Today, in honor of International Women’s Day, The New York Times dedicated a substantial number of column inches to an area in which their publication has been lacking: Obituaries for women. As the new interactive feature notes, the Times has published thousands of obits since the paper’s founding in 1851 and “the vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones.” In order to even the scales ever so slightly, the Times editors crafted obituaries for fifteen historically significant women that have been overlooked over the years, including poet Sylvia Plath, LGBTQ activist Marsha P. Johnson, and journalist Ida B. Wells.
“It is difficult for me as a journalist to see important stories go untold,” writes New York Times obituaries digital editor Amisha Padnani in her article about starting the Overlooked project. “But perhaps more important, as a woman of color, I am pained when the powerful stories of incredible women and minorities are not brought to light.”
Some of the women missing from the Times’ archives are quite surprising, like Plath, Jane Eyre author Charlotte Brontë, and photographer Diane Arbus, all of whom garnered a certain amount of fame in their lifetime. But the unsung heroes of history have their place too, like Henrietta Lacks, a tobacco farmer from Virginia whose stolen cancer cells formed the foundation for dozens of life-saving treatments, including the polio vaccine. Lacks never received payment for her donation nor any recognition in her lifetime. She was buried in an unmarked grave.
Other remembrances include Emily Warren Roebling, who managed the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge after her husband fell ill, oft-forgotten Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen, and pioneering feminist poet Qui Jin, remembered by some as China’s Joan Of Arc.
Not wanting to limit this inclusivity to a single day in March, the Times has said that Overlooked will become a regular weekly feature in their obituaries section and will aim to expand beyond just forgotten women. You can read today’s full entry here and, if you have ideas for who should be remembered next, you can nominate candidates here.
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