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Photos: Red Hatters at the Beachwood Community Center

They're not too old to have fun

Back in 1997, Sue Ellen Cooper gave her friend Linda Murphy a gift. It was a red fedora and a poem entitled "Warning." The poem, by Jenny Joseph, begins:

"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me..."

Murphy gave a similar gift to another friend, who did the same. Within a year, 18 women wearing red hats became an impromptu social group, and the Red Hat Society was born.

The mission of the group is simple: "It's for women over 50 who believe it's their time to have fun," said Lois Klein. She heads the local chapter - Red Hattitudes -  but don't call her the president. She's the "queen mum." Elaine Zimmerman isn't the chapter's treasurer; she's the "money princess."

That kind of whimsy and humor has helped turned a lunch group started by two friends into an international organization that is dedicated to transforming the image of older women. The organization  has 40,000 chapters, according to its website. While membership is open to women younger than 50, only those 50 and above are "Red Hatters"; the younger women are "Pink Hatters."

Red or pink, the group's members work to uphold the warning that Jenny Joseph gave when she wrote her poem in 1961.

"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth."

Editor's Note: The chapter's and Maxine Schinagle's names have been corrected.

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