Fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Alice Roosevelt Longworth at age 18, wearing hat and fur with muff

In an interview at the time of her ninetieth birthday, television commentator Eric Sevareid told her of the newest movement: “to liberate the old.” “That is fun!” Alice interjected. Its purpose, Sevareid continued, was “to make people understand that old people have feelings, an that they even have sexual passion… Are you for all that?” She smilingly shot back, paraphrasing Queen Victoria, “Well, as long as they don’t do it in the streets.” At another time, when asked her opinion of the sexual revolution, she said she’d always lived by the adage “Fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth (February 1884 – February 1980)
as quoted in Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker
by Stacy A. Cordery
Image – Library of Congress

Alice Roosevelt Longworth, “Topless Octogenarian”

Alice Roosevelt Longworth was known in later years for eccentricity and a sharp tongue. Painfully shy in front of crowds, she was a famously formidable wit one on one and in small groups.

In deference to her longevity in Washington DC, some dubbed her “the other Washington Monument.” Other descriptions were more colorful. The summer 1970, after her second mastectomy, she playfully declared “I am the only topless octogenarian here.”

Want more? NPR’s Weekend Addition has a nice segment about Alice Roosevelt Longworth and the biography I link to above. It’s worth a listen, if only for a glimpse of her voice.

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5 Responses to “Fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches.”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    I have seen this quote attributed to Wallis Simpson. Who said it first?…/fill_what…empty-empty_what…full…scratch/202788.html

  2. E. A. Able Says:

    It’s one of those expressions that gets passed around, probably not something that Wallis Simpson originated, though she could have heard it and used it, as many did. Another is “You can never be too rich, or too thin,” which Truman Capote probably said first, but Wallis Simpson had embroidered on a pillow.

    Where there is a literary source to an expression that has entered the vernacular I try to give you the first reference – Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is rich with these! Where something is “an adage,” I try to show how it relates to a person who has adopted it as their own.

  3. Abimbola Akanwo Says:

    🙂 I would love to have met Alice Roosevelt Longworth…a fascinating character, my kind of person…

    Thanks for the NPR link…it was worth listening to…

    Thank you for the post…

  4. E. A. Able Says:

    Thanks, Abimbola. I love finding this stuff. One day, I’d like QuoteSnack to have something like this for every day of the year.

  5. Longhorns and Mustangs | elizabeth K Says:

    […] for the second title, Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s words appear on my desktop every time I turn on my laptop: “Fill what’s empty. Empty what’s […]