Charlotte Bronte, Henrietta Lacks and Ida B. Wells: You’ve probably heard these names because of the notable contributions they gave the world during their lives. However, they were forgotten after they died. At least by one of the country’s most widely circulated newspapers.
Until less than a week ago, The New York Times never published obituaries for these three important women — and many others. In an effort to make up for overlooking these women when they died, the editors have created a new series: “Overlooked.” Beginning with a special section in Sunday’s print edition, the Times will publish obituaries for women (and in the future, men of color and deserving others) whose deaths were not documented in a timely manner.
Other influential women weren’t completely forgotten by the Times, but instead were laughably skimped. Frida Kahlo was first referred to as the wife of Diego Rivera in hers. Susan B. Anthony was described by her “firm but pleasing face,” according to the Times. Harriet Tubman’s was published, too, but at just about 100 words.
The Times continues to forget women. In the last two years, just one in five obituaries were written about women, according to the Times.
William McDonald, the Times' obituaries editor for the last decade, wrote a story explaining why most of their obituaries' subjects are white men. He said it's because obituaries cover the past, rather than the present, and they largely represent the world of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when gender and racial dynamics were several steps behind where they are now.
Scanning the pages of Sunday’s “Overlooked” special edition and reading the obituaries of the 15 featured women, it’s almost unbelievable that these women were bypassed by editors at the times of their deaths. How could transgender pioneer and activist Marsha P. Johnson, who at 23 was a key figure in the rebellion after the Stonewall police raid, have been left out of the obituaries? Or Emily Warren Roebling, who directed the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in the late 19th century? Or Madhubala, who became a Bollywood superstar despite a hole in her heart?
We can’t go back in time, but we can all follow the Times’ lead and do our best to right the wrongs of our past. This month — Women’s History Month — we can learn about the wrongfully neglected women in our history. Perhaps more importantly, we can make sure to amplify the voices of women who are beginning to make history now. We can all take steps to become better, more intersectional feminists. Let’s become people who fight for all women to be heard, believed, supported and when the time comes, remembered.
Carly Breit is a UF journalism senior. Her column focuses on feminism.