William Butler Yeats? Will Rogers? Edgar Guest? Margaret Lee Runbeck? Dorothy C. Wegner? Roberta Lieberman? Mitch Albom? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The Nobel Prize winning Irish poet William Butler Yeats often receives credit for the following sentiment:
There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.
Is this ascription accurate?
Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find substantive support for the linkage to Yeats. The popular poet Edgar Guest included a similar statement in a widely distributed 1915 poem called “Faith”. Here are the first two verses. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
I believe in the world and its bigness and splendor,
That most of the hearts beating round us are tender;
That days are but footsteps and years are but miles
That lead us to beauty and singing and smiles;
That roses that blossom and toilers that plod
Are filled with the glorious spirit of God.
I believe in the purpose of everything living,
That taking is but the forerunner of giving;
That strangers are friends that we some day may meet,
And not all the bitter can equal the sweet;
That creeds are but colors, and no man has said
That God loves the yellow rose more than the red.
The Davenport Democrat” of Iowa and other newspapers reprinted Guest’s work with an acknowledgement to “The Detroit Free Press” of Michigan. 2
QI conjectures that the quotation evolved from the line written by Guest.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1919 Guest included a thematic match in the poem “The Unknown Friends” Here are the beginning lines: 3
We cannot count our friends, nor say
How many praise us day by day.
Each one of us has friends that he
Has yet to meet and really know,
Who guard him, wheresoe’er they be,
From harm and slander’s cruel blow.
They help to light our path with cheer,
Although they pass as strangers here.
In October 1941 “The Park Record” of Park City, Utah published a column called “Stroller Notices” containing a miscellaneous collection comments and sayings. One statement without attribution echoed Guest’s line from 1915: 4
That strangers are just friends you haven’t met up with yet.
In November 1941 “The Postville Herald” of Postville, Iowa printed the following anonymous filler item: 5
Strangers are just friends you haven’t met up with yet.
In 1942 an advertisement for a book about a child appeared in several newspapers including ‘The New York Times” 6 and the “Chicago Tribune”. 7 The motto of the child matched the statement under analysis:
This Little Girl Will Capture Your Heart
Our Miss Boo by Margaret Lee Runbeck
“Strangers are just good friends that you haven’t met yet,” claims Miss Boo and she ought to know because she has made thousands of good friends from total strangers.
In 1943 a columnist in Hamilton, Ohio misspelled the name “Runbeck” and ascribed an altered version of the saying to “Reinbeck”: 8
“Strangers are just your friends that you don’t know yet.”
M. LEE REINBECK
(“Our Miss Boo.”)
In 1951 a newspaper in Santa Fe, New Mexico reported on a meeting of the Women’s Association of the First Presbyterian church. The guest speaker Dorothy C. Wegner described her experiences in China, and she employed a version with the key phrase “there are no strangers”: 9
She said that in Christian fellowship, “there are no strangers, only friends who haven’t met.”
In 1955 a columnist in “The Christian Science Monitor” shared an anecdote about the daughter and son of a friend: 10
“I don’t want to go,” Melissa had said one day about a place her parents wanted to visit. “There are too many strangers there.” And Johnny said, “Don’t let that stop you. Strangers are just the friends you haven’t yet made.”
That’s as good an introduction to Asia as you could find. Let me reword it so neither you nor I can forget: “Strangers are the friends you haven’t yet made.”
Also in 1955 an article in a Fremont, Ohio newspaper mentioned the saying while describing a dance hosted by the Welcome Wagon organization: 11
. . . . we hear the event was quite a gala occasion for having fun and getting acquainted—theme of the Welcome Wagon “there are no strangers only friends who have never met” being appropriately carried out.
In 1958 a South Carolina newspaper asserted that another newspaper prominently displayed an instance of the saying: 12
Perhaps we can’t get as close as the masthead of a North Dakota newspaper implies, but we could improve the feeling. The New Rockford (N.D.) Transcript has this line under its page one masthead: “North Dakota has no strangers; only friends who haven’t met.”
In 1961 the Irish Tourist Office published an advertisement in “The New Yorker” magazine that included the saying. No attribution was given: 13
You’ll love the theatre, the music, the magnificent conversation. You’ll find no language barrier and no strangers—only friends you haven’t met as yet.
Also, in 1961 the long-running “Chicago Tribune” column “In the WAKE of the NEWS” printed a variant: 14
A stranger is just a friend you ain’t met yet.
—The Uneducated Philosopher
In 1962 “Time” magazine connected the expression to Enzo Stuarti, an Italian musical theater performer: 15
Stuarti wraps up all this dolcezza in what he calls his “there are no strangers, only friends I haven’t met” approach.
In 1963 the advertising campaign of the Irish Tourist Office continued in the pages of “The New Yorker”: 16
There is no language barrier to hurdle. There are no strangers here either . . . only friends you haven’t met as yet. Will you come over now, and stay a bit?
In 1996 the bestselling writer Mark Victor Hansen and his co-authors implausibly linked the saying to the well-known humorist Will Rogers: 17
“Strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet,” said Will Rogers. How many of us really believe this? Most of us are afraid, in our age of violence and street crime, to look at another person, much less look into the eyes of a stranger and call him friend.
In 1997 the “Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes” credited the saying to another person without a citation: 18
Strangers are friends that you have yet to meet.
Also in 1997 a message posted to the Usenet newsgroup alt.home.repair attributed the saying to the famous poet William Butler Yeats without citation: 19
There are no strangers here,
Only friends who have not yet met.
Mitch Albom included a variant in his top-selling 2003 novel “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”: 20
“Strangers,” the Blue Man said, “are just family you have yet to come to know.”
In conclusion, in 1915 the poet Edgar Guest included a similar remark in his poem “Faith”. QI hypothesizes that the modern saying was derived in a multi-step process from Guest’s statement although it is possible that it was developed independently. The attribution to William Butler Yeats is unsupported. The advertising campaign by the Irish Tourist Office in the 1960s established a strong connection to the island and that may have facilitated an error linking the expression to one of Ireland’s top writers.
Image Notes: Picture of two friends from belajatiraihanfahrizi at Pixabay. Picture of Edgar A. Guest from his NBC Radio program circa 1935 accessed via Wikimedia Commons.
(Special thanks to Jeffrey at the Freakonomics website whose question provided the initial motivation for QI. Great thanks to Samuel West and Sara O’Leary whose inquiry led QI to reactivate this exploration. Also thanks to “The Nostromo” and the discussants in the Quoteland.com forum. “The Nostromo” pointed to the 1919 citation.)
- 1915 August 19, The Boston Globe, Poem: Faith by Edgar A. Guest (In the Detroit Free Press), Quote Page 10, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1915 August 22, The Davenport Democrat and Leader, Poem: Faith by Edgar A. Guest (In the Detroit Free Press), Quote Page 11, Column 6, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1919, The Path to Home by Edgar A. Guest, Quote Page 43, The Reilly & Lee Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1941 October 30, The Park Record, Stroller Notices, Quote Page 5, Column 4, Park City, Utah. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1941 November 5, The Postville Herald, Iowa Farm Kernels, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Postville, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1942 February 15, New York Times, Advertisement for book: “Our Miss Boo” by Margaret Lee Runbeck, Quote Page BR24, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1942 February 11, Chicago Daily Tribune, Advertisement for book: “Our Miss Boo” by Margaret Lee Runbeck, Quote Page 19, Column 8, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1943 May 8, Hamilton Journal and Daily News, Rosemary by Stella Weiler Taylor, Quote Page 9, Column 1, Hamilton, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1951 April 10, Santa Fe New Mexican, Liquidation of Ministers Cited by Missionary, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1955 December 6, The Christian Science Monitor, ‘The friends you haven’t yet made…’ by Saville R. Davis (American News Editor of The Christian Science Monitor), Quote Page 13, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1955 December 13, Fremont News-Messenger, The Man in the Street, Quote Page 20, Column 1, Fremont, Ohio. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1958 March 12, The Index-Journal, Section: Editorial Page, To Know Us Better, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Greenwood, South Carolina. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1961 February 18, The New Yorker, Advertisement by Irish Tourist Office, Quote Page 84, Published by The New Yorker Magazine Inc., New York. (Online New Yorker page image archive at archives.newyorker.com) ↩
- 1961 October 19, Chicago Daily Tribune, In the WAKE of the NEWS by Barbara Condon, Quote Page E1, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1962 September 7, Time, Music: Thatza My Boy, Times Inc., New York. (Online Time magazine archive at time.com) ↩
- 1963 February 2, The New Yorker, Advertisement by Irish Tourist Office, Quote Page 115, Published by The New Yorker Magazine Inc., New York. (Online New Yorker page image archive at archives.newyorker.com) ↩
- 1996, Out of the Blue: Delight Comes Into Our Lives, Mark Victor Hansen and Barbara Nichols with Patty Hansen, Epigraph for Chapter 5: The Delight Between Us All, Quote Page 165, HarperCollins, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 1997, Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes: Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions, Quote Page 37, Published by Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 1997 December 1, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: alt.home.repair, From: Seamus Leonard @indigo.ie, Subject: Re: mulititester. (Google Groups Search; Accessed August 9, 2017) link ↩
- 2003, The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom (Mitchell David Albom), Chapter: The First Lesson, Hachette Books, New York. (Google Books Preview) ↩