The Red Hat Society; fun before and after 50

By Christine Blom
April 21, 2005

Shane Evans

Many people never think that a newspaper article could change their lifestyle or anything about it. After glancing through an edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Florence O’Connor, 80, and her best friend, Ann Ronan, also 80, got an idea that could make the Christmas of 2004 so much more memorable.

In 1930, O’Connor and Ronan met their nine other best girlfriends, otherwise known as the “Golden Girls,” in the first grade. They went all through school together, leading up to their graduation from West Catholic High School in West Philadelphia in 1942. These women have remained friends for the past 74 years, their bond growing stronger every year.

After flipping through the pages, they had both come across an article all about an organization called “The Red Hat Society.” This was going to become their gift for the rest of their “Golden Girls” for the holidays.

As the story goes, the holiday festivities took place at Ronan’s home, so the two schemers began plotting the surprise, keeping it under wraps for weeks. They purchased 11 white beach hats, spray painted them red and tied purple ribbons around them to make each women an unofficial member of the Red Hat Society.

As the other nine women arrived on the day of the party, O’Connor and Ronan greeted each of them wearing purple dresses and their freshly created red hats.

“We were all 80, so we decided it would be a nice treat, something different,” O’Connor said.

Despite the fact that the “Golden Girls” are not an official chapter of the Red Hat Society, there are many women who take the organization extremely serious.

Founded by Sue Ellen Cooper several years ago in Fullerton, Calif, the society was begun for “fun before and after 50 years old.”

The society was inspired by a woman, Jenny Joseph, who had written a poem about middle-aged women two years prior to the development of the society, entitled “Warning.”

“The Red Hat Society began as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor and elan. We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life, and since we are all in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together. Underneath the frivolity, we share a bond of affection, forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever life takes us next,” Cooper describes on the society’s website about the purpose of why they do what they do.

For many years, the society in California was the only one, until the first “sibling” group was created in Florida by a friend of one of the original “red hatters.” Now there are hundreds of sibling groups across the country, including over 250 chapters in the Delaware Valley.

As they come together across this large nation, women are looking to have fun, sometimes compared to the Ya-Ya sisterhood, both before and after they turn the big 50. Women are proud to wear the clashing colors of red and purple while they are drinking their tea, in public, to show how much they celebrate life.

Posted to the web by Shane Evans

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Christine Blom

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