A Woman Has To Be Twice as Good as a Man To Go Half as Far

Fannie Hurst? Joan Lowell? Jack Lewis? Lewis Browne? Myrtelle L. Gunsul? Lilias F. Evans? Anna Judge Vetters Levy? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Fannie Hurst was popular novelist who was born in 1885. She believed that women faced greater obstacles to professional success than men. Apparently, she employed the following expression:

A woman must be twice as good as a man to get half as far.

Do you know whether she coined this remark? Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Fannie Hurst did help to popularize this statement by using it on multiple occasions. For example, in 1943 she attended the National Conference of Women sponsored by “The New York Times” and said the following. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Fannie Hurst, novelist, deplored comparative lack of leadership that women have shown through past ages. “Our much vaunted strength is largely wordage,” she said. “A woman still has to be twice as good as a man in order to get half as far.”

Yet, Hurst did not craft this saying; it was already in circulation. Interestingly, in 1927 an analogous expression was applied to black boxers by a promoter who was quoted in a Nebraska newspaper: 2

All of which leads Genial Jack Lewis to remark, with justification, that a Negro pug must be twice as good as a white fist-fighter to get half as far.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1928 Dr. Lewis Browne, author of “This Believing World” applied an analogous expression to Jewish people: 3

. . . always the Jew must be twice as good as a non-Jew to get half as far.

In 1930 an interview with movie actress Joan Lowell appeared in a Madison, Wisconsin newspaper. Lowell’s recently published autobiography depicted an adventurous life as a sea captain’s daughter. Unfortunately, the book was eventually revealed to be fictionalized. Lowell employed the saying under examination during the interview: 4

“This bunk about the captain’s daughter is just like everything else—you’ve got to prove yourself if you’re a woman, and it holds true in the newspaper world too,” she declared with a smile for her interviewers. “You’ve got to be twice as good as a man to get half as far.”

In 1933 the Associated Press reported on a convention of Municipal Finance Officers. Two of the attendees were Mrs. Myrtelle L. Gunsul, city auditor of Long Beach, California and Mrs. Lilias F. Evans, city comptroller of Highland Park, Michigan: 5

The two who are the only elected women officials attending the convention are agreed on several subjects, but particularly: “We agree in the declaration that a woman has to do a political job twice as good as a man to get half as far as a man.

In 1935 Louisiana State University held a Woman’s Day as part of a Diamond Jubilee celebration. Mrs. Anna Judge Vetters Levy, an attorney from New Orleans, spoke during the event: 6

The statement that women have equal rights with men is not true in the business and professional world, Mrs. Levy declared. “Women have to do a thing twice as well to get half as far as men,” she contended.

In 1943 Fannie Hurst employed the saying during the National Conference of Women as noted previously:

“A woman still has to be twice as good as a man in order to get half as far.”

In 1946 columnist Virginia Polhill Price of “The Atlanta Constitution” in Georgia stated the following: 7

Staunch believer that I am in the ability of the working girl, and bitter champion that I am of the belief that a working girl has to be twice as good as a man to go only half as far in the business world, it certainly pains me to admit that returned servicemen who are now re-employed at their old jobs give their places of business quite an air of efficiency and graciousness.

In 1947 Fannie Hurst wrote a piece for the International News Service that included the saying, but she disclaimed credit. She attributed the remark to an archetypal “little women” who preferred the traditional roles of wife and mother: 8

“A woman has to be twice as good as a man in order to get half as far.”

The 1968 collection “20,000 Quips and Quotes” by Evan Esar ascribed the saying to Hurst: 9

A woman has to be twice as good as a man to go half as far.
—Fannie Hurst

In conclusion, Fannie Hurst did popularize the version of this saying tailored to women by 1943, but actress Joan Lowell employed the women-oriented saying earlier in 1930. In addition, Genial Jack Lewis used the same template in 1927 tailored to black boxers. Further, QI hypothesizes that the template was in use before 1927.

(Great thanks to L whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Image Notes: Illustration showing arrows of various lengths from geralt at Pixabay.

Notes:

  1. 1943 April 27, Miami Daily News, Women Will Have New World Status by Beth Blair, Quote Page 11A, Column 5, Miami, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1927 April 21, The Omaha World-Herald, Section: Sports, The Sportolog by Frederick Ware, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1928 May 21, The San Diego Union, Explains Jewish Persecution and Future in U.S., Quote Page 3, Column 6, San Diego, California. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1930 March 12, The Capital Times, ‘Cradle of the Deep’ Tale True, Joan Lowell Says by Ethel Max (Continuation title: Ralph Lintons Are Hosts to Joan Lowell), Start Page 1, Quote Page 15, Column 8, Madison, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1933 June 15, The Helena Daily Independent, Women Officials at Cincinnati Sessions (Associated Press), Quote Page 5, Column 8, Helena, Montana. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1935 April 6, State Times Advocate, Women’s Parley Special Event in Jubilee Program, Quote Page 2, Column 2, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)
  7. 1946 February 13, The Atlanta Constitution, Were Men Clerks Always Kind? by Virginia Polhill Price, Quote Page 7, Column 2, Atlanta, Georgia. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1947 June 8, Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, Why a Woman Cannot Become President Told by Fannie Hurst (International News Special Service), Section 3, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Subject: Ability, Quote Page 1, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)