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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

"Many people responded negatively to what they saw as sexism," Sullivan wrote.


Anyway. Back to Thursday's developments. "Overlooked" is a fantastic idea. I hope it inspires other organizations -- media and otherwise -- to consider whose voices and stories they've historically muted and work toward correcting those blind spots.

"Obituary writing is more about life than death: the last word, a testament to a human contribution," Padnani and Bennett write in the "Overlooked" introduction.

"Yet who gets remembered -- and how -- inherently involves judgment. To look back at the obituary archives can, therefore, be a stark lesson in how society valued various achievements and achievers."

Belatedly running these obituaries acknowledges that those who hold a hefty share of power (including, obviously, mainstream media outlets) don't just react to that shameful undervaluing of achievements and achievers. We perpetuate it.

Blind spots beget blind spots. "Overlooked" takes aim at a pretty egregious one.

And the obituaries themselves serve as powerful, beautifully crafted history lessons.

From the Ida B. Wells obit:

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"Wells was threatened physically and rhetorically constantly throughout her career; she was called a harlot and a courtesan for her frankness about interracial sex. After her anti-lynching editorials were published in The Free Speech, she was run out of the South -- her newspaper ransacked and her life threatened. But her commitment to chronicling the experience of African-Americans in order to demonstrate their humanity remained unflinching."

The obit continues with a quote from Wells:

"'If this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service,' she wrote after fleeing Memphis, 'Other considerations are minor.'"

Wells died of kidney disease in 1931 at age 68.

This International Women's Day, almost nine decades late, her death was finally remarked upon.

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