The XX Factor

Nan Robertson, Feminist Hero

Like the word genius , the word hero is overused. But I think the term is fitting for former New York Times reporter Nan Robertson , who died yesterday at the age of 83. Not only was she a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, she overcame alcoholism, the death of her second husband, and the loss of the end joints of all her fingers (though not her thumbs) after a bout of toxic shock syndrome.

What I love best about Robertson is that one of her biggest triumphs was sticking it to the man. Her second book, The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men, and the New York Times , as the Times obituary puts it:

[W]as an account of the events surrounding Elizabeth Boylan et al. v. The New York Times, a federal class-action suit filed on behalf of 550 women at The Times over inequities including pay, assignments and advancement. (Ms. Robertson was not among the seven named plaintiffs in the suit.) In 1978, the suit was settled out of court for $350,000, with The Times agreeing to an affirmative-action plan.

The Pulitzer she won was for an article called “Toxic Shock,” about her experience with toxic shock syndrome. After the joints of her fingers were amputated, she feared she would never write again. But she learned to type, and continued writing. After she retired from the Times , she became a professor. She will be missed.