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15 Women Overlooked at Time of Death – Obituaries

The New York Times now features 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 woman with a vision…

Amisha Padnani, who joined The Times obituary section, 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 and her colleagues would make a note, creating a comprehensive list. Not surprisingly, many of the names on this list were of women and people of color.

Forgotten Women

Since 1851, The New York Times has featured thousands of obituaries. These obituaries have mainly focused on the white male population and archived the lives of prominent men.

But what about the women in history? There are many incredible figures that influenced and paved the way for women today. Why weren’t their life stories written about? Padnani says she can only speculate. Perhaps some faded into obscurity and had their accomplishments forgotten. Or perhaps editors omitted their deaths, deeming it not 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 one’s accomplishments and life contributions. Yet, those who are remembered depends on the judgement of those in the present. Going through the archives of such obituary writings sheds light on how society values 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 through obituaries and respectfully pay tribute to their lives.

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