Having recently written about Grandma Got STEM, a Web site honoring scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians who happen to have grandchildren and be female, I was interested to read of an abrupt editorial change in an article in The New York Times about such a person.
As the Huffington Post reports, the Times began its 30 March obituary of Yvonne Claeys Brill by describing her cooking prowess and years as a stay-at-home mom who moved several times in aid of her husband's career. In between bouts in the kitchen, changing diapers, and packing the family's belongings, Brill, who died on 27 March at the age of 88, managed to squeeze in work on rocket engines that gained her a 1974 patent on a propulsion system that allows satellites to hold their orbits, which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office describes as "a standard in the industry." It also won her the 2011 National Medal of Technology and Innovation and many other honors.
It is, at least, a sign of progress that the Times recognized its bone-headedness and took prompt action.
After protests from readers about the article's first line, the Times swiftly altered it to describe the deceased as a "brilliant rocket scientist" rather than a dutiful hausfrau. The Times notes that, according to her son, "Mrs." was her preferred honorific.
It is, at least, a sign of progress that the Times recognized its bone headedness and took prompt action. That couldn't be said of the British newspaper The Daily Mail in 1964. When British researcher (and grandmother) Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was named the solo winner of that year's Nobel Prize in chemistry, the paper's story on the honor carried the immortal headline, "Oxford housewife wins Nobel."
[Editor's Note: The changes to the obituary are clearly illustrated at newsdiff.org.]