Old Age Sure Ain’t for Sissies

Bette Davis? Ruth S. Hain? Malcolm Forbes? John S. Whelan? Paul Newman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: One grows in wisdom as the decades accumulate, but the challenges to health and intellect also increase. Here are four versions of a spirited adage:

  • Old age is no place for sissies.
  • Getting old is not for sissies.
  • Aging is not for wimps.
  • Gettin’ old ain’t for wimps.

In this context, the words sissy and wimp refer to a weak or cowardly person. This adage has been credited to Academy Award winning actress Bette Davis. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the “Reader’s Digest” magazine of April 1968 within a section called “Life in These United States” which printed vignettes contributed by readers. A piece from Ruth S. Hain of Castro Valley, California described a group of elderly friends who gathered together and shared tales of arthritic joints and hardening arteries. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

. . . one old gentleman detailed his stomach distress—all with considerable general comment. “Well, it just proves one thing, Hilda,” one woman finally said to her neighbor. “Old age sure ain’t for sissies.”

The guidelines published in “Reader’s Digest” state that vignettes submitted to the periodical “must be true, unpublished stories from your own experience”. 2 QI conjectures that the punchline was crafted by the anonymous discussion participant above and popularized by Hain although it remains possible that Hain was recycling a pre-existing quip.

There is good evidence that Bette Davis owned a pillow with the slogan: Old Age Ain’t No Place for Sissies. Yet, the supporting citations appeared years after the saying was already in circulation. See further below for details.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Old Age Sure Ain’t for Sissies

Notes:

  1. 1968 April, Reader’s Digest, Volume 92, Life in These United States, Start Page 81, Quote Page 82, Column 2, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with microfilm)
  2. 1968 April, Reader’s Digest, Volume 92, Have You An Amusing Anecdote—An Unusual Story?, Quote Page 12, Column 1, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with microfilm)