Good Girls Go to Heaven. Bad Girls Go Everywhere

Helen Gurley Brown? Lawrence Johnstone? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Helen Gurley Brown was a pioneering and controversial editor at Cosmopolitan magazine. One of her most famous lines was:

Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere.

I saw this quote in two of her recent obituary notices, but I have not seen a solid citation. When did she say this?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence connecting Brown to this saying appeared in a New York Times interview in 1982. Brown was explaining the term “mouseburger”, and the interviewer noticed that the adage was written on a pillow [NYHB]:

“A mouseburger is a young woman who is not very prepossessing,” said Mrs. Brown on a recent afternoon, curled up on a floral-patterned couch with a needlepoint pillow that said “Good Girls Go to Heaven — Bad Girls Go Everywhere.” “She is not beautiful. She is poor, has no family connections, and she is not a razzledazzle ball of charm and fire. She is a kind of waif.”

This key citation is listed in the important reference work The Yale Book of Quotations [YQHB]. Brown helped to popularize the expression, but it was in circulation before 1982. For example, in February 1979 an Associated Press newswire story described a card with this caption [GGFL]:

Good little girls may go to heaven. But bad little girls go everywhere.

Precursors to this joke appeared at the turn of the previous century. The quips evolved over decades and QI hypothesizes that two types were combined to yield the modern statement.

In 1900 a New York newspaper printed the following anecdote which comically contrasted the behavior of good girls and bad girls [GGBG]:

WHERE WICKED GIRLS GO.—A mother who was talking to her little girl the other evening was greatly surprised at the answer she received to one of her questions. “My child, where do good girls go when they die?” “To heaven, of course.” “My dear, where do bad girls go?” “To the depot to see the traveling men come in.”

The same basic anecdote was told in multiple periodicals, e.g., newspapers in Princeton, Minnesota [GGPM]; Owego, New York [GGON]; and Adrian, Michigan [GGAM]. In 1908 a variant joke was printed with an acknowledgment to the Los Angeles Times [GGLT]:

Little Jenny had been found guilty of a breach of conduct, and her mother, desiring to impress the importance of perfect behavior, asked her If she knew where the good little girls go when they die. Jenny shook her head and was informed that they go to God’s home above. She was then asked where the bad little girls go. Her answer was speedily forthcoming: “To god’s cellar, of course.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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