Twenty-five-year-old Julia Sewell stood before a sea of purple and red March 21 and offered an eloquent tribute to the women who have smoothed her path.
“I see so much beauty and so much power in this room,” said Sewell, a spoken-word artist, her voice confident and rising. “Every time I blink, there is a revolution.”
This particularly eye-popping revolution began in 1998, when a Californian named Sue Ellen Cooper gave a red fedora and a copy of a poem titled, “Warning,” to a friend for her 55th birthday. “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go.”
The battle cry of middle-aged women tired of being invisible was heard across the land and, within five years, the Red Hat Society boasted 40,000 chapters worldwide.
And about as many hat varieties.
Sewell performed last Friday for nearly 100 women who came to Minneapolis’ Sabathani Community Center to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Royal Red Hat Sabathanettes, the largest African-American chapter in Minnesota. The gala also included music by Paul Heffron and Company, speeches by black-fashion historian Rosa Bogart and community activist Naima Richmond, and the reading of a proclamation sent by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges.
A young man stopped in the doorway to take in the purple pumps, red berets, sparkly purple bows, red sweaters, purple tennies and red boas.
Up went his eyebrows.
The Red Hats are strictly social and organized as a monarchy, with a queen and three-member court. Women 50 and older wear red hats. Women under 50 are welcome, but they wear pink.
While their goal is fun — and they have plenty of that — the Sabathanettes are eager to promote their positive outreach in a community where bad news travels fast.
“So many negative things come out of our community,” said Willena Marshall, a court member from Plymouth.
“It’s important to see women living life to the fullest and influencing other women to not feel afraid. Some people know of the Red Hatters, but they aren’t aware that this is a positive group of predominately over-50 black women.”
The Sabathanettes were founded in March 2004 by then 90-year-old Marionne Robbins. She’ll be 100 on July 4.
Beaming, and surrounded by well-wishers on Friday, Robbins said she doesn’t get out much anymore, but is happy to witness the growth of her chapter, and the social options it offers to women, married and single, walking or in wheelchairs.
They meet monthly to plan events, including plays, concerts, boat rides and exercise classes, at which they always wear their red hats. They travel, too, and reach out to members who are ill.
Gene Wilson, a former theater director and actor who lives in northeast Minneapolis, joined the Sabathanettes at her sister’s suggestion. An empty-nester, who has raised four children, Wilson appreciates the fellowship of the Red Hats.
“It’s a good organization for single women and homebodies,” she said. “I can do what I want to do. If someone calls and says, ‘Let’s go to the movie,’ I can go. It’s a newfound freedom.”
Regina Tarver of north Minneapolis has been a member for six years. Museums, luncheons, theater, she tries to do all of it. “I like the socializing,” she said, enjoying lunch during Friday’s gala.