15 Obituaries of Remarkable Women That Are Long Overdue

Above: Ida B. Wells, from left, Henrietta Lacks, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Plath are featured in The New York Times‘ new “Overlooked” obits feature that will tell the stories of women and men whose lives had great impact, but whose deaths went unnoticed, at the time, in the paper. (Getty, AP, Netflix)

I read Gail Collins’ book, America’s Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, when it was first published in 2003, and recently re-read it. I highly recommend it to people who still question the value of contributions that women have made — and continue to make.

Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Amisha Padnani and Jessica Bennett for The New York Times that provides the stories of 15 remarkable women.

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Obituary writing is more about life than death: the last word, a testament to a human contribution.

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.

Since 1851, 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; even in the last two years, just over one in five of our subjects were female.

Charlotte Brontë 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. Yet all of their deaths went unremarked in our pages, until now.

Below you’ll find obituaries for these and others who left indelible marks but were nonetheless overlooked. We’ll be adding to this collection each week, as Overlooked becomes a regular feature in the obituaries section, and expanding our lens beyond women.

You can use this form to nominate candidates for future “Overlooked” obits. Read an essay from our obituaries editor about how he approaches subjects and learn more about how the project came to be.

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Ida B. Wells: Took on racism in the Deep South with powerful reporting on lynchings was written by Caitlin Dickerson

It was not all that unusual when, in 1892, a mob dragged Thomas Moss out of a Memphis jail in his pajamas and shot him to death over a feud that began with a game of marbles. But his lynching changed history because of its effect on one of the nation’s most influential journalists, who was also the godmother of his first child: Ida B. Wells.

“It is with no pleasure that I have dipped my hands in the corruption here exposed,” Wells wrote in 1892 in the introduction to Southern Horrors, one of her seminal works about lynching, “Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.”

Caitlin Dickerson is a national immigration reporter. More than a century later, she still uses the reporting techniques that were pioneered by Ida B. Wells.

Read more about Ida Wells by clicking here.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article and all the obituaries of 15 “overlooked” women.

Amisha Padnani was a reporter for several metropolitan-area newspapers before joining The New York Times as a Web producer and contributor to SchoolBook. Most recently, she reported on New York City’s public, private and Catholic schools for the Staten Island Advance.

Jessica Bennett is gender editor of The New York Times, working to expand global coverage of women​, gender and society across platforms. She is the author of Feminist Fight Club: A Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace, which was published by HarperCollins.


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