Quotations about   challenge

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Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

David Whyte (b. 1955) Irish-English poet
“Sweet Darkness,” House of Belonging (1996)
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Added on 20-Mar-18 | Last updated 20-Mar-18
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Consistently wise decisions can only be made by those whose wisdom is constantly challenged.

Theodore "Ted" Sorensen (1928-2010) American lawyer, writer, presidential adviser, speechwriter
Decision-Making in the White House: The Olive Branch or the Arrows, ch. 7 (1963)
Added on 14-Nov-17 | Last updated 14-Nov-17
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The longest absence is less perilous to love than the terrible trials of incessant proximity.

Ouida (1839-1908) English novelist [pseud. of Maria Louise Ramé]
Friendship, ch. 11 (1878)
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Added on 5-Sep-17 | Last updated 5-Sep-17
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Better vexation than stagnation: marriage may often be a stormy lake, but celibacy is almost always a muddy horse pond.

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) English novelist, satirist, poet, merchant
Melincourt, ch. 7 (1817)
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Added on 29-Aug-17 | Last updated 29-Aug-17
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It is by presence of mind in untried emergencies that the native metal of a man is tested.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) American diplomat, essayist, poet
“Abraham Lincoln,” The North American Review (Jan 1864)
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Added on 13-Jun-17 | Last updated 13-Jun-17
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To ensure moral salvation, it is primarily necessary to depend on oneself, because in the moment of peril we are alone. And strength is not to be acquired instantaneously. He who knows that he will have to fight, prepares himself for boxing and dueling by strength and skill; he does not sit still with folded hands.

Maria Montessori (1870-1952) Italian educator, philosopher, educator, physician
The Advanced Montessori Method: Spontaneous Activity in Education, Vol. I (1917)
Added on 13-Jun-17 | Last updated 13-Jun-17
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In general, every evil to which we do not succumb is a benefactor. As the Sandwich Islander believes that the strength and valor of the enemy he kills passes into himself, so we gain the strength of the temptation we resist.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Compensation,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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Added on 22-May-17 | Last updated 22-May-17
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The fortitude which has encountered no dangers, that prudence which has surmounted no difficulties, that integrity which has been attacked by no temptations, can at best be considered but as gold not yet brought to the test, of which therefore the true value cannot be assigned.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler #150 (24 Aug 1751)
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Added on 11-Apr-17 | Last updated 11-Apr-17
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People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there is any hope for them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Circles,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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Added on 20-Feb-17 | Last updated 20-Feb-17
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Yet somehow our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) American writer
My Several Worlds (1954)
Added on 6-Feb-17 | Last updated 6-Feb-17
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Difficulties are things that show what men are.

epictetus-difficulties-show-what-men-are-wist_info-quote

Epictetus (c.55-c.135) Greek (Phrygian) Stoic philosopher
The Discourses, Book 1, ch. 24
Added on 17-Jan-17 | Last updated 17-Jan-17
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God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please — you can never have both.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Intellect,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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Added on 11-Nov-16 | Last updated 11-Nov-16
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You know, here in America we’re loyal to our flaws. It’s like, if we change even our flaws there’s something wrong.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
“Bill Maher, Incorrect American Patriot,” Interview with Sharon Waxman, Washington Post (8 Nov 2002)
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Added on 20-Jul-16 | Last updated 20-Jul-16
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Pain nourishes my courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.

Moore - cant be brave - wist_info quote

Mary Tyler Moore (b. 1936) American actress
Interview, McCall’s, Vol. 108 (1980)
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Added on 23-Feb-16 | Last updated 23-Feb-16
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Like young men from the dawn of time, I decided to choose the risk of death over certain humiliation.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Whispers Under Ground (2012)
Added on 16-Dec-15 | Last updated 16-Dec-15
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You learn to know a pilot in a storm.

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65) Roman statesman, philosopher, playwright [Lucius Annaeus Seneca]
Moral Essays, “On Providence” (4.5) [tr. Basore (1928)]
Added on 28-Sep-15 | Last updated 28-Sep-15
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These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues.

Abigail Adams (1744-1818) American correspondent, First Lady (1797-1801)
Letter to John Quincy Adams (19 Jan 1780)

Probable source of the similar "Great necessities call forth great leaders," usually cited (but not found) as a letter to Thomas Jefferson.
Added on 7-Aug-15 | Last updated 7-Aug-15
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Life is dull without a challenge. If your try fails, what does that matter? All life is failure in the end. The thing is to get some sport out of trying.

Francis Chichester (1901-1972) English aviator and sailor
Comment (1967)

After single-handedly circumnavigating the globe.
Added on 22-Jul-15 | Last updated 22-Jul-15
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If you aren’t having to apologize every now and then you aren’t being interesting enough.

Robert Scoble (b. 1965) American blogger, technical journalist, author
“My Apology to Tim Cook,” Google+ (6 Oct 2011)
Added on 12-Jun-15 | Last updated 12-Jun-15
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A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American author and lecturer
The Simplest Way to be Happy (1933)
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Added on 23-Mar-15 | Last updated 23-Mar-15
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You have greatly ventured, but all must do so who would greatly win.

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice, Act 1, sc. 1 (1821)
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Added on 18-Mar-15 | Last updated 18-Mar-15
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Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.

Henry J. Kaiser (1882-1967) American industrialist
(Attributed)
Added on 16-Mar-15 | Last updated 16-Mar-15
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Creativity is constantly in danger of being destroyed by success. The more effectively the environment is mastered, the greater is the temptation to rest on one’s oars.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
The Necessity for Choice: Prospects of American Foreign Policy, 8.3 (1961)
Added on 13-Mar-15 | Last updated 13-Mar-15
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Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. And everyone here will ultimately be judged — will ultimately judge himself — on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“Day of Affirmation,” address, University of Capetown, South Africa (6 Jun 1966)
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Added on 1-Dec-14 | Last updated 1-Dec-14
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When we are strong, we are always much greater than the things that happen to us.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
No Man Is an Island, 7.7 (1955)
Added on 21-Oct-14 | Last updated 21-Oct-14
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Nothing, I am sure, calls forth the faculties so much as the being obliged to struggle with the world.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) English social philosopher, feminist, writer
Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, “Matrimony” (1787)
Added on 23-Sep-14 | Last updated 23-Sep-14
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If the provisions of the Constitution be not upheld when they pinch as well as when they comfort, they may as well be abandoned.

George Sutherland (1862-1942) Anglo-American jurist, Supreme Court Justice (1922-1938)
Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell, 290 U.S. 398, 483 (1934)
Added on 2-Sep-14 | Last updated 7-Feb-17
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I wouldn’t want to live in Tomorrowland, where the social patterns and infrastructure are all so spiff and modern and rational and well-designed that any remaining problems must needs be insoluble, and so a cause for despair.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden (b. 1956) American editor, writer, essayist
“On Time” (1995)
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Added on 29-Aug-14 | Last updated 29-Aug-14
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But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric — and those who prefer that course should not cast their votes for me, regardless of party. But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age — to all who respond to the Scriptural call: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.” For courage — not complacency — is our need today — leadership — not salesmanship. And the only valid test of leadership is the ability to lead, and lead vigorously.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
“The New Frontier,” Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles (15 Jul 1960)
Added on 23-Jun-14 | Last updated 23-Jun-14
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If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) American-British poet, critic, playwright [Thomas Stearns Eliot]
(Attributed)
Added on 19-Jun-14 | Last updated 19-Jun-14
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Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom promised our nation a new political and economic framework. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal promised security and succor to those in need. But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises — it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook — it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
“The New Frontier,” Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles (15 Jul 1960)
Added on 16-Jun-14 | Last updated 16-Jun-14
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Frank O’Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall — and then they had no choice but to follow them. This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, San Antonio, TX (21 Nov 1963)
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Added on 2-Jun-14 | Last updated 2-Jun-14
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Responsibilities gravitate to the person who can shoulder them.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
“J.B. Runs Things,” Elbert Hubbard’s Selected Writings, Part 14 (1923)
Added on 21-Feb-14 | Last updated 21-Feb-14
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The true way is along a rope that is not spanned high in the air, but only just above the ground. It seems intended more to cause stumbling than to be walked upon.

[Der wahre Weg geht über ein Seil, das nicht in der Höhe gespannt ist, sondern knapp über dem Boden. Es scheint mehr bestimmt stolpern zu machen, als begangen zu werden.]

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) Czech-Austrian Jewish writer
Notebook, Aphorism #1 [tr. Kaiser and Wilkins]
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Added on 26-Nov-13 | Last updated 26-Nov-13
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He knows not his own strength that hath not met adversity.

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) English playwright and poet
Timber: Or, Discoveries, “Explorata” (1640)
Added on 22-Apr-13 | Last updated 21-Oct-14
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Most people today don’t want honest answers insofar as honest means unpleasant or disturbing. They want a soft answer that turneth away anxiety. They want answers that are, in effect, escapes.

Louis Kronenberger (1904-1980) American critic, novelist, biographer
“Unbrave New World,” The Cart and the Horse (1964)

An allusion to Proverbs 15:1 "A soft answer turneth away wrath."
Added on 21-Nov-12 | Last updated 17-Nov-17
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Easy reading is damn hard writing.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) American writer
(Attributed)

Also attributed to others, including Ernest Hemingway. The reference to Hawthorne can be dated back to Maya Angelou in "The Art of Fiction," Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990):

Nathaniel Hawthorne says, "Easy reading means damn hard writing."

Per Wikiquote, Angelou put it differently previously, in Conversations With Maya Angelou (1989) [ed. Jeffrey M. Elliot]:

I think it's Alexander Pope who says, "Easy writing is damn hard reading," and vice versa, easy reading is damn hard writing.

Which first clause may refer in turn not to Pope but Richard Brinsley, Clio's Protest, or the Picture Varnished (1771, pub. 1819):

You write with ease, to show your breeding, But easy writing's curst hard reading.
Added on 3-Jul-12 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Henley - master of my fate - wist_info quote

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) English poet, critic, editor
“Invictus” (1875)
Added on 15-Jul-09 | Last updated 12-Feb-16
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Times of trouble best discover the true worth of a man.

Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380-1471) German monk, author
The Imitation of Christ, Book 1, ch. 16 (c. 1418) [tr. L. Sherley-Price (1952)]
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Alt trans.: "The measure of every man's virtue is best revealed in time of adversity -- adversity that does not weaken a man but rather shows what he is."
Added on 5-Jun-09 | Last updated 14-Sep-16
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It contributes greatly towards a man’s moral and intellectual health, to be brought into habits of companionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) American writer
The Scarlet Letter, “Introduction: The Custom-House” (1850)
Added on 24-Apr-09 | Last updated 8-Dec-15
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Today some would say that those struggles are all over — that all the horizons have been explored — that all the battles have been won — that there is no longer an American frontier. But I trust that no one in this vast assemblage will agree with those sentiments. For the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won — and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier — the frontier of the 1960s, a frontier of unknown opportunities and paths, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
“The New Frontier,” Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles (15 Jul 1960)
Added on 20-Jan-09 | Last updated 16-Jun-14
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Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.

Erica Jong (b. 1942) American writer, poet
“The Artist as Housewife,” The First Ms. Reader, ed. Francine Kragbrun (1972)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 3-Oct-16
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A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.

Mildred W. Struven American Christian Scientist, housewife
(Attributed)

Quoted by her daughter Jean Harris, Stranger in Two Worlds (1986)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 29-May-14
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Do something every day that you don’t want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 58, epigraph (1897)

See here for more discussion about this (and related) quotations.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 6-Dec-15
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Life is made up of constant calls to action, and we seldom have time for more than hastily contrived answers.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
Speech in New York (27 Jan 1952)
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After all my time here, I’ve yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, didn’t become still more complicated.

Poul Anderson (1926-2001) American writer
Call Me Joe [Arne Viken] (1957)

Sometimes attributed to Arthur Koestler (who attributed the quote to Anderson). See here for more details (and a reference to WIST).
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-Jun-15
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We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American author and lecturer
Atlantic Monthly (May 1890)
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I thoroughly disapprove of duels. I consider them unwise, and I know they are dangerous. Also, sinful. If a man should challenge me now, I would got to that man and take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet, retired spot, and kill him.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1, 1864 (2010)
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Seen paraphrased: "I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so.

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) American journalist and author
A Preface to Morals, 11.3 (1929)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 25-Apr-17
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The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
You Learn by Living, “Fear — the Great Enemy” (1960)

This is the likely source for the misattribution of this Mary Schmich quotation to Roosevelt.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 8-Apr-15
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