The NYTimes on What to Call Women: “A new policy was celebrated with flowers and applause.”

From a Times Insider piece by Amisha Padnani and Veronica Chambers headlined “Examining the Meaning of ‘Mrs.’:

To us, she has always been Amelia Earhart, but there was a time when The New York Times called her Mrs. Putnam in newspaper articles, linking her identity to that of her husband, George. She wasn’t the only one: Frida Kahlo was sometimes called Mrs. Diego Rivera; Coretta Scott King was Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr.; and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was Mrs. John F. Kennedy.

The practice of referring to a married woman — even a famous one — by her husband’s name wasn’t unique to The Times. Much of society often referred — and sometimes still refers — to women this way. It was not until 1986 — after a vociferous debate — that The Times began using the less polarizing title “Ms.”

This year, a team of reporters and editors at The Times decided to take a deeper look at honorifics with a project called the Mrs. Files, which will appear online on Friday and in print this Sunday, with the potential for additional installments. In examining history with a contemporary lens, we asked: What do honorifics mean for us as a society? And how do they help women shape their identity in the world? . . .

The Times’s archivist, Jeff Roth, recalled his confusion when he was looking for images of Nan Kempner, the New York society fixture and wife of the banker Thomas L. Kempner. He opened The Times’s photo file for her and found only a few pictures.

He checked the card catalog. It said: “See Mrs. Thomas L. Kempner.”

“Lo and behold, that’s where she was,” he said, “all the great pictures when she’s Miss Socialite in the 1950s and ’60s — under her husband’s name.”

Betsy Wade, who was The Times’s first female copy editor when she was hired in 1956, would not have been surprised by what Roth found. She helped lead a crusade — or in her words, a “whoo-ha” — in the 1970s to get the paper to change its style on honorifics.

“The sexism was ferocious in those days,” Ms. Wade said in an email. . . .

It would take more than a decade for her efforts to pay off. Protesters picketed outside The Times; there were heated debates among the paper’s (male) leaders; and at least one person suggested that the paper’s leadership consult with language experts.

Finally, in 1986, The Times said it was adopting a new policy, an announcement that was celebrated with flowers, applause and a visit from Gloria Steinem. A memo was disseminated to staff on June 19 and an editors’ note was published in the paper the next day. The Times would begin using “Ms.” for women whose marital status was unknown, or who preferred it. . . .

Amisha Padnani is an editor on the Obituaries desk and the creator of Overlooked, a series that tells the stories of remarkable people whose deaths were not originally reported on by The Times.

Veronica Chambers is the editor of Past Tense, an archival storytelling initiative devoted to publishing articles based on photographs recently rediscovered as The Times digitizes millions of images from its archives. @vvchambers

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