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“The phrase ‘working mother’ is redundant” — actress Donna Reed

“The phrase ‘working mother’ is redundant.”

That’s a great line, and it comes from actress Donna Reed (It’s a Wonderful Life) at least as early as 1963. Erma Bombeck, Joan Lunden and many others have used the line. Democratic operative Hilary Rosen has used quite the opposite.

You can put this one on bumper stickers if you like.

Here’s the entry on the saying that I added just last month for my etymology website of Americanisms:

Entry from March 18, 2012
“The phrase ‘working mother’ is redundant”

“The phrase ‘working mother’ is redundant” means that if a mother doesn’t have a job in the workplace, she still works doing cooking, cleaning, shopping, and many other tasks. The saying is most often attributed (since at least 1985) to Baltimore writer Jane Sellman, but Sellman wasn’t the first to use it. Erma Bombeck (1927-1996), a syndicated newspaper columnist who wrote humorous pieces about being a housewife, was also credited with the line in 1985.

The saying has been in circulation since at least 1963, when an ABC-TV press release stated that the actress Donna Reed (1921-1986) “thinks the term ‘working mother’ is ridiculously redundant.”

The Quote Garden
Quotations about Mothers
The phrase “working mother” is redundant. ~Jane Sellman

Zazzle.com
Jane Sellman Motherhood Quote Postcard

30 August 1963, Evening Times (Cumberland, MD), “TV Press Releases Odd” by Rick Du Brow, pg. 6, col. 3:
From ABC-TV: “Donna Reed, star of ABC-TV’s ‘The Donna Reed Show,’ thinks the term ‘working mother’ is ridiculously redundant. ‘Anyone ever hear of a non-working mother?’ she asks.”

Google Books
A Family Album:
Portraits of intimacy and kinship
By Thomas J. Cottle
New York, NY: Harper & Row
1974
Pg. 190:
Estelle Downey’s words remind me that the term “working mother” is redundant.

Google Books
Relating Work and Education
Edited by Dyckman W. Vermilye and William Ferris, American Association for Higher Education
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers
1977
Pg. 88:
… work in our industrial society than our redundant term working mother.

Google Books
Back to Work:
How to re-enter the working world
By Nancy Schuman and William Lewis
Woodbury, NY: Barron’s
1985
Pg. 2:
On this note, humorist Erma Bombeck is quoted as saying, “The term working mother is redundant.”

Google Books
New Woman
Volume 15, Issues 4-6
1985
Pg. 116, col. 3:
The phrase “working mother” is redundant. — Jane Sellman

Google News Archive
22 February 1987, Toledo (OH) Blade, “‘Real’ Men Make Coffee” by Erma Bombeck, pg. P1, col. 3:
It became a status thing, signifying there were shared duties in the home and they were liberal enough to realize the term “working mother” was redundant.

28 August 1987, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “Pot au Feu” by Myriam Guidroz, pg. F6, col. 3::
The French call redudancies in grammar “pleonasmes vicieux” or literally “vicious redundancies.” In my estimation, no redundancy is more vicious than the expression “working mother.”

All mothers work; some (perhaps the majority today) work for money in addition to taking care of their children.

Google News Archive
3 October 1987, Bryan (OH) Times, “People in the News” by William C. Trott (United Press International), pg. 6, col. 1:
JOKE’S ON ‘GOOD MORNING AMERICA’: Joan Lunden is getting funny. Lunden, who is on the verge of leaving “Good Morning America” to start her own daytime variety talk show, made her stand-up comedy debut Thursday night as New York’s Catch a Rising Star club.
(…)
“Working mother—isn’t that a redundancy?” said Lunden, who recently had her third child.

2 May 1991, Daily Herald (Chicago, IL), People, sec. 1, pg. 2, col. 6:
Today’s chuckle
Thursday, May 2, 1991: Repetitive redundancy of the year:
“Working mother.”

Google Books
The Quotable Mom
By Kate Rowinski
New York, NY: Main Street
2004
Pg. 171:
The phrase “working mother” is redundant.
JANE SELLMAN

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