Tag Archives: Kate Swift

Kate Swift Obit: The Language of Power and the Power of Language

Have you ever heard of Barbara Peabody Smith, who went by her nickname Kate? I hadn’t until I read her obituary last week. Her story is an inspiring reminder of how we can define our own terms. Defining terms by making language nonsexist changes everything–how people think and therefore how people act. Little wonder that this daughter of journalists understood the power of language. But what was groundbreaking about Smith’s life work is that she translated her understanding into the language of political power to secure gender equality laws in her home state.

Guest post by Rosalie Maggio reprinted with permission of the Women’s Media Center.

Award winning author and creator of WMC’s “Hot Button Words” series Rosalie Maggio recalls the journalist and activist who alerted the modern women’s movement to the dangers of sexist language.

Nonsexist-language pioneer Kate Swift, 87, died early Saturday morning after a brief encounter with abdominal cancer. Her generous legacy to the world includes her revolutionary influence on our language as well as her productive activism (she helped effect Connecticut’s marriage equality act, protect prochoice legislation, promote progressive candidates, protest the war on Iraq, and conserve the environment). She also leaves numerous admirers who all somehow numbered themselves among her closest and best friends.

Barbara Peabody Swift, always known as Kate, was born in 1923 to parents who were newspaper and magazine journalists, and she obtained her own journalism degree from the University of North Carolina in 1944. Thereafter, she worked as a newswriter, science writer for the Museum of Natural History, editor for the Army’s information and education department, public relations officer for the Girl Scouts of America, press liaison for the Hayden Planetarium, and, in 1965, director of the news bureau of the school of medicine at Yale.

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