While visiting a friend in Tucson several years ago, Sue Ellen Cooper impulsively bought a bright red fedora at a thrift shop, for no other reason than that it was cheap and, she thought, quite dashing. A year or two later she read the poem "Warning" by Jenny Joseph, which depicts an older woman in purple clothing with a red hat. Sue Ellen felt an immediate kinship with Ms. Joseph. She decided that her birthday gift to her dear friend, Linda Murphy, would be a vintage red hat and a copy of the poem. She has always enjoyed whimsical decorating ideas, so she thought the hat would look nice hanging on a hook next to the framed poem. Linda got so much enjoyment out of the hat and the poem that Sue Ellen gave the same gift to another friend, then another, then another.
One day it occurred to these friends that they were becoming a sort of "Red Hat Society" and that perhaps they should go out to tea... in full regalia. They decided they would find purple dresses which didn't go with their red hats to complete the poem's image.
The tea was a smashing success.
Soon, each of them thought of another woman or two she wanted to include, and they bought more red hats. Their group swelled to 18, and they began to encourage other interested people to start their own chapters (18 women don't fit well around a tea table). One of their members passed along the idea to a friend of hers in Florida, and their first "sibling" group was born.