15 Women Overlooked at Time of Death – Obituaries

The New York Times now features new obituaries honoring the women of yesterday. Overlooked focuses on sharing the remarkable stories of not only women but also minorities whose deaths were not documented by the Times.

A women with a vision…

Amisha Padnani, who joined The Times obituary section about two years ago, is the brains behind this initiative. She explained that whenever she would come across an individual with an interesting life story, she would check to see if that person had an obituary. Whenever they didn’t, she would make a note of it and she would also have her colleagues do the same, creating a list. Not to their surprise, many of the names on this list were of women and people of color.

But, why?

Since 1851, The New York Times has featured thousands of obituaries. These obituaries have mainly focused on the white male population archiving the lives of male inventors to head of state.

Buy, what about the women in our history? These were incredible stories that surly influenced and paved the way for many women today. Why weren’t their life stories written about? Padnani says she could only speculate. Could it be because the world didn’t recognize their achievements until after their death? Perhaps some faded into obscurity having their accomplishments forgotten. Did The Times not learn about their deaths until it was too late? Or was this pure omission and a judgement call on the editors behalf who didn’t find their deaths newsworthy?

William McDonald, a longtime obituary editor states that “unlike the rest of the newsroom, the obituaries desk covers the past, not the present.” McDonald goes on to say that “our pages mirror the world of 1975 or 1965 or 1955, or even earlier: They’re a rearview mirror, reflecting the world as it was, not as it is, and not as we might wish it to have been.”

The writing of an obituary focuses mainly on one’s life. It brings praise to their accomplishments and life contributions. Yet, those who are remembered and how falls mainly on judgement. Going through the archives of such writings sheds light on how society valued these contributions and those contributing.

Through Overlooked, the stories of forward thinking women such as Ida B. Wells who took on racism in the Deep South with powerful reporting on lynchings and Emily Warren Roebling who oversaw the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge after her engineer husband fell ill, can be celebrated among many others.

Today we celebrate these women and many others and we pay tribute to their lives.