By Chris Faulkner
“When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple. With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”
Those are the first two lines of the poem, “Warning,” written in 1961 by British poet Jenny Joseph.
That inspired the founding of the Red Hat Society, a social club in which women get together and wear red hats and purple dresses.
The Burlington chapter is called The Red Hot Flashes, and Mary Fox is the queen.
“President is just kind of boring,” Fox said.
There are currently about 20 in the club and about 10-12 show up to the nearly monthly meetings.
“COVID threw us off balance,” Fox said, of the virus that prompted most organizations to stop meeting.
“We haven’t gotten back to monthly meetings but we’re getting closer.”
The poem talks about being an “old woman,” but the final lines read: “But maybe I ought to practice a little now. So people who know me are not too surprised. When suddenly I am old and start to wear purple.”
Red Hat Society founder Sue Ellen Cooper read the poem back in the late 1990s and gave a friend a red hat for her 50th birthday, and that’s when women can become full-fledged members.
“We’re not old, we’re just practicing,” said Fox.
You can join if you’re under 50 if you wear a pink hat and lavender clothes, she said.
“We are a social organization that (we women) have spent much of our lives taking care of others,” Fox said. Now it’s our time to go out and have fun.”
Fox didn’t know how long The Red Hot Flashes has been around, but she joined almost 20 years ago when Red Hat Societies — including some unofficial groups that didn’t pay dues — were more popular.
“When they were lots of chapters around, some of the chapters would host an afternoon tea,” Fox said.
“We went to Keokuk and Fort Madison and Mount Pleasant and Fairfield. Donnellson for a long time hosted a tea.”
Donnellson’s group is the Pampered Pals. But over time, the members did grow old, and many of the groups disbanded.
“I think it’s the stigma of, ‘That’s what grandma did, and I’m not old like grandma,’ ” Fox said.
However, Fox said she didn’t think that way.
“I was at loose ends, fresh out of a divorce, and I needed to find some people to socialize with,” Fox said of what prompted her to join.
“What I enjoy the most is that through this group, I have met a variety of people that I would not have met otherwise. Consider that these ladies are willing to go out in public wearing red hats, purple colors, lots of feathers and boas, and jewelry, and you know they’re going to be a fun group.
“We create quite a spectacle when we go out in public.”
But Fox said, most people come up to them and say, “You look like you’re having so much fun.”
Among the fun things the ladies like to do is play bingo. There are national and international conventions, but also unofficial state conventions. Burlington has hosted three of those.
It brings in about 100 ladies.
“It’s packed with entertainment, and there are vendors who know that we like the bling. If it sparkles we buy it,” Fox said.
Any women who want to join or at least get more information may reach out to Fox at email@example.com