female: it is a human being reaching out for the ultimate in communication with another human being. – Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

I am in truth very thankful for not having married at all. – Harriet Martineau

I married the world – the world is my husband. That is why I’m so young. No sex. Sex is the most tiring thing in the world. – Elsa Maxwell

To assess the damage is a dangerous act. – Cherrié Moraga

I am an artist and a political being as well. My aim has been to forge these two concerns into an integrity which affirms language, art, craft, form, beauty, tragedy, and audacity with the needs and vision of women, as part of an emerging new culture which could enrich us all. – Robin Morgan

Only she who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible. – Robin Morgan

It isn’t until you begin to fight in your own cause that you (a) become really committed to winning, and (b) become a genuine ally of other people struggling for their freedom. – Robin Morgan

[A] legitimate revolution must be led by, made by those who have been most oppressed: black, brown, yellow, red, and white women —- with men relating to that the best they can. – Robin Morgan

I feel that “man-hating” is an honorable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them. – Robin Morgan

If there is a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. – Toni Morrison

I think women dwell quite a bit on the duress under which they work, on how hard it is just to do it at all. We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for all that. – Toni Morrison

The freer that women become, the freer men will be. Because when you enslave someone, you are enslaved. – Louise Nevelson

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. – Anais Nin

Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous. – Anais Nin

I said to myself, I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me — shapes and ideas so near to me — so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down. I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught. – Georgia O’Keefe

Be critical. Women have the right to say: This is surface, this falsifies reality, this degrades. – Tillie Olsen

It is our duty to make this world a better place for women. – Christabel Pankhurst

I might repeat to myself slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound — if I can remember any of the damn things. – Dorothy Parker

Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common. – Dorothy Parker

I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end. – Alice Paul

Once you get on stage, everything is right. I feel the most beautiful, complete, fulfilled. I think that’s why, in the case of noncompromising career women, parts of our personal lives don’t work out. One person can’t give you the feeling that thousands of people give you. – Leontyne Price

I am a feminist because I feel endangered, psychically and physically, by this society and because I believe that the women’s movement is saying that we have come to an edge of history when men – insofar as they are embodiments of the patriarchal idea – have become dangerous to children and other living things, themselves included. – Adrienne Rich

Frequently, women with strong religious backgrounds have the most difficulty in accepting that the violence against them is wrong. They believe what they have been taught, that resistance to this injustice is unbiblical and unchristian. Christian women are supposed to be meek, and claiming rights for oneself is committing the sin of pride. But as soon as battered women who hold rigidly traditional religious beliefs begin to develop an ideological suspicion that this violence against them is wrong, they react against it. – Letty Russell

The old woman I shall become will be quite different from the woman I am now. Another I is beginning. – George Sand

The modern woman is the curse of the universe. A disaster, that’s what. She thinks that before her arrival on the scene no woman ever did anything worthwhile before, no woman was ever liberated until her time, no woman really ever amounted to anything. – Adela Rogers St. John

A crown, if it hurts us, is not worth wearing. – Pearl Bailey

Most higher education is devoted to affirming the traditions and origins of an existing elite and transmitting them to new members. – Mary Catherine Bateson

I was gravely warned by some of my female acquaintances that no woman could expect to be regarded as a lady after she had written a book. – Lydia Maria Child

If God is male, then male is God. The divine patriarch castrates women as long as he is allowed to live on in the human imagination. – Mary Daly

Courage to be is the key to the revelatory power of the feminist revolution. – Mary Daly

“There is no Women’s Movement, capital W, capital M. There are women’s movements, plural. They are alive in communities of color.” Helen Zia

You have to realize, wherever you stand, the ground underneath you, that’s your battleground.’- Shamita Das Dasgupta

“When you are not physically starving, you have the luxury to realize psychic and emotional starvation.” – Cherrie Moraga

I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance. – bell hooks

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Audre Lorde

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Audre Lorde

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” Audre Lorde

“The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.” Audre Lorde

“When I use my strength in the service of my vision it makes no difference whether or not I am afraid.” Audre Lorde

“We live in a culture that condones and celebrates rape. Within a phallocentric, patriarchal state the rape of women by men is a ritual that daily perpetuates and maintains sexist oppression and exploitation. We cannot hope to transform “rape culture” without committing ourselves fully to resisting and eradicating patriarchy.” –bell hooks

“There is also the danger in our culture that because a person is called upon to give public statements and is acclaimed by the establishment, such a person gets to the point of believing that he is the movement.” – Ella Baker

There is a place in God’s sun for the youth “farthest down” who has the vision, the determination, and the courage to reach it. – Mary Mcleod Bethune

Next to God we are indebted to women, first for life itself, and then for making it worth living. Mary Mcleod Bethune

In the end anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing – anti-humanism.  – Shirley Chisolm

Tremendous amounts of talent are being lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.  – Shirley Chisolm

Radical simply means “grasping things at the root.”  - Angela Davis

Revolution is a serious thing, the most serious thing about a revolutionary’s life. When one commits oneself to the struggle, it must be for a lifetime. – - Angela Davis

The work of the political activist inevitably involves a certain tension between the requirement that position be taken on current issues as they arise and the desire that one’s contributions will somehow survive the ravages of time. – Angela Davis

No march, movement, or agenda that defines manhood in the narrowest terms and seeks to make women lesser partners in this quest for equality can be considered a positive step. – Angela Davis

If you don’t like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time. – Marian Wright Edelman

Nobody’s free until everybody’s free. – Fannie Lou Hamer

Obviously the most oppressed of any oppressed group will be its women. – Lorraine Hansberry

The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely. – Lorraine Hansberry

If you worry about who is going to get credit, you don’t get much work done. – Dorothy Height

Don’t agonize, organize. – Florynce Kennedy

Freedom is like taking a bath: You got to keep doing it every day. – Florynce Kennedy

You’ve got to rattle your cage door. You’ve got to let them know that you’re in there, and that you want out. Make noise. Cause trouble. You may not win right away, but you’ll sure have a lot more fun. – Florynce Kennedy

Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others. – Rosa Parks

Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth. – Lucy Parsons

Where there is woman there is magic. = Ntozake Shange

There is a transcendent power in example. We reform others when we walk uprightly. — Anne Sophie Swetchine

This is an ongoing list. Inclusion here doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with the statement or the political or philosophical stance of the author but rather that something about it made me broaden or reconsider my thinking in some way.

This list is heavy on white, straight, and cisgender perspectives – partly because one result of  systematic exclusion of marginalized voices is fewer resources in which to find them but mostly because this privileged girl hasn’t done all the requisite self-education that is rooting them out. This list is ongoing – if you have suggestions, please send them my way!

5 responses to “Commonplace Book

  1. “It’s up to the women.”–Eleanor Roosevelt

  2. “Well-behaved women rarely make history” – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  3. Karolyn

    I would rather be a beggar and single than a queen and married.
    Elizabeth I

  4. Your digital commonplace book makes me so happy. Did you happen to see this column by Stephen Berlin Johnson on the interactivity of traditional reading vs. the iPad?

    http://www.stevenberlinjohnson.com/2010/04/the-glass-box-and-the-commonplace-book.html

  5. Kala

    “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.” -Alice Walker

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