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New York Times runs obits for 'overlooked' women on International Women's Day

Heidi Stevens, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

The New York Times set out to right a historic wrong on this International Women's Day, publishing the obituaries of 15 remarkable women whose deaths went unremarked upon, simply because they were women.

"Since 1851," Amisha Padnani and Jessica Bennett write, "The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones.

"Charlotte Bronte wrote 'Jane Eyre'; Emily Warren Roebling oversaw construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband fell ill; Madhubala transfixed Bollywood; Ida B. Wells campaigned against lynching," they write. "Yet all of their deaths went unremarked in our pages, until now."

On Thursday, the newspaper launched "Overlooked," a recurring feature in the obituaries section that will feature women and men whose lives had great impact but whose deaths weren't deemed worthy of New York Times obits.

The first 15 are women, and they include the aforementioned Wells, author Sylvia Plath, transgender pioneer Marsha P. Johnson, Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells led to a medical revolution, and Margaret Abbott, the first American woman to win an Olympics championship.

Their deaths. Went unremarked. In The New York Times.

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The second-largest newspaper in the U.S. has come under fire for its obits coverage in the past -- both for its ratio of male-to-female obituaries and for its tone. Public editor Margaret Sullivan had to weigh in in 2013 after rocket scientist Yvonne Brill's obituary started off thusly:

"She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. 'The world's best mom,' her son Matthew said.

"But Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist who in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits."

ALSO a brilliant rocket scientist?


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