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Alumnae > Announcements > Jenny Joseph 1932-2018

Jenny Joseph 1932-2018

Jennifer Ruth Joseph, poet, born 7 May 1932; died 8 January 2018
Jenny Joseph
Jenny Joseph
Jenny Joseph, who is best known for her poem "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple" died in January of this year. 

She was born in Birmingham and then moved to Buckinghamshire before attending Badminton School during the years when the School moved to Lynmouth in Devon due to the air raid dangers faced by Bristol during the Second World War. In the Badminton Magazine of 1943-44 Jenny Joseph is thanked by the JS Head at Lynmouth, Miss M.F. Steede, for her service as Head Girl of the Junior School.  She left the School with a scholarship to study English at St Hilda's College, Oxford.

After graduating, she had worked variously as a teacher of English as a foreign language, a cleaner (in hard times) and a reporter for local newspapers such as the Oxford Mail; she also worked in South Africa for a radical publishing enterprise, Drum, just as apartheid was coming into full force with the election of the early Nationalist governments. She was in effect expelled from the country for her views, though she was reticent about her life and work during that period. Returning to Britain, in 1961 she married Charles Coles and raised three children while working with her husband as proprietors of the Greyhound, a west London pub. Despite all the effort that required, she went on to produce volumes of poetry at regular, if long, intervals.

Her famous poem was written when she was 28, and after its appearance in an early book went almost unnoticed for 25 years.  Gradually appearing in more anthologies, the poem became an "anthem" for older people and now regularly appears in lists of the nation's favourite poems.  The red hat of the poem, unsuitably worn with purple clothes, finally supplied the name and symbol for the Red Hat Society, a worldwide league of clubs for women who identify themselves by wearing one for their meetings.

Jenny Joseph is survived by her three children.

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