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Actually, that’s what she said

Have you heard that genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration? In these cases, it’s 100% misappropriation. We found five famous quotes that are commonly attributed to men and their actual female author.




“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Often credited to: Thomas Edison

We should actually be thanking: Kate Sanborn

When Kate Sanborn talked about the topic of genius in an 1890s lecture, the academic didn’t actually tie any percentages to her definition of genius, simply that it was a mix of inspiration, perspiration, and talent. So, it wasn’t the exact quote — but it was closer than inventor Thomas Edison’s own words: “Bah! Genius is not inspired. Inspiration is perspiration.”


“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Often credited to: Ralph Waldo Emerson

We should actually be thanking: Muriel Strode

The line has been slightly altered from the version in Muriel Strode’s 1903 poem, “Wind-Wafted Wild Flowers” — when she wrote it, she made the statement personal: “I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.” The first attribution to Ralph Waldo Emerson (according to Quote Investigator), wasn’t until 1992, but once the Internet got a hold of it, it seems to have stuck.


“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Often credited to: Nelson Mandela

We should actually be thanking: Marianne Williamson

The African National Congress has confirmed that Nelson Mandela never used these words in a speech, and yet he’s often given the credit anyway. Two years before he gave his inaugural address, Marianne Williamson published her self-help book, A Return to Love, which includes the famous quote.


“Sometimes you’re ahead; sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

Often credited to: Baz Luhrmann or Kurt Vonnegut

We should actually be thanking: Mary Schmich

You’ll find this quote in “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” — a semi-successful, highly memorable, spoken word song that every nineties teen will remember when they hear the opening line: “Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’99: Wear sunscreen.” Other than a switch of the year, producer Baz Luhrmann took the lyrics verbatim from a 1997 essay written for the Chigago Times by journalist Mary Schmich. Luhrmann found out about it when the wise words were forwarded to him in a email chain (that’s how things went viral in the nineties) — except they were credited to a 1997 MIT commencement speech by Kurt Vonnegut. Some digging turned up the real author, he emailed her to get permission, and recorded the song the next day.  


“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much.”

Often credited to: Edward Hubbard

We should actually be thanking: Bessie A. Stanley

The version that seems to persist with its attribution to Edward Hubbard replaces the word “lived” with “worked” — but even that tweak doesn’t make it his. Bessie A. Stanley wrote the much longer version of the text for a 1904 contest held by Brown Book Magazine, which asked for an answer to the question “What is success?” in 100 words or less. In the many years since, her words have been attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Elbert Green Hubbard. Here’s the full entry that took home the $250 first prize:


“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.”