Houston high school removes sexist quote attributed to infamous 'Mayflower Madam'

The offending quote (Photo: Twitter)

“The more you act like a lady, the more he’ll act like a gentleman.”

That might sound like a tip from an advice column from the 1950s. But it’s actually a quote that was displayed, in 2018, at a Texas school. After a tweet about it went viral on Friday, the Gregory-Lincoln Education Center in Houston took down the quote. And if you’re wondering where it came from in the first place, the quote’s origin is pretty unexpected (and frankly, shocking).

The phrase reportedly originated with a woman who ran an escort service in the 1980s, USA Today explained. The now infamous line is believed to have come from the lips of Sydney Biddle Barrows, who pleaded guilty to “promoting prostitution” in 1985, according to the University of Virginia’s archives, the paper noted.

Barrows was nicknamed the “Mayflower Madam” because her ancestors came to the United States on the Mayflower. A tabloid fixture in the 1980s and ’90s, she ran a brothel from her New York City apartment. (Barrows later embraced the nickname, titling her memoir Mayflower Madam: The Secret Life of Sydney Biddle Barrows.)

The UVA page doesn’t specifically attribute the quote in question to Barrows. But multiple outlets have cited her as the source of the quote, and it’s attributed to her on Goodreads, for what that’s worth. It’s upsetting the school didn’t do a cursory check on the attribution.

So how did a quote that’s widely attributed to a woman who operated a brothel end up on display in a school? It’s not clear who decided to put the quote on the school’s wall, but it sounds as if it was there for several years before it gained national attention. Diana Davila, a trustee of the Houston Independent School District, told Houston’s ABC 13 that the decal was posted for five years before it was removed this weekend.

One response to the tweet has already gone viral, too, with a Twitter user “correcting” the quote to remove its sexist message. “The more you teach boys to respect girls, the more he’ll act like a gentleman,” the new quote reads.


Lisa Beckman, whose tweet brought the issue to light on Friday, shared another tweet on Saturday thanking the school district for removing the decal. “I see this as proof that our elected officials listen when we speak up,” she tweeted.


The swift response to Beckman’s tweet does show that individual citizens really can make a difference in their communities if they speak up about injustice. Sometimes, one voice is all it takes.

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:

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Teen wearing tank top in 80-degree heat breaks dress code: ‘We’re just asking girls to cover their arms’
Teens protest school dress code for the right to go braless

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